Encounter 123 – July 24, 2020

For some moments our age averaged about 45… Four participants over 65, and four under 25… In other words, we had some young in our midst!
Want to meet? Let’s, but today in English, which is a great excuse for my inaccuracies…
Shmulik shows how we introduce ourselves by mentioning his own name, place of residence and his Gaza awareness.
Gal, on the younger side of our age-mean, knew that Gaza is where rockets and bombs are launched at Israel… After meeting Fuad, she learned much about life there, but Gaza still frightens her.
Madsen (or “Madi”, her nickname) came from California. She is learning a lot about this place and situation. Gaza for her is a “black box” which she is trying to decipher. She says that most of the people she knows in Israel don’t know anything about Gaza. They think it’s a state. She fears the lack of knowledge about people suffering there.
Dor, who “built” our circle with us two weeks ago, has come back to Migdalor faster than she intended… She was born to Israelis in America, but spent all her childhood and youth vacations among her grandparents in Kibbutz Zikim and at Netiv Ha-Asara. Still it took her many years to understand the meaning of life in our area. She is conscious of the hardships because of driving Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel. It’s a small conduit of information.
Rami mentions the speed at which we forget our feelings about Gaza and sink back into our everyday business. That is why we light a small “light” at Migdalor (Hebrew for lighthouse) every week. He emphasizes that a short while free of missiles from Gaza is “enough” for everyone here to forget Gaza and its people.
Fuad says that in Gaza one must actually fight for their health, it’s not accessible. Migdalor is the way to remember home. People are frustrated with the problems in Gaza that are only getting worse. People in Gaza are committing suicide. Unemployment and lockdown is frustrating and makes them desperate. One of the suicides was actually seeking help, and no one offered to help. When Fuad sees people living well and right next to them people hardly making it, he asks why it has to be this way.
Hayuta sees Gaza from her home. She tells Fuad that the fact that Israel has made it possible for him to come here to study is a miracle as far as she is concerned. Huyuta sees Gaza from her home but does not really know how hard life is over there.
Mark finds himself on the spectrum between understanding himself and understanding his environment. He is worried about what is going to happen to the world soon. Yesterday he finished preparing subtitles for someone foretelling the end of the world… These are the problems he is concerned about, the bigger picture. Gaza is the near example of the world’s decline environmentally. He says it’s not respectable to come here and not talk about Gaza, but he has a hard time deciding what is more important at the moment. Specifically Gaza with all of its different problems, or the global ecological catastrophe. He is filled with frustration.
Rami says that being here is being ‘active’. He tells Fuad that in order to meet him here, at Migdalor, it was worth coming here every week for 2 years and 4 months…
Malki has been in the are for 5 years already. For her Migdalor is a point of sanity. So many bad things are taking place around us, and coming here gives her deeper breath and calm, so she is a regular. To remain sane… Rami says that our Roni represents the meaning of Migdalor with her activity! She is the light that shines for those who need help in Gaza, and toward which they navigate! He asks Roni how not to forget…
Roni introduces herself and her activity, her life history in the region, and her mission in Egypt. When she was young she lived in Sinai, and was not interested in the issue of the Occupied Territories… Roni does not see herself belonging anywhere else, but sees Palestinians the same way. She asks what is to be done with the feeling of belonging of the two peoples to the same place. She needs a partner on the other side who belives like her that both belong here. And she has found them! At any given moment in her life she is in touch or somehow busy with something related to Gaza. When solution will come, both sides need to discuss it and agree. The situation right now is a lose-lose one…
Fuad wants to add something: his family came from a village that was demolished and its inhabitants expelled. For him, that village is his grandfather’s home. And the prickly-pears that still stand there are witness to it.
Roni says that her family too experienced expulsion and refugee-dom and had to leave its home and homeland, so she definitely understands the Palestinians’ refugee sense. She tells Fuad that the place he feels as his ‘home’ should become a real home.
Mark too speaks of his family’s ‘wanderings’, and that he always felt that Israel is his home. England, where he was born, was not home. But every narrative should be listened to and the problems must be solved together.
