Encounter 154 – February 26, 2021

Today, there were several kinds of guests: a group of motorcyclists had parked at the entrance to the sulfur plant before we arrived, taken out the chairs and sat down. When we came in they were leaving. They said the idea of leaving chairs for public use was great, and one even managed to hear from me about the history of the building. No circle, no coffee, no talk, no listening. Motorcyclists…
Then came Michal, Benjamin and their son Eli on Michal’s back. No circle, some coffee, no talk, some listening.
As they were leaving, a cousin of Jaber arrived with 8 children. No circle, some coffee (just he), hello and welcome, I am Jaber’s cousin, active in ‘Standing Together’” and they proceed with their travel…
At this point it’s just Shmulik, Nahshi and myself.
Then Mark comes, we have coffee, I talk about ourselves.
Marks ways that when he was still in England, his father – born and raised in South Africa – told him that Israel was developing its own apartheid. Mark didn’t believe it until he came here and saw it with his own eyes.
Shmulik says we’re all “stuck to the fence”, on both sides of the Gaza fence, all prisoners. Gazans obviously, have no freedom of movement, and therefore ‘prisoners’ in the full sense of the word, and we’re prisoners in a situation we cannot change. But, he is optimistic, for if enmity between Jews and Germans has been quenched, our local brand will also come to an end.
Nahshi says he is glad to come to our meetings, but the situation is unhappy – there’s a fence and people suffering. Still our encounters are interesting and instructive.
Jonathan joins us.
Rami arrives.
Jonathan, originally from Kisufim, remembers the days we spent in Gaza. Those days are over and will not be back for at least the next decade. The Hamas runs deep in Gaza’s Palestinian society. One day it will change. The population there is a time bomb.
Uri, not from here, says Gaza is a “headache”. It’s ongoing with no peaceful end in sight. One learns to live with it.
Michal says it’s nice to hear that people living here manage to see the other side. She’s from Beer Sheva originally, and remembers visits in Gaza in her youth years, the market, shopping… Her daughter was a soldier at Nahal Oz and thinks the situation has worsened, but Michal is optimistic.
Tal says Gazans were always visiting them at home. Trading and running business deals. He says the Gazans wish to get back to the period of Civil Administration when trade relations were possible. Families knew each other. As a kid, he used to sit with them by the campfire and eat fish.
Alisa connects to our humanitarian side but is against using the term apartheid the way Mark does. Alisa worked with South African clients and knows what apartheid is. It may be similar, but it’s not policy. She does not believe things will get back to the way they were. She has hopes…
Ofira, Jonathan’s partner who came with Dvora and Ethan says they’re tired of the present situation but there’s no turning back. We have gone some ways and hatred has also grown, “helped along” by politicians.
Dvora does not feel very connected to what we say, but is all for peace and quiet. Reality, politics, and people’s tendencies do not lead to peace.
Ethan worked with Rabin as an economic consultant. He was there when the buzz was created around the idea of peace. Now it’s all trampled and gone and that’s sad. He thinks we were on the right track. Apparently, our people do not want it.
Nomika arrives, and Shmulik.
Rami tells about himself and about us. He talks about his grandfather who went to Palestine on a train built by the British, then on to geological stories of a million or two years ago, when the Bsor river fell 1.5 kilometers into the Mediterranean Sea and a 1,000- meters-deep canyon was formed. Everything was covered in sulfur that remained as a sediment in several lakes, one of them near the present location of Beeri. As for the present… This area is chosen by the most people in the world. Abraham is placed as an icon above the rest. Half of the world’s populace sees him as a father (Christian, Muslims and Jews). He crossed lands but chose to settle down here in Grar country. Rami was in Urga, Turkey, a Muslim city. According to Islam, that’s where Abraham was born. Rami presented himself there as a Beer-Shevan, like Abraham… That’s how he met the town’s Imam. He and a friend were led into the holy cave where, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was born and lived. Rami tells the circle about Abraham and Avimelech, King of Grar. He remembers his childhood close to the fence, and recalls times when he guided tours to Gaza, where even in quiet times one is tense. 3 years ago he felt something was lacking and founded the Migdalor. “I cannot hate”, Rami says.
Michal asks how many people come. Rami says there are about 10 regulars, and a second circle of several hundreds who already came a few times, and in the 3 years of the Migdalor’s activity, thousands have passed through.
Dina, Bella, Malki and Uzi show up.
Shmulik was a member of Kfar Aza prior to 1967. There were 3 kinds of infiltrators, he says. Those who came to see the houses from which they were expelled, some because the hunger in Gaza, and some to murder. Shmulik recalls one night when, while milking cows in the cowshed, he suddenly discovered a boy next to him who said he came to pass on information, in return for food… SHmulik took him to the military commander of the area and returned to his work. The next day the military commander told him the boy had been killed in an Israeli soldiers’ ambush on his way back.
Alisa tells about a citrus grove owner from Nes Ziona who was murdered by a veteran worker of his, from Gaza.
A family from Bir Hadaj arrives. Rami has known Farhan for years. From him he learned about Bedouin culture and the desert. Farhan founded the “Desert Ship” inn at Bir Aslouj.
With Farhan are his son Munir, a dentist, his son Siraj, wife Anhar and sisters Nihel and Asra. The Farhans have coffee and proceed on their way, not before Farham appreciates what we do.
Rami and Anat from Rehovot arrive. Before they came they were standing on the ANZAK memorial, looking toward Gaza. Rami said to Anat, “How can 2 million people be held hostage like this?” And so here they are, with us…
Uzi says that Gvulot was founded without violence nor dispossession! He feels sorry about Gaza, from both sides, but the responsibility for a solution lies mostly on our shoulders!
