A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting with some of Tucson’s “partners” who live in the small moshav (village) of Netiv Ha’asara, Israel. This small moshav, located on the border of Gaza, was founded by members who had lived in a moshav of the same name located in the Sinai Desert. That moshav was vacated when Egypt and Israel signed a peace accord in 1979.
It is a lovely community, full of productive greenhouses and dynamic and hard-working families.
During my recent visit to the area, I was able to visit with some wonderful young families who are part of a “Same Moon” project coordinated by our Jewish Federation, whereby families in Tucson partner with families in Israel in a monthly exchange of letters, pictures and emails. The families we visited were hospitable and able to spend time with us discussing their lives and hopes. A more promising future could not be imagined. As part of our growing partnership exchange, this region is also visited annually by many visitors from Tucson, including University of Arizona and Tucson Hebrew Academy students.
While the visit was wonderful, it was interrupted on several occasions by sirens announcing missiles being fired into Israel from Gaza. Sadly, residents on this moshav have been living with these terrifying dashes to the nearby bomb shelters since 2001, four years before Israel withdrew its presence from Gaza in 2005.
Amongst the residents in Netiv Ha’asara is a wonderful lady named Roni Kedar, who is well-known for her friendship with Gaza residents whom she helps transport to Israeli medical services for their routine appointments, and Tzameret, an artist who has created a beautiful Peace Wall of original tiles, right on the border. It inspired me to see that so many Israelis, like Roni and Tzameret are able keep their hearts open to their neighbors in Gaza even as they live with the threat of missiles fired indiscriminately in their direction.
As the volume of missiles increased in recent weeks, and their reach expanded to cover a territory where a full 80 percent of Israelis reside, I knew that it was inevitable that Israel would need to intervene to protect its citizens. As we ultimately witnessed, Israel commenced its air attack aimed to take out the missile launchers. When Hamas refused to accept the cease fire proposed by Egypt and the missiles continued to fly, Israel then moved ground troops into Gaza.
While the current hostilities seemed all too inevitable, what came to light this week was shocking even to me, an avid observer and recent visitor to the region.
Last week, it was revealed that among the many cavernous tunnels built by Hamas since Israel withdrew its population in 2005, the largest tunnel ended right under the houses of Netiv Ha’sara. At the same time during these past few days, Israel’s military has encountered Hamas terrorists, disguised as IDF - Israel Defense Forces soldiers, using tunnels like these to enter Israel with the intent to kidnap and murder Israeli civilians. It sends shivers through me to think how I was, how our many visitors from Tucson were, and how close my friends in Netiv Ha’asara are to the threat of terror.
As these dark days continue, and as we mourn the life of innocents on both sides of this conflict, I wonder how anyone can question Israel’s decision to eradicate the terror tunnels and put a stop to the missiles. Israel has a right to defend its people and its territory, as do all nations. I yearn to return to visit our partners in Netiv Ha’asara, and I pray it will be in peaceful times.