Shmulik says that after the 1967 war, many refugees came to visit the area of Kibbutz Zikim and Karmiya, where their villages had been and from which they were expelled in the 1948 war. For us, of Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzair it was a kind of a shock! (He didn’t say why…) Many families came with the keys of their home as a token of memory.
Rami notices that the dominant word in the circle is ‘memory’. He suggests we speak about the link between ‘home’ and ‘memory’.
Salah, grandson of the famous Sheikh Sliman Al-Huzail, says that the State of Israel belongs to us all and we should concentrate on the present.
Madsen came to Israel on the “Birthright” project. She wanted to know more about Judaism and Israel. From the moment she arrived she was told that this was her home. The history of this land belongs to us, they said. She wanted that this is indeed home, just as some of her friends wanted to move and live in Israel. Madsen was disappointed. She did not manage to feel that she belonged, even after 10 days… She says she could “decide” to feel this way. There are two groups here, she says, but only one of them has the right to say that this is its home. If she, born in the US, has the right to build her home here, then certainly Fuad should have the same right.
Dor says that her grandfather from Nativ Ha-Asara did not feel for a moment that this was not his own place. When he left the older (settlement) of Nativ Ha-Asara in the Sinai, he literally wept. He was born in Iraq. He felt that the settlement was his home. Home is something one creates and builds.
Malki relates to what Madsen said, that one needs to be free to choose one’s home. Destiny had decided on her own birth place and faith. In Israel she feels at home anywhere she lives. She does not believe she could feel that way anywhere else. She has childhood memories from Tel Aviv. There is a kind of nostalgia any time she comes there.
Fuad enjoys listening. He shows the Hebrew he’s learned! He says that if you are Palestinian, you have a document from the Palestinian Authority. This is what unites them, a document that does not even mention a state but only an “authority”. He spent a lot of time with his grandparents as a child. Bedtime stories about the village from which they were expelled. They wanted Fuad to realize that where they are now is not home. Home is in that village… For him home is where family is. His own family is scattered in several places around the world. But is every such a place, home?
Roni says she has been listening to everyone and noticed that each person has their own definition for home. She thinks it’s something strong, internal. There is a difference between her family home in England, and here. She feels divided between England and Israel.
Shmulik shares with us his insight from reading Meron Benbenisti’s book Dream of the White Sabra, where the author simply defines himself as ‘native’.
Mark tells us about his father who escaped South Africa. He himself did not like their home in England. His family has known expulsions, and he wished to build a safe home for his children so he came here…
Hayuta, in the past, needed to feel a real physical sense of home. Now she feels more balanced between the physical and the symbolic home.
Manal says she likes to come to Migdalor to listen. She has never had such an experience and wishes to go on coming. Her own life, as a girl, was better than it is now because she was not at all busy with the notion of home. They simply lived there… Now there is more alienation when they have a built-up house.
Salah thinks we should speak about the history of the Jews (the Bible…) which is also a kind of claim to the land.
Ye’ela says that the area is her childhood landscape more than her physical home.
Finally we spoke a bit about the intention to host a Palestinian member of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, and wondered whether it would be recorded by the media. There were opinions in different directions. Then we left.
Present were: Salah, Oded, Gal, Madsen, Dor, Malki, Fuad, Roni, Mark, Hayuta, Manal, Rami, Shmulik, Ye’ela, Shani, Negev (grandson).
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 122 – July 17, 2020

While Shmulik and I lay out a circle of chairs and make the first round of coffee, here come Salah and Manal – travelers. They are invited to have a seat, and Salah asks us about ourselves and the old sulfur plant nearby.
In the meantime, more members of the Migdalor circle arrive and we begin our introduction circle:
Salah works on gardening projects (in Lahav, Mishmar Ha-Negev and other localities). He “goes back” to Biblical times and wonders about our origins and his. He concludes that “no matter what religion we ascribe, ‘proper behavior precedes the Toreah’. His father was the first Bedouin to have served in the Israeli army. He is very angry at the Israeli authorities for not letting him build, and only demolish homes, and hates the Gazans for frightening his kids when they hear the bombing sirens. He uses harsh hateful language that raises a debate and reactions to his spiteful statements about Gaza.
