Nomika Zion founded the urban kibbutz Migvan in Sderot in
southwestern Israel. She is also director of the Center for Social
Justice in memory of Yaakov Hazan at the Van Leer Institute in
Jerusalem. The following translation is based on a speech she gave
in Hebrew at the "Gaza: End the Siege" demonstration in Tel Aviv on
December 2, 2006.
Early last week, I threw open the heavy metal shutters of my
"security room," which had been sealed shut for many months. The
room, which is both my work area and my "protected space" - filled
up with sunlight at once. It was a huge relief. Within minutes and
over the next two days, Qassam missiles landed around us, but
something in our consciousness was already calmer and more
optimistic. Thus began the cease-fire.
For most of you here tonight, the cease-fire is an important
political event. For us, adults and children in Sderot and the
adjacent villages, and for those in the Gaza Strip as well, it is
the simple human act of opening a window (if you have one at all),
and a release, if only for a moment, from the chronic fear and
oppressed uncertainty that have become our constant companions. It
is called: normal life.
Allow me to share with you some personal insights and feelings from
the past year. I have been living in Sderot for almost 20 years.
For five years and a half I have been "breathing" Qassam rockets
fired from Gaza. Some of them have struck a few meters from my
home, and for the first time in my life I understood the emotional
meaning of the expression "victims of shock and anxiety."
All the daily anxieties that have been extensively reported are
familiar to me. I adopted all the rituals conditioned by the
anxieties: to jump in response to any unusual noise, to nervously
watch the sky while walking in the city, to bolt out of bed like an
automaton at three in the morning and run to the fortified room, to
tensely wait for the boom, to verify that everybody is okay and so
Nevertheless I want to sound a slightly different tone. I will not
say anything new or original here. The only validity to my words is
the fact that I am a resident of Sderot. I am not leaving the town
for any Qassam. I am not returning to the flesh pots of Tel Aviv's
Sheinkin Street at the end of the day.
Let me start by saying that the repeated calls "to destroy Beit
Hanoun" (a Qassam launch area in the Strip), "to raze Gaza," "to
black out cities" and to "turn off the water" horrify me when they
are uttered by a frustrated public. They are even more horrifying
when they are stated by public figures, ministers and journalists
who express empathy.
There are calls for which there cannot be empathy! When one repeats
the same call so many times, it becomes inadvertently a legitimate
part of the daily agenda. What singed the ear five years ago is
suddenly transformed into acceptable music and then to sweet music.
One becomes accustomed. This process of becoming accustomed scares
me even more than the Qassams.
Sderot is a multi-cultural town, multi-tribal. Journalists must
exercise extreme caution when they presume to represent the
"feelings of the residents." Not all the residents of Sderot seek
revenge. Not all the residents of Sderot wish to "raze Beit
Hanoun." Not all wish to progress on rivers of Palestinian blood.
We have enough on this account. Too many years, too much
Just because I am one of those who believe in a real welfare state,
it is important for me to note that the State of Israel did indeed
rid itself of responsibility for many areas of the economy, but it
did not relieve itself of responsibility for Sderot. The media did
not forget Sderot. The Israeli public did not remain indifferent.
The army was not less "bombastic" because we are residents of the
periphery, rather than of posh Ramat Aviv Gimmel.
On the contrary. The media grabbed Sderot in an empathetic and
suffocating hug. The public in all its sectors expressed concern
and solidarity and rained gestures and gifts on us. The IDF pounded
the Gaza strip, day and night. Government ministries poured in
money, lots of money. The State was supposed to maintain aid until
things got better.
But last June, during the week in which the protest tent went up in
Sderot pointing its darts against the government, youth at high
risk (and there are a lot in Sderot) went out to demonstrate in the
town squares. "Where is the money?" they shouted when they learned
that their support networks were about to close, and they would
find themselves thrown out precisely during that difficult hour.
This is the really important question which hung in the air,
without an answer: Where did the money go? What are the priorities?
Does the municipal structure provide a true and correct response to
the needs of this exhausted city? The Qassam produces true
anxieties and mental burnout, but it also dangerously conceals the
economic and social problems, which are no less deep, and with
which the city must still deal.
During that same week in June, Vice Premier Shimon Peres chided us
to maintain restraint, and earned the unfortunate headline "Qassam,
Shmassam." I did not fall off my chair. The wording certainly did
not shine with political wisdom, but the content and the criticism
were worthy of examination. What Peres essentially said was that
panic is not a plan of action, that the destruction of Palestinian
cities is not an agenda.
Also in June, the "Festival of Southern Cinema" took place in
Sderot. This uplifting experience somehow did not rate media
coverage. In the darkened halls, David Ben Shitrit's jolting movies
about the refugee experience of Palestinian women were screened.