Malki recalls a 15-year-old girl from Jerusalem who visited the circle 2 weeks ago. The girl had said she cannot comprehend how girls her age live in Gaza.
Dina, as a local, feels the need to do something to try and solve the conflict. Everyone must do his own little thing.
Bella likes to come because we are like a family. Gaza is something between hope and despair. She is afraid of the coming elections and the “storm” that might follow.
Nomika says one must fight against denial and national callousness. Listen to the narrative of the other. She is a co-founder of “Another Voice”, a group trying to dialogue with Gazans. It is important for her to know she is doing everything she can. Shmulik recalls that in Kfar Aza he used to be a shepherd too, and the border was marked by a ditch (perhaps just a furrow deep). He was afraid that some sheep might cross the ditch… Gaza’s lights seemed very near. After the 1967 war he visited Gaza and was impressed with the hatred that people’s eyes there reflected. He participated in the founding of “Another Voice”.
Anat is not a local and admits they live in a bubble, in a comfort zone. Gaza is sad but that’s reality. The discourse among us is problematic.
Rami: The situation hurts, not only Gaza is captive in a terrible situation. We are all hostages of a leadership that wishes to preserve this situation. It’s a dictatorship on both sides. He says that perhaps we’re doing something small, but it might generate change outside the “reserve” in which we speak and live. He hopes that elections will change something.
Vera and Roni, Noa and Amir arrived, traveling close by with Doron, their guide. But they came close to 4 p.m. and made do with coffee.
Participants: Benjamin, Michal and little Eli, Shmulik, Oded, Nahshi, Jabar’s cousin with 7 kids, a group of motorcyclists, Mark, Uri, Michal, Tal, Alisa, Rami, Ophira, Jonathan, Dvora, Ethan, Nomika, Shmulik, Malki, Uzi, Bella, Dina, Anhar, Farhan, Munir, Siraj, Nihal and Asra, Anat, Rami, Vera, Roni, Noa and Amir, Doron.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 153 – February 19, 2021

This has never happened before. We were our own guests… Yes, just like that. When we arrived at our usual Migdalor site, Shmulik, Nahshi, Hayuta and myself, a family was already sitting there, from Rahat (Bedouin town). Fatma, Seif, and their four children – Fadel, Malak, Baker and little Mohammad. They were sitting on the school chairs we had brought, the school table in the middle, covered by a plastic sheet. Seif was busy over a small barbecue, Fatma with an eggplant-garlic salad. The children were around them, ready to help with anything. We greeted them, lay down our boxes, and Nahshi began to prepare coffee… We held an acquaintance talk, joined with the food-stuffs we had brought – halla and Nahshi-bread, spreads, pastries and cookies. It’s cold, sometimes raining.
Rami arrives, Roni arrives. We are invited to share the barbecue and offer tea, coffee and bread. We all crowd around the table. The children are not fluent in Hebrew. Fine eaters. It’s the setting for an encounter.
In order not to write too much here, I’m not reporting the talks – at times quite interesting, about plenty of topics unrelated to “Gaza”. So as usual, first of all – Gaza.
Only after an hour-and-a-half of mingling, Rami in his special way gently “threads in” the topic of Gaza…
Mari arrives.
Fatma, a teacher in a Rahat school, tells us her grandparents lived in Absan village, in the Gaza Strip. This already feels like close-neighbors talk. The village lies across the fence, up to which spread the fields in which I sometimes work myself. She visited there as a child. Today it seems like something she had dreamt… The sea, the market, grandma’s food and other little things that children do while visiting their grandparents. Memory-dream. Her mother maintains phone contact with the family there, not Fatma. The grandmother remained in the village until she died. The grandfather died in Jordan in the arms of another woman.
Rami expands and talks about us and the reason for our being here week after week. The world has forgotten Gaza, he says. We are here in order to remember it. The connection created today among the circle participants is symbolic of our purpose here. An encounter of people with each other. He explains the symbolism of the idea of “Migdalor” – lighthouse.
Seif says that most people want to live without dealing with the past. If Jews and Arabs can live together, it could be so marvelous that people from the whole world would come to see it with their own eyes!
Rami asks Fatma to bring her mother to the Migdalor. (72 years old…)
Fatma says her mom would be moved to tears!
Shmulik speaks about the Abu Al Qian family from Gaza. When he visited them with his family, many years ago, when it was still possible, his daughter played with the children there and they were all touching her hair to see whether her blond was real…
Nahshi wishes to speak with the neighboring Absan villagers.
Hayuta says she sees the villages of the Gaza Strip when she takes walks at the outskirts of her kibbutz.
Roni is afraid, but is active on a daily basis so there won’t be reasons to be afraid… She’s very up to date on the goings on in Gaza because of her ties with many Gazans who have her helping them. She spoke with an activist in Gaza who is certain that they will be changing their regime in the elections to be held there in May. She speaks about a field hospital founded there where everyone works on a voluntary basis. The Hamas is not allowing patients to get there. It’s inside the Gaza area but beyond the Hamas guard post… The hospital needs patients in order to be fully active but at the moment it is still facing trouble with the Hamas. She speaks about a social activist who is now at a crossroads about his activity, and about a woman-activist who is staying in touch with an Israeli friend even though she is no longer in Gaza. Roni says she heard a talk with Martin Indik who said that as long as Netanyahu and Abas are in charge it will be very difficult. He considers federation as a possible solution. But first each nation has to recognize the nationhood of the other.