Manal does not elaborate beyond introducing herself, but is rather resentful of her partner’s words… Salah likes to quote the Bible. His uncle Taleb was the deputy governor of Gaza.
Roni speaks of her activity for Gazan rights. Every day all day she is busy processing different applications and requests for help of people locked up in Gaza. Some of them call her “our mother”. Roni says that her 10-year old grandchild was alone when a siren went off, was scared and cried, and when his mom came and he calmed down, he told her, “perhaps we should listen to grandma?”…
Salah and Manal take their leave, Manal is moved and promises to be back.
Uri asks about Covid 19 in Gaza. Jaber emphasizes and discipline and strict orders given by Hamas that have kept the disease rates low. A discussion begins about public discipline, from coping with pandemics to the point of dictatorship. Rami raises the issue of a mental shift (continued from last week…) and asks us to relate to the claim that totalitarianism is not necessarily bad and perhaps such a regime is better at coping with a pandemic crisis… Nomika suggests a “topic” to think and speak about: a personal event that has affected her frame of mind. She says her life in the town of Sderot, as a kibbutznik, has made her livein harmony with identities other than hers and to examine the meaning of ‘prejudice’.
A few years ago, at a European airport, Uri met a Syrian family. When introducing himself as an Israeli, the Syrian man hugged him warmly and told him how they envy Israelis who live under more freedom. “Back then I was a leftie, not right-wing as I am today”, says Uri. Nowadays if he hears Arabic being spoken near him in Israel, he is immediately on “enemy” alert.
Jaber says that the authorities in the Arab countries do not reflect what their peoples think. He once sat with a Moroccan Arab who said that his enemy was the Israeli, not the Jew. He has met a Jew married to a Muslim woman and she took the trouble to save him Kosher food for Passover. He was very moved.
Shmulik responds to the challenge raised by Rami, and says that many non-dictatorial states have overcome the Corona pandemic. He speaks about Meron Benbenisti whose book “The Dream of the White Sabra” he is now reading, and identifies himself as undergoing a process of “the biography of disillusion” that the author describes in the book. In the past Shmulik met Nathan Yellin Mor, and Uzi Ornan – the “Canaanite” brother of poet Yonatan Ratosh – who had both experienced a mental shift. The consciousness he has reached brings him to our circle here, which is a political act as far as he is concerned. Canaanite for him is first and foremost language, then landscape, space. He met a tour guide from (settler-colonist) Etzyon Bloc who was travelling with a book by Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi (wife of Israel’s 2nd president). Shmulik himself was travelling with the book “Khirbet Hiz’a” by S. Yizhar (a n Israeli book containing acknowledgment of the 1948 Nakba that was rather ostracized when it was published in the 1950s). They both reached the same conclusion: the country is for everyone, both from the right and from the left.
Uri says that defining left and right is a complicated business.
Rami says that the need to define makes for distance. When he lived in Mitzpe Ramon it took him years to connect to the “street” where he lived. Once he was hiking with a friend to the spring. They thought they would be alone… When people came, Rami and his friend challenged themselves and tried to set their ‘prejudices’ about those people. They were wrong again and again… Every person interests him as a person. He is “practicing” his ability not to define and have prior opinion about a certain person.
Roni speaks of the regime issue. Lately she been living between democracy that enables opinions, and their limitation. But if the majority has chosen, does she have a right to oppose their choice? A ruler needs to show ‘maturity’ and understand that he is also responsible for those who did not vote for him. She recalls going to conference in the US. When she left Israel, Peres was the elected Prime Minister, and when she arrived at the US, Bibi was in power. At the conference she spoke of this turnover and said that Bibi is responsible for her too, for Roni, although she did not vote for him. My own opinion, says Roni, is irrelevant if I don’t consider the other side.
Jaber says that most of us “follow”, don’t express independent opoinions. The ruling power directs us and everyone follows. People need at least to listen to one another even if the regime defines them as enemies.