Also, the story of the dissident air force pilots was shown. It
seemed almost hallucinatory: Outside, the Qassams whistled and, on
the screen, endless Palestinian suffering splashed. Many spectators
bolted out of the theater; they did not want or could not allow the
images to crack their defense mechanisms. The power ethos and the
victim mentality that we get intravenously injected by the culture
after our first breath on earth are so deep that, at times, they
appear impenetrable. For me, it was a most powerful moment. This is
a Sderot I want to live in a Sderot that does not forget that on
the other side of the equation there is human suffering as
It is better for us to focus on the defense and strengthening of
Sderot rather then grab some short-term media gains at the expense
of the real work. The town is indeed exhausted, but it is not under
an existential threat.
The leadership does not need to promote hysteria; it needs to calm
things down. It does not need to stir up emotions; it needs to help
all of us to live in a complex reality in which there are no magic
solutions, and certainly none achievable by force. The leadership
does not need to black out and close off a town. It must maintain
routine life and stability. It does not need to rush and shut down
the education system; it needs to nurture and strengthen it. After
all, the kids that are loitering outside are less protected and are
more traumatized than children who are inside a stable and
A brave leadership can go far by transforming the calls for the
blood of Palestinians into extraordinary initiatives such as
meetings between youth from Sderot and Gaza.
The media coverage has raised my disgust to ever higher levels. It
fanned emotions and staged an endless number of dramas without
checking the facts. Sderot became a synonym for hysteria and
The media narrative has been addicted for years to the power
paradigm. Our screens show non-smiling and "non-apologetic"
security types, one after another, who reveal to us hypnotic plans
to defeat the Qassams through daring commando operations and a host
of other creative ideas that seem to have been taken from Rambo's
I am incensed by our Palestinian neighbors who recycle again and
again historical errors and shoot Qassams at us instead of creating
a Riviera in Gaza. By doing so they are condemning millions of
non-combatants to live in deeper squalor than they already do. But
he who sows wind during 40 years of occupation is destined to reap
a storm, and it is recurring in front of our eyes.
Yes, even after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza. Reality is
becoming increasingly more complicated and the State of Israel is
heavily responsible, too heavily responsible for this mess.
During the past few years, every time a little quiet sets in, or
some understanding is achieved, comes the next "targeted"
liquidation of a senior or junior wanted person, and Sderot
immediately assumes bombardment alert mode. Who benefited from all
these liquidations? What kind of security did we buy for ourselves,
save for the next barrage? For months we could not sleep, not only
because of the Qassams. The IDF pounded rocket launching sites 24
hours a day from the ground, air and sea. Nights without rest for
Sderot and the neighboring villages. A nightmare for the residents
of the Gaza Strip. An endless and useless bombardment. On whom? For
what purpose? Who did it benefit? What security achievements were
At the beginning of his term, a neighbor of mine in Sderot, Amir
Peretz, took a brave step as minister of defense. He reintroduced
the moral discussion into the narrative, the very morality that was
pushed out of the public debate many years ago. If and when it was
mentioned, it was generally only in soft tones, apologetic
mumblings that were whispered only after all the calculations of
image and advantage were reviewed. Not what we did, but how we will
look to the world.
Since last June, however, the person who reintroduced the moral
dimension into our narrative has built a cemetery in his heart,
where hundreds of bodies of innocent Palestinian children and
civilians lie. Veteran Labor leader Yitzhak Ben Aharon once said:
"I am trampling my own soul." Peretz has become, in my eyes, a
tragic hero. He trampled his own soul. Or at least that is how I
wished to see him - that his heart did not turn to stone, that the
power of the IDF did not completely intoxicate him. However, after
the second Lebanon War, after the wholesale slaughter and
destruction in Gaza under the cover of war and following it - I
don't know what to believe.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz,
something incredibly important happened here this past week. Don't
miss it! You even competed for the credit. The terrible thing that
happened to us, the citizens, is that we stopped believing. Give us
hope that there is something to believe in. Allow us to open a
window, the window in the "security room," and the window of
opportunity and the window of dialogue. Stop the liquidations
policy. Do not lead us under the populist deception of more force
and more force. It is not calming; it provokes panic!
Talk to them already! Through overt channels or covert ones.
Propose a creative policy. Break the myth of "There is nobody to
talk to," with which we are being drugged time and time again by
cynical politicians and their loyal spokespersons in the media. Do
not close any window of opportunity, and don't quash any initiative
in its infancy just to maintain a fossilized thought
Break the insane Chad Gadia1 hierarchy of violence. Everything has
already been tried ad nauseam. The butcher has already slaughtered
the ox, and the fire has consumed the stick that had beaten the dog
that had bitten the cat that had devoured the young goat. Only the
water has not yet extinguished the fire.
At least try, but honestly, without fear and preconditions, the
political option. It is your civil duty! It is your moral duty!
Because if you do not, singer Chava Alberstein's chilling rendition
of the never-ending Chad Gadia song will exemplify our reality,
just as I close with these words: "Once again, we start from the