Seif thinks that world should not blame an entire people because of a specific gang… There are good and bad people everywhere. Everyone wants to live. To meet on the beach, in the market, with the good life. Whoever’s “inside” is good cannot do harm. When the leaders “calm down” we could build a life of humans in cooperation and peace. The children are not to blame, we must bring them up on human values.
That’s it, now we all put back the chairs, table and barbecue…
Before we disperse, Hayuta asks Fatma for a big hug and gets it.
Participants: Seif, Fatma, Baker, Malak, Fadel, Mohammad, Shmulik, Hayuta, Rami, Nahshi, Oded Roni Mari.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 151 – February 5, 2021

17 women and men composed the creation of Migdalor today, with their voices. As usual, the regular vocalists met first (Shmulik, Rami, Nahshi and myself) and with them Sheli who comes from time to time to sound her own unique voice. Then came Niva who had visited Migdalor several times in the past, with her 18-year-old son Ido who is now in a pre-military year framework.
Ido is interested in geology, and Rami, in homage of Ido, begins the circle with geology and combines the ‘Migdalor’ through his scholarly explanations about various types of rock. He likens us to a rock that is slowly and naturally consolidating.
Shmulik reads a poem he wrote after visiting Jabar in his unrecognized village of Al Zarnouk. Jabar took us to see the home of a doctor at Beer Sheva’s Soroka Hospital, demolished by the authorities because they claimed it was built illegally. Inspired by the sights of this destruction, Shmulik wrote his poem.
Jabar tells about Al Zarnouk and the unrecognized villages, with which most Israelis are not familiar and don’t want to be. But Gaza, he says, is nearby indeed, but forgotten.
Malki asks Jabar to speak about the course at Neve Shalom (an Arab-Jewish community, singular of its kind in the country). The course trains facilitators about the conflict to work with schools. Right now, because of the Covid-19 restrictions the course is “limping” a bit…
Dina who lives in this unquiet region thinks one should do, not just speak from the sofa. People near us are living in poverty and stress, near but far away.
Sheli thinks about Gaza helplessly because of her inability to respond to their helplessness. She has not yet found a way to help.
Malki comes for her spirit, so as not to be detached from the problems that hound the world in which she lives. She too is helpless in view of the situation. What one can do in all of this despair is to meet here. A kind of mission.
Uzi tells us that a poem by Israel Neta of Kibbutz Be’eri has been published this week – Between two Large Streams (the Bsor and the Grar). The poem touched him. Uzi was born a year before the 1948 Nakba, and came to Gvulot two years before the 1967 Naksa. For him Gaza means profound sadness and a feeling of having lost.
Niva has already visited us in the past. She works towards developing culture in the regional councils of the Western Negev desert. Rahat, too (the government-built Bedouin town). She thinks about Gaza ever since she became a mother (Ido’s). She thinks about the mothers in Gaza who cannot protect their children, neither health-wise nor security-wise, largely unlike herself. During a crisis, ‘idiots built dams, wise men build bridges’, she adds.
Ido hadn’t really given much thought to Gaza. A son of his dad’s friend was killed in one of the last massive Israeli attacks. In his pre-military year people tell tales of courage and he, having been influenced by his mom to adhere more to the political left, has been trying to cope.
Before they take leave of the circle, I tell Ido that it is important for me to listen and speak with guys his age because of the ‘junction’ they’re at now, between youth and adulthood, with all that this entails in this country. Ido sounds a monologue presenting his belief that if ‘dirty’ work (checkpoints, entering Palestinian homes in the middle of the night etc.) must be done, better it be done by people like ‘me’ (Ido) who are aware of the problematics of our relations with the Palestinians… So much needs to be said here…
Ghadir mentions Ruth Dayan (who just passed away at nearly 104) and reads out Leah Goldberg’s poem “To Whoever Does Not Believe”. Ghadir come here to continue and believe in spite of the reality around us. She turns to Ido and tells him to remember that just like he has a mom waiting for him at home, so do people ‘over there’. “I have no children of my own but all the children of the world are mine” she says, moved, and continues to say that it is now “the darkness before dawn”. She belongs to an interfaith group along with settler-colonists from the West Bank and right-wing people, and feels that the dialogue is hard, Sisyphean, but slowly certain points of agreement are being reached. She is certain that whoever comes here to our circle would be affected by the discourse. It is important for change. We sail different boats – she airs this metaphor. They are all on their way to sink… One needs to help the other.
Nahshi recalls his past. Neighbors in Gaza closer than distant Israelis… One day we shall be a single space. He hopes it will happen in his lifetime. Visits to the Migdalor are his minimum. He also hopes that the good future is closer than we might think.
Brian tells about himself, explains that ‘debate’ is a mechanism to solve contesting issues by convincing through argument. He explains debate technique: not to raise one’s voice, to convince logically and develop one’s ability to understand the logic of the opponent. There are contests in ‘debate’. He says it works pretty well with students, though not with all.
Avi arrives with his 3 children (Daniel, Amit and Hila). Rami explains to them who we are and what we do, and makes Gaza ‘accessible’ to them. At first through numbers and statistics, and then telling them about the youngsters (“your ages”…) closed inside Gaza. He tells about himself and his familiarity with Gaza after the 1967 war (we were described as monsters), about a Gazan friend his age who came to his kibbutz Beeri at the age of 14 to seek work and remained there to work for many years.
Avi says he traveled with his children in the Judean desert and they met Palestinian travelers from Jericho. They conversed… He finds it hard to understand that things here opposite Gaza are different, and that one cannot speak face to face.
