Day 31 - Netzach - Gemma Kessler
After an eventful day spent in Jerusalem, we were all very excited to be back in Tel Aviv. We were specifically excited to start off the day with the opportunity to get a glimpse of the ‘start up nation’ of which we have heard so much about!
Finally we had arrived and had the privilege of meeting Mia Schon, a street artist originally from Boston. She began by telling us about her families long history in art and gave us an insight into one of her passions - mosaic art. It was truly inspiring to hear how she followed her dream and aspirations and found a way to make a living out of doing what she loves.
I also found it amazing that the reason behind her street art, as opposed to selling and displaying it in museums, is to allow everyone to enjoy and share for free. Her wanting to spread joy through her artwork, rather then doing it for money is a beautiful idea that will definitely stick with me throughout my life.
One of her artworks that really stood out to me was a piece that read “we were all once refugees”. Mia told us the story of how she was approached by a group of non-Jewish African women refugees who lived in Tel Aviv. These women told Mia about the complications of them living in Israel and asked her to please help spread their message through her art. Through Mia’s work in helping these women, I learnt that even the smallest amount of help or most simple gesture can have such a huge impact on many people’s lives.
We then had the chance to walk to Tel Aviv beach to view one of Mia’s artworks in person. This artwork read “I love you so much” which she told us she chose as an international statement that everyone knows and she believes could help liven up the area. It was incredible to see how after she had put up her artwork, many other street artists followed her and also added theirs to the area.
After a quick stop for some much-wanted iced coffee at Aroma, we got back on the bus and headed for the next part of our day around the border of Gaza.
Our first stop was the Sderot Caterpillar Park. We had lunch and learnt about the history of the Israel - Palestine conflict and the many different wars.
One thing that really stood out to me was the fact that the kids playground was a bomb shelter in the shape of a caterpillar. It’s hard to comprehend how short 15 seconds really is to be able to get to cover. Therefore, they had to go to great lengths to ensure their protection.
Our next stop was חץ שחור, a memorial site for 13 injured and 8 dead in operation black arrow on 28/02/1955. Here we heard from Eyal Hagbi, who has been the security officer of the region around Gaza for the past 6 years and served in the IDF for 20 years before posted in Gaza.
It was an amazing experience to be able to hear from a man who has a great amount of first hand information about the situation. For me, the main message of what he was talking about, was that the people living there are just like us. They go to school and they work- however, they are always under constant threat of rockets, snipers and more recently kites.
It was very sad to hear about how the Hamas use civilians as human shields. Many houses have rocket launchers and if they had refused to take it they would have been killed. They use the fact that the IDF won’t destroy a house if there is risk of a child getting hurt against them in this way.
One of the hardest things to hear was about the kids living in the area. We were told of how most of the kids living there suffer from PTSD. They are constantly living in fear and many of them wake up in the middle of the night having wet their beds. As a result of this, there are programs for them where they bring phycologists or physiatrists to help them.
We then went to the fence which was 500 meters from the border of Gaza. It was a crazy idea that in the place where we were, if a rocket was launched we would have 3 seconds or sometimes less to get to shelter.
I found it really scary that the most recent rocket fired was only 4 weeks ago. A secret mission by the IDF in Gaza was found out and in retaliation 300-400 rockets were fired in one night.
Our final stop was Kibbutz Nahal Oz. This is the closest residential area to Gaza. While walking through, we saw the dining hall where a large chunk of one section had come off due to a rocket hit in 2013.
We then walked towards what had previously been used as a preschool, but what we saw was not a preschool, but rather, a bomb shelter. It was confronting to see the reality of the danger and the level of protection needed, especially for the kids.
Due to the great protection in this kibbutz, there has only been one death. This was a four year old boy, who had heard the siren and just froze. All the children had been well trained in what to do but it is still a scary situation to face in reality. He was in his house but never managed to make it to the shelter and the rocket came through the window and hit him.
Many people are ignorant of the immense danger the community living in this kibbutz face because of the fact that there has only been one death. However, when you see the level of protection just to go to preschool you realise the true seriousness and danger these people face living their everyday lives.
Throughout the day, the question of ‘if it’s so dangerous why not just leave?’ was asked multiple times. The answer is, because us leaving is what they want. At some point, everywhere in Israel has been dangerous and if we had left anytime that we faced that type of danger, we would not be left with what we have today. If we gave up to every terrorist, we would not have the Jewish state.
Ultimately, today I learned that not everything in life comes easy nor should it. The more we have to fight or work for something in our lives, the more we learn to appreciate it. Throughout this journey of IST we have all learned to appreciate what we have and have realised that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. Today really helped me understand how hard people work to protect the State of Israel and how truely lucky we are that it is our land to enjoy.