Tuesday, March 10th
Tel Aviv to Aleh Negev, Sderot, Niram (Kibbutz overlooking Gaza), and Army Base
What a truly amazing day…parts of Israel that most do not get a chance to see or experience. On our way to Aleh Negev, we passed through the heartland of Israel’s agriculture…wheat and bananas in greenhouses among others. Imagine these crops juxtaposed only kilometers from the sand dunes of the desert….a testimonial to how Israel has created an economy out of mere sand.
Around 10am, we arrived at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village for special needs people, mostly kids. I must admit that at first hearing we would spend 2 hours visiting the facility, I could not imagine taking so much time. Those 2 hours went so quickly and touched all of our hearts. This is a village that accepts kids with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, cared for by 250 workers and 170 volunteers. Some of the kids have been abandoned by their parents, some are not acknowledged by their families due to their disabilities, and the lucky ones get visited by their families on a regular basis…but all are incredibly loved and valued by the workers. Bill brought a scrapbook from the CBJ kindergarten…and in return, Mandy, one of the kids presented us with a scrapbook of handmade art work from several of the kids.
Stephanie brought some beanie babies and we all had a chance to present these to kids on the playground. We got our first view of ‘safe areas’ in buildings – these are essentially bomb shelters (rooms) in the hospital area and in the dorm buildings. If there is a voice alert that says ‘color red’, everyone knows that they have 15 seconds to get into the ‘safe area’ until the rockets stop. This has clearly become a way of life in the southern part of Israel that is close to Gaza.
Next stop was Sderot, a town that is 800m from Gaza and is the closest town near Gaza. Created in 1956, there are about 25,000 residents of Sderot, many from Morocco, Indonesia, Africa and more recently, Russia.
First stop in Sderot was for lunch. Can you imagine 15 people coming into a small ‘restaurant’ that had 2 long tables for seating and the commercial cooktop where all foods were prepared being 1 aisle’s width away? The most wonderful homemade small dishes of carrots, eggplant, humus, peppers, pita filled the 2 tables…followed by chicken, delicious meat balls and finally baklava…we were stuffed. The owners were memorable…I think they enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them.
After a brief stop at the bakery across the street, where we bought freshly made pastries for Barry Rosekind and the soldiers we were going to see (more on this later), we headed on the bus to visit a police station. There we were met by 2 guides who shared ‘life near Gaza’ with us.
We learned more about the ‘safe areas’, including the fact that after the Gulf War in 1990, the government paid for ‘safe rooms’ in every building and residence for places less than 4.5km from Gaza. Bus stops are also shelters…and even some playground equipment serve as safe areas.
We saw the remains of the Gaza rockets – black colored rockets from Al Quida, green ones from Hamas and yellow ones from another group. We learned that the rockets are rather crude – not able to hit a target with any precision, but very dangerous as they are filled with shrapnel (nails, etc).
From the police station, we drove to Niram, a kibbutz that has an overlook to the Gaza. There we stood, less than ½ mile from the road and fence that serves as the boundary between Israel and Gaza….with green fields beyond and eventually the city of Gaza…all probably less than 1 mile away. It is hard to imagine being so geographically close to a group whose only mission is to destroy Israel. Is there any hope for peace.
From Niram, we drove south of Be’er Sheva where we met up with Barry Rosekind and several of his fellow soldiers, members of the IDF. None was happier to see Barry than Stephanie, but I can all tell you we all loved seeing him…and getting a chance to see an area that not many tourists visit. Our time was short there, but we are looking forward to seeing Barry again in Jerusalem on Thursday.
We headed to the Dead Sea after, arriving at the hotel close to 8pm…ready for dinner and a good night’s sleep.