Rami says that Gazans may be met in all kinds of other frameworks. Whoever wants to hear them can easily find a way. Everyone has forgotten about Gaza, he concludes.
Avi and his children continue their trip.
Brian talks about the change he underwent after coming to Israel and gives us the example of his familiarity with the Bedouin society. How from an encounter that was a part of a group trip in the country, many years ago when he was 17 and they had breakfast ‘with the Bedouins’, he had evolved, immigrated to Israel as an adult and became a debate teacher in the Bedouin community of Hura.
That’s it for today.
Participants: Rami, Shmulik, Sheli, Nahshi, Oded, Ido, Niva, Jabar, Ghadir, Uzi, Malki, Dina, Hila, Amit Daniel, Avi, Brian.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 150 – January 29, 2021

“Summaries come at the end…” says the cliché. But today at Migdalor we had no end… Right in the last half-hour as we listened to Dor who moved us with her description of the reality of her life these days through her work with Gisha Association and the conflict she finds herself in with her family and friends – we were suddenly “swamped” with visitors and travelers.
But let’s take it from the beginning.
It didn’t actually rain, but there was a freezing wind blowing. Bleak sunlight is filtered through black clouds. As Shmulik, Nahshi, Hayuta and I look for the most protected corner of the usual structure, Rami arrives with his ‘fire engine’ at the car-park and invites us over. It’s a ‘fire engine’ because outwardly that’s what it looks like, and actually used to be. Now the hind part of the truck was transformed into a well-gadgeted studio apartment! So, in fact Rami invites us into his digs-on-wheels. Our ‘circle’, then, takes place in the car-park by the wheels…
Soon enough Alon arrives with his three kids. He enjoys our coffee and the kids munch on the Tu Bishvat delicacies that Shmulik had brought (New Year of the trees and plants, celebrated with planting and eating dried fruits…) as well as Nahshi’s halla and spreads. Alon’s three small children were promised a tour before their father was tempted with coffee, and they drag him off to a walk through the old sulfur plant.
Then Dor arrives, and soon after her – Maharan. Later Brian will be here too.
Rami opens and says that lately, although we keep coming, we hardly ever talk about Gaza. Lots of things are happening in the world and in the country and Gaza has been pushed off the agenda. In the past Rami used to be invited to encounters with Palestinians (Beit Jalla, Aqaba) and has been invited again because ironically, he is the one bringing Gaza’s voice. But it’s a single voice, and in fact a silenced one. This is why he makes sure that at least the name Gaza be heard.
Shmulik reminds us that Roni is the main engine behind talks with Gaza and these days she is being careful at home for fear of the pandemic. Roni’s everyday phone contacts with Gaza are important and her experience enables to maintain this contact without endangering our Gazan friends.
Shmulik feels it’s important for him to show up every week even if onloy to see Al Buraij from where we sit… It’s also important for him to listen, speak and learn about the space through the information shared in our circle.
Maharan emphasizes Gaza’s troubles in Corona times, and says it’s the occupier’s duty to care for the occupied. Gaza is not present in the Israeli consensus and gets no attention. Every people whose economy works likes to live and live well. In Gaza, hardship brings on violence. He knew Gasa as a child and after years, entered again and discovered a very different place. The older generation is gone.
When it’s my turn to speak, I say that I have been undergoing a process in the past three years, as I’m absorbing more and more knowledge. Such knowledge creates a growing gap between me and my environment and it’s hard to bridge it. The inability to communicate with Gazans makes me deal with other components of the current situation.
Rami says that I sound ‘surrendering’ to conditions that are dictated to me against my will, and that I actually give in to those who make them and deny us dialogue with Gaza. I agree with him. I am definitely aware of the fact that my ability to focus on and communicate with Gaza is tracked by the Israeli rulers and that I am actually rather ‘surrendering’. But, as I reiterate, ‘revolt’ on my part might endanger my Gazan conversants.
Hayuta opens by mentioning the international Holocaust Memorial day. This year she opened Etti Hilsum’s cards and they inspired her to see faith and morality in proportion. Hilsum’s diaries were written in hiding during two years under the Nazi occupation of Holland. Hilsum gives decided significance to everything in her life and takes a conscious decision to go with the Jews to Auschwitz. Hayuta is moved by the fact that the initiative to create the cares was taken together by a Jewish and a Palestinian woman, fitting Hilsum’s message of their shared link.
Now came Dor’s turn: the first time she came she introduced herself and the university where she studied and experienced discussions and struggles of students the world over. She realizes that in order to be involved she must define for herself the idea of ‘home’. When she came and introduced herself in the circle she discovered that in fact she was defining that home When she came to Israel, it was for a learning journey. She still ‘rocked’ with her truth and was slowly, gradually forming a backbone. She tried to please many sides along this process and lost her way a bit. Her contact with her family and friends in Israel faced her with questions she was not yet ready to answer. Was she a part of this story? Is she Israeli? American? She felt she needed to justify her choice of work with “Gisha”. The results of her internal and external deliberations affect her. The family to whom she has exposed herself does not understand her ‘political’ choices. She wishes to explain to them about Gisha but is looking for the right way to do this without creating resistance. Hayuta asks and she explains that Gisha works especially towards freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially from Gaza. Gisha, like every organization aiding Palestinians, is under Israeli governmental scrutiny that looks for any unlawful detail in an attempt to delegitimize the organization. In her work she must work with her ‘heart’ and also ignore it…
Maharan, also a lawyer, tries to demonstrate to Dor how he thinks she should do so, and does so by explaining about the profession of attorneys that, he says, need to grow a very thick skin… He thinks the Separation Fence is damaging. Once in a meeting with Women Making Peace he said that the Fence would bring about apartheid. He tells Dor that she is going to be dealing with apartheid.
