A photo I took on the Gaza-Israel border last summer. An Israeli farm is in the foreground; behind it is the border wall; and beyond the wall is Gaza.
A few days ago, a friend of mine who lives in Gaza called me to chat. We last met in late 2005, shortly before Gaza was closed to Israeli citizens – even to journalists who hold foreign passports. After Erez was closed my friend, who used to work as a reporter for a Palestinian media outlet that paid him a near-pittance, leveraged his fluent Hebrew and excellent professional reputation to get a job reporting from Gaza for an Israeli media outlet. He was one of the first reporters on the scene when the Rafah border fence was blown up. “I have to admit I was happy,” he said. “I walked into Egypt just so I could breathe a little. I didn’t even buy anything. I just wanted to feel free.” You can traverse Gaza at its longest point in about an hour, and he hadn’t been able to leave in more than two years.
My friend and I don’t even bother ending our conversations with jokes about getting together soon. They’re not funny anymore.
Today’s Haaretz has an article about two men, one from Gaza and one from Sderot, who met and became friends about 18 months ago, when it was still possible for Gazans to obtain permission to visit Israel. Now they maintain their relationship via an extraordinary blog called Life Must Go On in Sderot and Gaza.
The men are unwilling to reveal their identities (read the article to find out why), so each has adopted a blogger name. Peace Man is a 30 year-old bachelor schoolteacher from a Gaza refugee camp; and Hope Man is a 40 year-old married man who lives in Sderot and works in high-tech. In alternating posts, they describe their experiences in simple, personal prose that leaves the stereotypes in the dust.
Peace Man is not an Angry Young Militant, or a Desperate Impoverished Farmer Whose Crops Are Stuck at the Checkpoint.
And Hope Man is not an Inarticulate Unemployed Resident of Sderot Who Wants the Army to Invade Gaza.
In their own words:
This blog is written by 2 friends. One lives in Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza and the other lives in Sderot, a small town near Gaza on the Israeli side. There is ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza which has intensified greatly since October 2000. Many have been killed and many have been injured. The media coverage on both sides has been extremely biased. Our Blog is written by 2 real people living and communicating on both sides of the border.
I’m absolutely delighted to see that Haaretz is finally giving intelligent coverage to the local blogosphere – especially after its abysmal coverage of blogging during the Second Lebanon War – and hope that this article is just the first of many to come.
I hope, too, that Peace Man and Hope Man succeed just a little in undermining the cliches, preconceptions, fears and stereotypes that dominate the coverage of Gaza and Sderot these days. And that soon they will be able to resume their face-to-face meetings.
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