Nahshi answers Uri about “problematic” definitions of left and right. This definition is political and does not at all cover economic definition and others. Left-wing, by definition, encourages study, discussion, asking questions. The right-wing adheres to absolute truths. Managing the Corona pandemic dictatorially does not “solve” anything but creates a powder keg that activates even “followers”.
Nomika grew up in a liberal home but still was not aware of the tremendous crisis that befell Palestinians in 1948. In a Palestinian-Israeli school project, the Palestinian children drew the country outline and wrote in it “Palestine”, the Jewish children drew the same map and wrote “Israel”. Nomike could hardly believe she was totally “erased” on the Palestinian map.
That’s it for today. We remind everyone that if conditions are right, we will meet on August 7 with a Palestinian representative of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli society.
Participants: Salah, Manal, Rami, Shmulik, Roni, Jaber, Nahshi, Limor, Oded, Nomika, Uri, Tomer.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 121 – July 10, 2020

So we got together, as Yossi Sarid (well-known left-wing politician, publicist and writer, now deceased) used to say.
The circle today was held in several rounds. The first included Shmulik, Oded, Rami, Roni and Hayuta. We began by warming up personally and joking about one another from the sheer pleasure of meeting.
Rami began by telling about work he has been doing in the Eilot region. Following this work he has been pondering the question whether the value of work has totally vanished from our present mental world.
Each of the participants voiced their opinion on the subject:
Shmulik claimed that ever since the kibbutz abandoned the idea of its members doing all the work, labor in general has become devalued, probably in conjunction with the general collapse of the communal kibbutz idea.
Rami wonders about that change and gave for example one of the main figures of kibbutz Be’eri who knew how to harness people to work at the kibbutz’ printing press, and give it and them meaning through their work.
Hayuta stated that any human interaction that has one going out from the self to the collective – be it as it may – means work.
The circle’s second round began when Mark, Malki, Uzi and Bella joined us. Rami raised the issue of annexation and our response to the possibility of annexing the Gaza Strip.
Mark claimed that annexation from a position of superiority without any dialogue is unacceptable.
Shmulik referred to the semantics of the word ‘annexation’. He thinks that the word (sipuach in Hebrew) connotes the minimization of the annexed people to a kind of marginalized superfluity. This, in his opinion, contradicts the idea of equality of human beings be they who they may. Shmulik raised the idea of egalitarian annexation according to the Swiss canton model.
Rami brought up the hypothetical possibility based on historical examples of annexations that were beneficial to the annexed population. Such as Britain’s control of Israel during the British Mandate {1919-1948)/
Hayuta deliberated between loyalty to the value of human equality as a supreme value, and an extreme following of this value resulting in leaving the situation unresolved
Oded said that his resolute opinions about human equality and other matters have not in been in vogue for many years now. “I am used to this, I know that I cannot be on the winning side…”
Roni believes in dialogue with the Gazans.
So does Malki.
Bella expressed her fear of losing her (Jewish-Israeli) identity if the Gazans become an inseparatble part of the State of Israel.
Uzi supports parts of the Trump plan. He thinks Gaza should be helped as much as possible but remain outside Israel’s borders and control. Our power assures our survival and protects our neighbors, especially the Palestinian and the Jordanians. He also thinks that the powerful and victorious are responsible for the weak and vanquished…
At the close of these rounds, Mark expressed the idea of publishing a written text about various issues. Rami focused the Gaza matter. We all welcomed the initiative. Rami added that Mark would share it with others. Whatever is done alone, is not done – he remarked.
Mark concluded the circle by telling a painful personal story about accompanying an ill Palestinian to the checkpoint post-surgery.
Shabat Shalom!
Written by Hayuta

encouner 120 – July 3, 2020

Most of the participants today are our “regulars”. Two new ones joined us for the first time. One of them does not speak Hebrew so today’s circle took place partly in English and partly in Hebrew, translated into English.
For the sake of our new guests, we spoke about ourselves and our motivation to gather every Friday since mid-March, 2018.
Rami spoke of his childhood recollections, experiencing Gaza first as a threat. After the 1967 war, it became a routine of shared life and ended up with various initiatives. He spoke of his belief in a shared space and touched upon the reasons that led him to initiate “Migdalor” (lighthouse).
