Page last updated at 10:08 GMT, Thursday, 6 March 2008

Sderot and Gaza: letter exchange

Against the backdrop of continuing violence between Hamas militants in Gaza and the Israeli army, two young women, an Israeli and a Palestinian, have agreed to exchange letters via the BBC website.

Mona is an English Literature graduate who works as a freelance translator in the northern Gaza Strip. Just a few kilometres separate her from Anav, a university student who spends part of her time in Sderot.


Dear Mona,

I have been working in Sderot since August 2007.

Anav Silverman
Anav does not discuss politics with her Arab university friends

Life in Sderot is life in a war-zone. For over seven years, the people of Sderot and the western Negev have lived with rocket fire from Gaza daily, and the rocket terror worsens each month.

I work at the Sderot Media Center. Our aim is to raise awareness of this reality both in Israel and internationally.

I chose to work here because the residents of this city under fire need support.

I used to sleep in Sderot until I heard the whoosh of the Qassam rockets over the roof a couple of times.

The bomb shelter is downstairs, and I cannot make it down within 15 seconds of the siren sounding.

So for my sanity and safety, I decided it would be best to sleep outside Sderot in a neighbouring kibbutz during the nights I spend in the area.

I feel very fortunate that I have this option to leave when I want because the families of Sderot are not able to do so.

Do I see Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace? No

Most of the residents are financially tied to the area and are on the lower economic scale.

Sderot is a warm and tight-knit community of rooted families who have lived in the city for several generations.

It is not unusual to find a family of grandparents, children, and grandchildren all living on the same street.

I was born in Jerusalem, but I moved to the United States with my family when I was two. I grew up in the USA in Maine, which is on the Canadian border. Maine is a beautiful state surrounded by lakes and forests and wildlife.

I left this peaceful way of life after I graduated high school four years ago and moved to Israel.

Growing up, it was always clear to me that I would come back to Israel.

Reading the Biblical stories of my ancestors and their life in Israel two thousand years ago gave me a sense of a homeland that was finally accessible to me.

As a family, we would also visit Israel every year. My mom is Israeli and she has a lot of family here.

Do I see Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in peace? No. I am very cautious of the word peace, because it is an abstract idea that has different meanings for people of different cultures.

Peace as I understand it, is based on love and mutual respect - and most importantly respect for an ideology and belief that is different from your own.

People expect Israel to give away land and then there will be instant peace.

Years of educating Palestinian children to hate and terrorize Israeli civilians cannot be reversed by simply giving away land.

The Gaza Strip was given away with the idea that there would be peace, but the Qassam terror has only increased dramatically since the disengagement.

I would like to ask you Mona, what is it like living in Gaza? What was your education like when you were growing up? What is your family like?

I look forward to hearing from you and send you warm regards.

Anav.


Dear Anav

It is very kind of you to write from Sderot.

Mona Yousef
Mona has lost a grandfather and a brother in the conflict

Before I tell you about life in Gaza, I would like to tell you that I am originally from what is now the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

My family left with thousands of others after 1948 and my grandfather was one of many killed in fighting the Israelis.

My grandmother is still alive. She tells in detail how peaceful life was before the Israeli thugs attacked.

I grew up during the first Intifada [Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule 1987-1993].

I can't remember how many times the Israeli forces attacked my home, but I remember one time hiding under my bed, trembling with fear.

I have three younger brothers who are all at school. I used to have four - my brother Amer was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in 1992. He was 12 years old.

Scenes of blood and death are fixed in my mind. I have to say, Israel taught us how to hate it, no-one else.

Is life in Sderot a war-zone?! Then what words should I use to describe Gaza?

If you contrast the weaponry of Israel with Hamas - you see Hamas' resistance is symbolic, nothing more

Life in Gaza is like hell.

Israel killed more than 60 people in Gaza on Saturday 1 March alone. Many were civilians and children.

Are there any similarities between the power of the weapons that do this - and Hamas' home made Qassam rockets?

How many people have they killed since Hamas started launching them? How many houses have they destroyed?

If you contrast the two, I think you can see that Hamas' manner of resistance is symbolic, nothing more than that.

When Israel dismantled its illegal settlements and disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, I was happy that I would finally be able to visit my friend who lives in the middle of the Strip whenever I wanted.

But Israel didn't leave us peace, it left us sonic booms. The occupation forces use this to shatter our nerves. The sound of the aircraft is so loud it can break windows.

How would you feel if someone else controlled your every movement? How would you feel if you didn't have the right to move inside your country; if you were prevented from travelling abroad for study; if the cost of food and fuel was determined by someone else closing your borders; if you spent most of your nights in darkness?

I had severe headaches last month because I spent several hours studying by faint candlelight.

Why are we punished with darkness? Why are patients prevented from having medicine?

It is our land and we have the right to dismiss anyone who shows aggression towards us.

Shelling has been going on while I have been writing this. I just heard my mother asking "What will happen tonight"?

I hope your night is quiet.

Warmest regards,

Mona.


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