Rami asks Dor whether she feels that her work with Gisha is a calling? She goes back to who she actually is, and wonders whether she is able to be exposed to all the stories and cases that appeal to Gisha.
At this point, a car brings to us Nomi – Rami’s partner, Nir – his daughter, and Rotem – his son and his partner Rinat. The meeting interrupts Dor, and some minutes later several cars stop by us with about ten couples of visiting travelers. Soon enough Rami finds himself in the middle of women interested in what he has to say. Apparently, these are all teachers form the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom who organized their partners for some travel… This hubbub takes us way beyond our finishing time. The group leaves, not before openly being moved by our project…
This is it. As I wrote, there’s a summary, but Dor did not really get to finish, so this is not the end. To be continued next week.
Participants: Shmulik, Hayuta, Dor, Oded, Rami, Nahshi, Maharan, Brian, Nomi, Nir, Rotem, Rinat, Alon (+3 kids) and ten young couples from Segev Shalom…
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 149 – January 22, 2021

Again, a nice sunny day after 2 days of rain.
Nahshi, Shmulik, Rami and I fix the circle outdoors, in the warm sun.
Rami came early in order to continue his project of exposing the sulfur plant and old British army barracks next to it. His discoveries are impressive! This time another lead was found about the soldiers’ recreation time. Guidance will be given in situ…
Jaber arrives with Hitham and their 3-year old son Walid.
Nomi arrives to.
Travelers peep from above. They are invited to join us, come, sit down, have coffee. Rami explains to them in short what and why…
A circle begins. Nomi says she would be glad to be able to walk straight from here to the Gaza beach.
Hitham says she joins us occasionally and speaks of the fruits that peace could give. She was in Gaza only once, at the age of 10. She doesn’t join us often as she works Fridays. She feels good here.
Nahshi is impressed with the beauty of the area. Gaza is so close, and so far. We have forgotten the good relations we used to have with the Gazans. Here we recall them. We have suppressed our awareness of the goings-on there. This is our opportunity to remember that the past was beautiful and the future will be impressive.’
Yossi remembers that as a child he used to ride the bus with his mom from Ashkelon to Gaza. During the First Intifada he came there as a reserves soldier and did not really understand the situation. His son lost an eye in a war. He knows that everything is temporary and that contacts will arise again.
Shir is a fresh mother. She has a business in the town of Sderot: a pasta place, together with Lir and Idan who came too. She doesn’t know Gaza, has never been there. She has only experienced trouble from there, although she does think about living in this dangerous area, intends to buy a house, even.
Lir, Yossi’s daughter, grew up in Mefalsim. Now she lives in Tel Aviv. She was not aware of the defense dangers around here. In the army she realized her fears and that since the age of 3-4 she has been living in fear.
Idan, from Mefalsim. Loves the area. Prefers to regard the good side of Gaza as he got it from his parents’ stories. He thinks something should be done to improve the situation.
Rami, present at the beginning and at the end of the circle, says that Gaza is wrapped up and closed in fear. Gaza is a historical junction.
Asaf, Smadar and Noa arrive. Nomi asks Rami to tell us all about the anemone flower and we get a botanical lecture… As a bonus, Shmulik adds some details about this wondrous flower. Rami says there is a photo from 1917 of an Australian officer holding a huge bouquet of anemones. There are also photos of soldiers from the First World War who camped here and were photographed inside a field of anemones. In the past, when the area (around 10,000 dunams) was tilled, there were hardly any anemones left. Since it has been declared a nature reserve, their quantities are impressive again.
Some more Haruvi family members arrive: Mirale (Rami’s mom), Dganit and Ilan (his sister and brother). Rami takes us all to see his discoveries. Through them he explains the British army’s deploying in this area to face the German threat.
That’s it.
Participants: Hitham, Jaber, Walid, Yossi, Shir, Lir, Idan, Nomi, Rami, Oded, Nahshi, Shmulik, Smadar, Asaf, Noa, Ilan, Mirale, Dganit.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 148 – January 15, 2021

Rami: Hello, Matan, how old are you?
Matan: ???
Talya (Matan’s mom): 6
Rami: 6-years old, great! Want a story, Matan?
Matan: ???
Rami: Good. What would you say, Matan, if right here near us were a train station where you could board a train straight to the pyramids? Do you know the Pyramids, Matan?
Matan: ???
Talya: Suuuure! From Felix (“Letters to Felix”, a series of travel books for children. O.B.)
Rami: And do you know, Matan, that the pyramids are huge! (Rami invites Matan to stand and compares their height…). You see, Matan, the pyramids are much much taller even than me… So you should know that right here near us was once a train station where real trains took passengers to the pyramids and to Damascus.
The space experience for children, Rami’s version. This is how he explains to Matan, his parents Talya and Yaniv and his infant brother Itai about what we do…
When we arrived – Shmulik, Nahshi and myself – we had no great expectations… after all, a “tight” lockdown has been decreed.
In this spirit I sent a photo of our “symbolic presence”. Until Nahshi readies our first pot of coffee, we go down – Shmulik and I – to see how the olive tree is doing that we planted about two and a half years ago on a bed of peace seeds.
The tree and the peace seeds were brought by a Tibetan nun whose Tibetan name I don’t recall, but before her Tibetan incarnation her name used to be Yael… The tree, like the mission it was assigned, has a hard time developing, but we must note that it is struggling and surviving, and even showing green leaves!