Shmulik came to this space in 1964, and ever since he has worked with cattle, worked with Gazan workers, contractors and merchants for many years. Like Rami, he too believes in shared space.
Hanan brings hope and meets hope at the circle. He draws strength from it. Hanan feels that the participants speak sincerely, do not fake it and are not afraid to express their feelings. He is exposed to new knowledge at every single meeting, trying to overcome the despair that reality holds, and bringing strength and optimism.
Mark spoke in English and here’s what I gathered: Over half his life he has already lived here in Israel. He is not optimistic, and thinks he is not doing enough for Gaza. At times he feels that the language we use about reality in Gaza is not strong enough. He hopes a peace movement will arise, aspiring for equality for all, and thinks that we Israelis must change ourselves, and not that Palestinians can change us.
For Jaber, living in an unrecognized village in the Negev under touch conditions, coming to the circle every Friday means reminding himself that there are people who suffer more. Gaza for him is also family, and he feels it his human duty not to forget the suffering that Gazans are living with.
Oded speaks of the moral duty to see and hear the hardships that our neighbors in Gaza are undergoing, and especially when we, their neighbors, enjoy far better conditions of life and are to a great extent responsible for their dire situation.
Ghadir comes from Beer Sheva. She was born in Acre and recalls frequent visits to Gaza in her childhood. She thinks Arab citizens of Israel should be the bridge that connects their fellow Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis. Everyone must understand that there are other people living in this space, and not just think of their own people.
Dor was born in L.A. to Israeli parents. She has grandparents in Kibbutz Zikim, as well as in Netiv Ha-Asara. As a child she came on frequent visits and remembers the sabra fruit (prickly pear) and working in the greenhouses with her grandfather. In the US she studied for her BA at UC Berkeley, and came to further her studies in Israel at the institute for environmental studies where she is now. In Berkeley she learned about indigenous struggles worldwide, and felt that in order to get to know the local conflict better, she should come back and check her own origins. “Generating change in the world necessitates self-examination”, she says. During her visits here as a child she saw her grandfather speaking Arabic with the workers in the greenhouses and couldn’t understand why there is so much hostility and victimhood. When she left home and went to college she was exposed to other sides and complexities of the conflict, not only on the Israeli side but on the Palestinianone as well. It’s not hope that drives her, but rather tradition and values that necessitate attention to what is going on here. She is often challenged by her Israeli cousins and accused for “not being from here”… So she feels a tremendous need to learn about “Israeli-ness” without giving up her “American-ness”, and bridge her own dual identity when discussing the conflict.
Dina, who has lived in the area over 40 years now, feels it is important not to be indifferent to the situation. She is peeved by the fact that many people don’t feel a need to do something to change it for the better! She hopes that in spite of all the difficulties and the dim horizon, voices like ours will grow. Coming to the circle is a bonus for learning something new that can be contributed by every person.
Marin from Azerbaijan (for who we spoke English…) thinks it is important for people who suffer to know that someone is thinking about them. He too, like Dor, studies in Israel at the institute of environmental and nature studies. Azerbaijan for him is everything – home, family, memories, depth of feelings.
Malki who has lived in Gvulot for the past five years is physically gloser to Gaza. She comes with despair and frustration, not hope. The leaderships are not providing any reasons for optimism. Living in our region does not enable one to ignore this, and she comes here to meet good people who give her hope and goes home feeling better. The circle sows a seed and is certain of its success. Gaza for her does not mean memories and experiences, but something that needs to be solved. She emphasizes, saying “Migdal-or” (“or” in Hebrew means light…)
Rami summarizes, saying that the fact that a place exists which is sought after to be helped – this in itself is a worthy cause. Whoever is in the midst of a storm, and knows there is a light to be aspired to, feels he can continue and believe and reach that light. Rami emphasizes our commitment to go on and define our circle with the purpose of raising “Gaza awareness”!
Participants: Ghadir, Dor, Dina, Marin, Malki, Rami, Shmulik, Hanan, Mark, Jaber, Oded.
Wrote: Oded