It was Or Adam who first told me about a blog written by two friends divided by war: one, an Israeli living in the frequently rocketed town of Sderot; the other, a Palestinian, lives in the Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza. We were speaking in Adam’s living room in Sderot last April.
Several weeks earlier, a rocket fired by Hamas had ripped through the rose bushes outside his living room window and blasted a hole in the wall beside the couch where I was sitting. His wife and children were home at the time but survived, although the youngest suffered psychological effects. The rocket that struck his home was one of hundreds that have rained down on Sderot and other nearby Israeli towns since 2001. One hit the town as an Israeli colleague and I drove in that day; we heard the muffled crunch of its impact before the warning siren and had no time to stop the car and seek cover.
I had spent that morning visiting Nitsan, a community of former Israeli settlers who had been forcibly evacuated from Gaza in 2005. One woman, Rachel Saperstein, who moved to Israel from New York in 1968, was still bitter. “Our Zionist dream came crashing down on us,” she said. “We had a great deal of love for our army. Now we see it being used to beat up Jews.” She claimed that no Arabs lived in what is now Israel until Jews began immigrating there. Then the Arabs showed up so they could make money. “Now all of a sudden they’re Palestinians. They are simply Arabs who came from all over. There is a state for them. It’s called Jordan. If they want to live with their Arab brothers, they can go there,” she said. Saperstein also insisted that Arabs in Gaza “were thriving” under Israeli occupation and would flourish again if Israel reoccupied the territory. Even the soil in Gaza, she said, was refusing to grow anything for the Arabs: “The earth is waiting for the Jews to come back to nurture the earth, and it will produce for us.”
I left Saperstein’s house feeling depressed, and assumed that Adam, whose tragedy was more recent and raw, would be similarly angry. He wasn’t. Adam, who served in the Israeli navy, liked to say, “I’m not a pacifist but I believe in peace.” I’ve met a lot of Israelis like him. One of the effects of mandatory military service in Israel–combined with so many wars–is that one can advocate, for example, negotiating with Hamas, without being labeled ‘soft on terror’ or any of the other slurs that get thrown around too frequently when these ideas a debated in North America. It’s hard to call someone a coward who’s fought in a war. Adam didn’t think there was any easy way out of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas but believed progress must start with conversation. “It’s a long process of trying to understand each others’ suffering,” he said. “If seven years olds today grow up seeing the other side as human beings, maybe in 30 years we’ll have a settlement.”
This is where the blog “Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot” plays a role. For the past year, through rocket attacks, air strikes, and the ongoing war, the blog’s founders, who have dubbed themselves Peace Man and Hope Man, have kept up a conversation by phone, email, and blog posts. When a relative of Peace Man, the Palestinian, was shot in the spine during fighting between Hamas and Fatah, Hope Man helped arrange for the wounded Palestinian to be treated in an Israeli hospital and visited him many times. But Hope Man and Peace Man have never met each other. They’d like to. In the meantime they continue to talk. “Once this is over there will be so much work to be done to build any kind of hopeful future,” Hope Man writes in his most recent post. “We keep this dialogue going to make it just a bit easier when it ends.”