In the meantime, a bike rider arrives and when he takes off his helmet, we realize it’s Mark. Of our circle’s veterans, Mark has lately been very busy in climate matters and taken part in the “extinction rebellion” group, fighting for preserving life on this planet. Unfortunately, the main struggle is with governments and big-money, and therefore it is a hard and Sisyphian one. Most of our discourse at this point focuses on climate matters that Mark takes the trouble to explain to us.
Two people arrive – Lior and Ayal. Ayal is ‘armed’ with a huge camera. They live around here, are familiar and invited to coffee. They accepted the invitation, had coffee and left before sounding any kind of Gaza awareness.
Rami arrived – just got his second Covid-19 vaccine shot today. Shmulik and I have already done so, and Nahshi is on his way to the second shot.
Maharan arrives. We’ll have “stories”…
Yaniv and Talya and their kids arrive too. Traveling. They’re from Rami’s kibbutz and for their sake we held an acquaintance circle the opening of which I already quoted above.
After Rami’s explanation, Mark says something I noted especially for these notes: “I am looking for a place where I needn’t be ashamed to say that I’m ashamed of my country”. Me too. Mark has been less enthusiastic about coming to Migdalor lately, but feels that we’re like family that one doesn’t always have to come visit… As long as there is quiet in the area, he says, it’s hard to remember the frightful moments.
Yanic grew up in Kiryat Ata (in northern Israel). He has come following his wife, didn’t know our area. He began to hear from friends about the history. He experienced Gaza in the confrontations since he has been living around here. Now he realizes that they too deserve to live, and that if we could help… His father came from Iraq, speaks Arabic, and therefore sometimes used to speak it with Arabs. Yaniv hadn’t given Gaza a thought. After the army, for his job, he came to the Occupied Territories, and only then did he get to know it. He works for a firm that produces ‘means’ for the Israeli army.
A discussion of history ensues, led by Rami, as Maharan – a trained history teacher – tries to “branch off” occasionally to the information he holds, away from what Rami is saying. This is no longer a proper “circle” and the speakers keep interrupting each other, but since only us veterans are left (Talya, Yaniv and the children left to continue their hike), there is much value in any information.
So this is what I managed to write down. First, Rami: For 600 years the Ottomans were an “area empire”, namely “empire” because of the size of the area under their control, and of these – 400 years in our area. They developed Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ramla and other places. Gaza was not of interest to them, nor the entire Negev desert. Maharan says that they hanged his great-great-grandfather for not paying taxes. Rami said that Beer Sheva did not interest the Turks until the Suez Canal was dug. The canal, dug by the British and the French, threatened them and they began to develop Palestine’s southern cities as well. Now an “argument” ensued between Maharan and Rami. According to the latter, Beer Sheva was a godforsaken village. In 1900 the Ottomans brought Austrian and German engineers and wished them to build a rail lines (the Hejazi train existed as well as local lines) in the direction of Beer Sheva, Ramat Hovav, Bir Asluj. They never made it. The Ottomans developed Beer Sheva as a gift to the Bedouin tribes so they would not cause trouble but cooperate in view of the British threat from Egypt. They took rocks from Byzantine Halutza and built a real city – grain mill, hospital, water wells (17). Everything in military fashion. Beer Sheva turned into a military center. In 1917, and after the First World War, the British lay a water main and a railway track from Egypt to Palestine within 3 months. The Ottomans realize belatedly that they should have fortified Gaza. The British disconnect them from Beer Sheva and fight for Gaza.
Travelers peep at is from above. Rami goes to convince them to join us, and in the meantime Maharan tells us about the Jewish tribes who supported Mohammad, and those who didn’t. About Ethiopia that was a regional power and wanted to destroy Mecca. About the Persian empire stretching all the way to Yemen. Yemen was Christian. The Persians brutalized the Christians and they fled, except for the inhabitants of two towns that were Bedouin. According to Maharan, the Persians saved Islam, that was about to be wiped out, and the Ottomans were determined to preserve it.
Moussa and Amjad arrive in the middle of Maharan’s talk, and listen. Rami asks them what Gaza means to them. Amjad’s mother is Gazan-born. I note that someone has already been here with a similar story, and Mussa says that half of the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom are families one of whose parents came from Gaza. According to them, at present there is hardly any contact even while family relations live there. For the youngsters, Gaza is “somewhere out there” even if mom was born there…
Rami explains about our circle and invites them to continue coming.
Participated: Yaniv, Talya, Matan and Itai (their children), Rami, Shmulik, Maharan, Mark, Nahshi, Oded, Ayal, Lior, Moussa, Amjad
Wrote – Oded.

Encounter 147 – January 8, 2021

All we wanted was to keep the lighthouse lit, make sure that anyone who needs it would not lose hope, even when it’s dark and closed all around.
When we got there, Shmulik and I, at the usual time – Rami’s firetruck was already there in the car-park and we got a thorough explanation of this magnificent ‘ship of the desert’ along with Doron, Sharon and their children, while sipping coffee and being updated on the news in times of closure.
The Golani Infantry battalion commander in charge of the area arrived. His wife and children came to visit him here because he has not been able to leave here for 3 weeks already. Rami takes the commander and his family for a round and explanation about the site and about us.
We do the same thing with the command-team soldiers – of the different Israeli locations of Holon, Beit Shean and Karmiel – who manage to agree that “it used to be happy here before we got here” and could be that way again.
After the military unit proceeds with its mission, Rami and Shmulik reminisce about their common neighborhood in Giv’atayim, and apparently Shmulik’s brith (circumcision ceremony) was held at the Aldema house opposite the Haruuvis…
Some more stories about Tzippora’s collective grocery, and then it’s time to say goodbye… Until next week.
