Israeli citizens living near the Gaza Strip border spoke at a townhall event hosted by the Jewish National Fund where they shared harrowing details about living in the embattled region of the world.
The following is an interview with Yedidya Harush, who represents the Halutza communities and the entire Gaza Envelope region and Michal Uziyahu, who is a director of community centers in the Eshkol Region, which shares some 30 miles of border with Gaza.
Q: Earlier this month, you spoke at an event hosted by the Jewish National Fund on behalf of Israeli citizens living in what is known as the Gaza Envelope, bordering the Gaza Strip. What was the purpose of the event? Did you receive much support?
Mr. Harush: It was a townhall meeting event for the Gaza border crisis. It was an amazing event. We feel overwhelmed by the words, love, and support from people who we do not know. We especially appreciate the Jewish support of the community (in America) who feel that Israel is their home too. Although they live 7,000 miles away, they give us so much support.
It was amazing to see young, old, Conservative, Reform, Jews, and non-Jews sitting in one room.
Q: What do you feel is missing from the news headlines that are coming out of that region?
Mr. Harush: I feel like the news doesn’t talk about us at all. The people know nothing. We feel that, as far as the media goes, you only hear what happens on the other side of the border. That is very unfortunate for us. That is a big reason why we are here. We came to tell the truth of what has not been told or has been heard.
Q: What do you feel has not been told?
Mr. Harush: What has been going on for the past six months. It started with riots on the border where people would try to hurt our soldiers. They would also send balloon bombs over our communities. Those balloons have seriously damaged our forests and fields.
Every winter, there is a big festival going on. In the festival, there are beautiful red flowers that usually sprout during the festival and they are not allowed to be picked.
I always tell my daughter when I would take her not to pick those flowers. I tell her that if she wants to touch them, that is fine, but she cannot pick them. She respects the rule and follows it.
Then she sees the balloon and these balloons have burned that entire nature preserve where we picnic every year.
She asked me, “Papa, why is it burning?”
I tell her that I do not know, but it is someone who wants one red flower.
That’s just the fires. We can also talk about the rocket attacks. Just tonight, I got a text from my wife that my two daughters cannot sleep because the rockets are keeping them awake at night.
We go through a difficult time because someone on the other side of the border decided to launch rockets at us. They dictate our daily life.
Q: Are the rocket attacks random or are they targeted?
Mr. Harush: They are targeted. They launched toward our kindergartens and our communities. They are intending to hurt as many people as possible.
It is not about land. I used to live in the Gaza Strip and my house was destroyed. I was sad when I left, but the government said it was going to bring peace to the area. Now I live on the other side, and nothing has changed.
Q: How does that affect living near the Gaza Strip?
Mr. Harush: Our life is like a roller coaster. It is always an emergency setting. We could have one hundred rockets a day and then calm.
Q: How does your community stay strong and hopeful in the midst of all these attacks?
Mrs. Uziyahu: That is the most important question. How do we do it? I believe that there is something in the Jewish spirit that overcomes all challenges.
I mean, I can’t imagine what it’s like for my grandparents coming home after the Holocaust.
Besides that, in 2008, the government realized we had to do something for the communities which are always living under what we call the emergency routine, constantly living under alert.
One of the things that was created was a resiliency center. It’s supposed to help us answer the question of becoming stronger because we realize the people of Gaza are going nowhere.
We hope that one day, we can live by side by side with our neighbors.
Going back to your question, the resiliency center helps us by providing one-on-one therapy sessions, helping prepare us for the next emergency. We have to be united as a community and stand as a community.
I briefly served as an emissary and I could have stayed away, but I wanted to be home in my community.
How do we overcome? We stand proud to be a part of our community. That’s how we overcome.
When my children or I am afraid, and it’s okay to say you are afraid, we remember that we have people that we can go to for help.
We also do video therapy where people film what they have gone through and share their stories. This way they could tell their stories to the community, to the nation, and to the world.
We also have group therapies for the young, old, and this is how we overcome.
Five months ago when the crisis started, the first thing I felt was alone. It’s a very natural thing to feel, but we are not alone.
Like the Jewish National Fund, they are there for us. I helped bring the JNF to us and they have helped us.
We didn’t have that support earlier when things started to go bad. They were there for us with their staff on the ground, helping with firefighting equipment and so much more.
To find out more, you can visit the Jewish National Fund's website.