Rami: Hello, Matan, how old are you?
Talya (Matan’s mom): 6
Rami: 6-years old, great! Want a story, 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?
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.
Rami: Hello, Matan, how old are you?