Politics harms Israel’s border communities

Map of Gaza region

Map of Gaza region

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN

On August 25, Israel’s leftist newspaper Haaretz editorialized about “forsaking Israelis near Gaza.”  The article noted that “even after Hamas tunnels reaching into kibbutzim were revealed…it did not order residents to evacuate.”  It claims that “the people found their own solutions, based mainly on private initiatives, friends, relatives, host kibbutzim and other organizations such as WIZO that opened their youth villages to them.”

Another article at i24 claimed that “70 percent of Israelis living near Gaza have left.” It noted that “inhabitants of border communities” had erected a protest tent near Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence.  An article in the Jewish Press claims “Since Friday, Aug. 22, approximately 700 Israeli families have asked the government to provide them with assistance to move away from the border with Gaza.”  MK Stav Shaffir complained that the government isn’t giving enough money to the south, and mentioned kibbutz Nahal Oz.  Minister of Finance Yair Lapid argued “Israel will not forsake entire communities, we will not see here an organized abandonment of settlements and we will not give this victory for Hamas.”  he elaborated, “will be evacuate Ashkelon, Ashdod?”

The story that is not being told is that the issue of “evacuation” and also the “70%” relates to kibbutzim and moshavim, small communal settlements, in the south.  There is a segregation near the Gaza border that has existed since the foundation of Israel.  There are “towns” and “communal settlements.”  The planners of the socialist early state sought to send people to areas based on their country of origin, so most kibbutzim became secular and European-Jewish, whereas Sderot was heavily populated with Jews from Arab countries.  This segregation continues to this day, as new Ethiopian immigrants are sent to Sderot, but never permitted to live on or join kibbutzim. When Sderot residents have tried to move to nearby kibbutzim such as Gevim, they have met with a wall of opposition based on discriminatory and elitist attitudes.  They are said “not to know what community is.”  In a famous case a representative of the kibbutz was even saying they had the wrong kind of blood.

Screenshot of the "blood" quote

Screenshot of the “blood” quote

When politicians and newspaper discuss the Gaza border area one must be cognizant not only of this history of segregation and discrimination (kibbutz members go to the same high school, Sderot residents to a different one), and differences in state funding and support; and also the fact that newspapers and politicians seek often to help members of “their” group.  For this reason “evacuation” means only members of one community, not another 1 km away, namely few on the left talk about evacuating Sderot or hosting its residents.

For instance, when we look at the map at the top of this post we see a very clear political breakdown around Sderot.  Kibbutzim vote Labor and Sderot votes Likud.  The same is true of other communities, that are mostly homogenous.

Each recent war with Gaza has had the same result.  The kibbutz residents often leave, sometimes on organized buses, to “sister” kibbutzim in the north that are members of their “communal movement.”  Thus the evacuation is segregated along political and ethnic lines.  There is no “host” town for Sderot.  No kibbutz in the north hosts Sderot residents, because of the ideology of “blood needs to match.”  Often foreign workers who work for the kibbutzim and are paid terribly low wages are left behind during the “evacuation.”  Like Sderot residents, they are not the right sort of people.  An article in Al-Monitor reveals how the Workers Hotline received complaints about how workers have no shelters in the field.  They are left to fend for themselves, and one has been killed so far by rocket fire.

The political breakdown of evacuation is also played out in who is blamed.  In a recent video by Saar Altman of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, an article noted, “he issued a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett that he said would give them a taste of life on the border with Gaza.”  He dumped what was supposedly fecal matter or mud on himself from a tractor.  He blames the government, not Hamas, for his suffering.  Other Gaza border community kibbutz members claimed they were being used as “human shields” by the government.  In the article by Allison Kaplan Sommer she referenced the death “4-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed by shrapnel from a rocket in his living room in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.”  When the Thai worker was killed in July most of the Israeli press didn’t bother to mention his name but the New York Times did (as did The Jerusalem Post).  His name was Manee Singueanphon, 30 years old.  A Catholic online publication noted “He had left his family in Thailand three years ago, to go to work in the greenhouses of the moshav Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli farming village just four hundred meters from the border with the Gaza Strip. While he was working at the farming operation on March 18, he was fatally wounded by the shrapnel from a Qassam rocket launched from Gaza by a group of Palestinian militants.”

The post about Disengagement

The post about Disengagement

Another way politics has affected understanding the border communities is the schadenfreude with which some have greeted the harm done to kibbutzim.  One writer on Facebook claimed that during the Disengagement from Gaza in 2005 he had heard kibbutz members blaming Jewish communities in Gaza for the rocket fire and that they should be removed to stop it.  Now he insinuated they were getting what they deserve.

The whole breakdown of political emotions, different treatment for different groups, insulated segregated “host” communities is highly problematic and has been inculcated in Israel for decades.  It is part of the ideological breakdown of society into political “tribes” where each cares for “his own” rather than universal values.

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