We were Rami, Shmulik and Nahshi
Wrote – Nahchsi

Encounter 146 – January 1, 2021

Israel declared ‘lockdown’. On Whatsapp correspondence this week there were ‘hinted’ doubts about a Zoom encounter on Friday… On the other hand, whoever listened to the media this week realized this ‘lockdown’ was totally full of holes and whoever referred to it dismissed it as unnecessary and un-enforceable.
We came to our ‘lighthouse’ site anyway… Shmulik, Nahshi, Hayuta and I. We met a traveling couple who said they were already on their way back to the car, but remained only to hear who we are, and in the meantime the coffee arrived, followed by other interesting people, and the couple stayed for another hour and a half…
The woman, Sarit, turned out to be no less than Rami’s neighbor! And when Rami would arrive after a while, we would learn about their special connection. In the meantime, she wished to hear about us, and we told her and began our circle. I opened by explaining about us and the structure we are sitting in.
Sarit’s turn: she says that as a resident of the area, she was very frightened during the ‘security’ events (aka offensives), to the point that she needed professional help. Now, when something happens, she goes out to photograph and be impressed close up… She does not believe that in this life she will get to ride her bike to the beach at Gaza… She is no longer scared but does not believe anything will change. As a child she heard her dad’s stories about Gaza. How strongly they hate us over there. Her children are a bit ‘messed up” because of the ‘security’ situation, but she sees the place she lives in as her home and has no intention of leaving the area.
Morris was born in Sderot (also in the vicinity). He is no longer there. He has a brother there. The brother’s kids, like Sarit’s, are traumatized by the ‘security’ situation. Morris remembers Gaza from his childhood and trips with his family. In the army he served in the entire Gaza Strip.
Shmulik extends the information about our circle’s link with Gaza, for Sarit and Morris.
Nahshi wishes to relate to whoever comes to our circle the sense of normality that we once had vis a vis the Gazans. He reminds himself of it through our circle’s encounters.
Hayuta comes mainly to hear everyone.
Jaber arrives, with Ghadir. She is still on the phone and remains outside while Jaber tells about his unrecognized village, Al Zarnouk. Sarit questions him about life conditions there. Jaber says that the sheep and poultry in the neighboring Jewish village of Nevatim have a better life… Still he comes here because there are people whose life is even harder than his and they live over there, in Gaza. Morris asks about Jaber’s origins. Jaber tells him his forefathers were from the Negev, have always been there, and now they are scattered all over the area.
Rami arrives. In Kibbutz Beeri he lives near the animals and when anything happens, the first to respond are the geese, and right afterwards, Sarit’s security-room window slams shut… After the 2014 offensive he had anxieties. He couldn’t find peace and went walking a lot. When he came to the sulfur plant he felt no fear. He sat. Friends arrived. He began to invite people.
Sarit tells us that from early on her daughter has been connected to Rami and his girlfriend calms her fears. Rami adds that at the Migdalor a space has come into being where it’s possible to speak of our pains as well as others’. For him Gaza is a “great gift”.
For Ghadir, the Migdalor is a social and political encounter. She emphasizes them both equally. Gaza is one big jail. Before Gaza was closed off and came under siege, she participated in encounters that took place there. It hurts her that on both sides of the border children grow up seeing only an enemy on the other side, and they – the children – pay the price of their parents’ choice. Every minute, every second is critical in this situation, and one must not let go for a moment from acting towards peace and reconciliation.
Sarit responds to Ghadir’s words and says that her children too, and she herself, think about the Gaza children whenever there’s ‘an event’.
The Arabs’ situation in Israel hurts Ghadir, certainly vis a vis the Jewish Israelis and among them as well. Arabs should be ‘pushed’ into all of the political parties in order to look out for their situation in the country. She thinks that reconciliation with the Palestinians is more important than any peace accords. In the Lebanon war, a missile fell in the yard of her family home in Acco. Her own anxieties are identical with everyone else’s. The state of things with the Covid-19 virus is worrisome. Most of Acco’s residents at present are Arabs who escaped their villages in the area in 1948. Only two families (hers is one of them) remained in Acco originally. Acco’s Arab inhabitants were expelled to Lebanon in 1948.
Hanan came to Migdalor because of the kites. He is a kite-person and as such, it hurt him that kites were used (by the Gazans) for destruction. He likes to come, but has gotten a bit tired of worrying about Gaza… Trouble never ceases. He has come to nurture hope but feels that it has been too much.
There are fermented miniature carrots on the table! It is grown in Nir Yitzhak. A conversation ensues about farming… Rami speaks of his activity on various ‘operations’ as a coordinator on behalf of the state. He coordinated between farmers and the army on standby areas in order to prevent damages in farmlands, and coordinated with the state about restitution for lands that were damaged. So he helped fix the army’s damages on the one hand, and now helps to fix damages on the other side… Injustice is injustice and must be fixed…
Guests arrive! We hold an acquaintance round. Our guests are Eliraz and Noam. Rami tells about us. He quotes a Beeri poem (of the kibbutz’ 30th-anniversary) to say that the kibbutzniks defined themselves back then as ‘settlers’… He speaks of Ali’s well of which and from whom they received water, about the battle of Gaza waged between the Ottomans and the British (we Israelis were not involved?…) and about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled to Gaza in 1948. In 1949 Israel and Egypt signed an agreement that imprisons the refugees in a strip of 12 by 50 kilometers and at once the population grew significantly. At times, in the circle, family members and descendants of the refugees of yesteryear sit together.
Eliraz and Noam hurried home before the Sabbath and therefore only listened, and we- curious – hope they will come again and be heard too.
Words: Shmulik, Jaber, Hayuta, Oded, Morris, Sarit, Ghadir, Nahshi, Rami, Hanan, Noam and Eliraz
Tune: the wind, the space and the sound of Nahshi’s gas flame on which coffee and tea were brewed. Every week a new song is arranged here.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 145 – December 25, 2020

When I got to writing the present report, I realized I had begun to summarize the participants’ words only when Brian arrived, and that was already 2:30 p.m., half-way through…
So what went on earlier? Only from memory…
We invited Rina and Eyal and their three children who were just traveling in the sufur plant. Rina was born and raised on a kibbutz in this space and lives with Eyal and their children in Rishon le-Zion. The parents sat with us and the kids continued running around and playing hide-and-seek.
First we were Shmulik (making coffee), Roni and I. I began the “ceremony”.
From the ramp above us, five youngsters slid down into the structure. We invited them to share coffee. Two accepted – Anis and Kiram. The other three went out to explore the surrounding. I began again: “My name is Oded Nir, from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, and we have been sitting here every week now for 2 years and 9 months”…
The other three then joined us – Talal, Mohammad and Seif. I began for the third time…
Rina and Eyal left…
The five youngsters introduced themselves. Anis, the talker, said they were all cousins, nearly all born in 1999, only Talal in 2000. They’re traveling.
After they heard us why we’re here and what’s the idea, Anis began a fluent monologue around the experience he and his friend had when they went to Hebron to fix something in their car, and what they had to undergo at the checkpoint on their way back. Problems arose because the friend had no ID on him (he doesn’t own one, even at home…) and innocently they had thought that if they just say they’re Israeli citizens everything will work out… Well, it worked out after about 9 hours. In between Anis talked about his insights of people in the area and his own will that everyone be fine.
Malki arrived.
The five used this pause and got up to continue their trip, not before they were invited of course to return on our next Friday sessions. There was something charmed in the loudness and aggressiveness with which they came down from the parking lot to the plant, the surprise on their faces when they were invited to sit down, and the calm and attentiveness that rested on them as they sat in our circle.
Nomika and Nur arrived, then Rami.
That morning I had suggested on Whatsapp that we read the interview Ravit Hecht held with Abrum Burg (in Haaretz). So we have something to discuss if we find ourselves alone. Well, we were alone for a while, but discussed things that had nothing to do with Burg nor with Gaza…
I believe Rami began to speak about “the state of the street and the town-square versus malls in urban space”…
A couple with a child passed by. Travelling. They sat for 2 minutes and left. We didn’t get to know them, except for the fact that they are Bedouins living in Beer Sheva, and their son goes to school in town.
Brian arrived and hurried to wonder about the fact that there are no Jewish teachers in Arab schools and vice-versa. He himself is working to change this (teaches a bit in the Bedouin town of Hura). Some hope is better than no hope… he says.
Wassim, Bashar and Firas arrive. They’re a bit shy, and Rami convinces them to stay. They sit and Rami tells them about us and about himself. How he grew up in Kibbutz Beeri, neighboring Gaza, and also raised his kids there… For years he has been feeling that the space is also home to others. He realized this through his Bedouin and Gazan friends. The area is shared by us all. 6 years ago, after a terrible war/attack everyone felt like coming to sit in this place, that was built by the British when they ruled here… The place is open to all four directions, and to everyone. He explains about the ‘Migdalor’ – the lighthouse. “One can navigate one’s hope towards the place that emits light”.
Nomika talks about a Zoom conversation she had with a Gazan friend who works with mental health issues in Gaza (the conversation was initiated by the Other Voice organization), talking about the harsh realities in his professional field.
Wassim is a young boy, Bashar has been a soldier in the army for about a year, and Firas is between his graduation from high school and enlistment, or continued studies. Bashar wishes to continue his army career. His grandmother is from Gaza and lives in Rahat (Bedouin town). There is no contact with the family, and she does not speak about hers. She has not been back to visit there for 40 years, since her wedding. “I am a soldier”, says Bashar. “Whoever comes to the fence wants to be a martyr. There are opening fire regulations.” His grandmother cried when he told her he was serving “in Gaza”. She said, “Don’t go there”.
Firas studied in Lahav, at the Joe Allon program, “Desert Stars”. Combining Jews and Arabs. Right now he works with his dad on the border, laying pipes and infrastructures. They work on kibbutzim and moshavim, in the area. There are good and bad people everywhere. It’s a bit scary to work on the border, but the army watches out for them.
Brian asks what they think about all citizens doing some kind of service. Bashar and Firas think it’s very good. Firas says that Arab girls do civilian service. The boys who do not enlist work or study. Sometimes those who study in Israel after high school must do some sort of civilian service. Rami says that Arabs with skills similar to those of Jews are discriminated against on the civilian job market.
Nomika relates to what Brian said earlier about Jews teaching in Arab schools and vice versa. She says that it’s not true, there are more and more Arab teachers teaching in Jewish schools and not only Arabic. Bashar says it’s true, he knows such cases in Ofakin. Bashar doesn’t want to study, he desires a military career.
Firas wants to study business administration, and Wassim doesn’t want school – he wants to be a truck driver.
Rami asks Bashar to bring his grandma to our circle… It’s closing time and we disperse.
Participants this time were Shmulik, Talal, Mohammad, Seif, Kiram, Anis, Eyal, Rina, Roni, Oded, Malki, Nur, Nomika, Rami, Brian, Firas, Wassim, Bashar.
Wrote – Oded.