The war of the poor
The Israeli town of Netivot was attacked by Hamas missiles this week. Igal Sarna meets the moderate immigrants now filled with a lust for revenge
Strangely enough, it is the boy Eluz's rabbit that will remain engraved in my memory after this war. Sometimes a small animal sends a message that humans find hard to transmit, like the hare in the Finnish writer Arto Paasilinna's book, The Year of the Hare.
This week I had wanted to go to poor, wretched Gaza, where the smoke is rising, but it has remained closed to me. For two years now the army has been preventing the entry of Israeli reporters to the place where what is happening is causing me, at home in Tel Aviv, to shudder with anger and embarrassment.
The disproportionate destruction of Gaza is reminding me of Iraq
The disproportionate destruction of Gaza is reminding me of Iraq, the Second Lebanon War and the way the first world drops the latest thing in technology on a failed third world, in a military operation that looks like some sort of Pyrrhic victory.
Since Gaza is closed, I drove to our small southern towns that are under a sparse missile attack. In face of the burning suffering in Gaza, they are living in what appears to be slow erosion. Thus I came to the apartment block at 59 Weizmann Street in Netivot and found the rabbit.
Netivot is a small immigrant town of 26,000 people at the edge of the desert, which only this week started to be hit by rockets. All Netivot wants is not to be its neighbour Sderot, which has been pummelled by Qassam rockets for eight years. These small cities facing Gaza are the hostages of a lousy situation that bloodthirsty politicians, militias and armies are forcing on those who live on either side of the border.
The boy Eluz, from an apartment on the second story of the building, told me how he had developed a small business plan that has gone entirely awry because of the war. He had bought a pair of rabbits, a small female and a large grey male, and planned for them to reproduce rapidly and to sell a lot of bunnies and accumulate pocket money. His father is an unemployed crane operator and money is always short at home.
Eluz left his rabbits to have a good time in the abandoned shelter
When his mother forbade him to raise the pair in the family's small apartment, Eluz went down to the abandoned shelter that no one had ever used and found his old play-pen there. Under the armoured window, he padded the play-pen and left the rabbits to have a good time in the dark.
But the moment the war broke out and the missile from Gaza landed and killed his neighbour Beber in the courtyard, everything crashed. Thirteen families of neighbours ran in panic to the shelter, the pair of rabbits stopped making whoopee and the female fled in fear of the crowd and disappeared. After the missile attack, Eluz searched for her everywhere and didn't even find a scrap of fur. Thus he was left with only the grey rabbit, now a frightened widower who hardly eats and huddles in the shelter.
At home, too, it's hard. With every siren Eluz's sister Lea vomits and his mother gets the shakes. Their only comfort is that the other side is suffering more and therefore perhaps it will be over soon.
In the courtyard at number 59 I met some of the others who live here, all of them poor, and typical of the sort of immigrants who live in Netivot and other small towns in the south. There was the elderly Ukrainian woman, one of the million former Soviet Jews who came to Israel in the 1990s after the Berlin Wall came down. Still fearful of authority, she did not want to be photographed, hence the hand raised in front of her face in the photograph. Two dark-skinned girls were from an Ethiopian family that arrived in the 1980s.
I met Eluz's mother Ayala, originally Moroccan, and his buddies Zagoury and Haddad, who are afraid of Gaza and just want the army to kill everyone there so they can live in peace.
I understood how fear can push even moderate people into a lust for revenge
From the adjacent courtyard a fellow named Yonatan showed up with an old rifle. He has been hired by the municipality to guard the neighbouring apartment block, which lost its front door in the missile attack. He tells me how he had rolled up here in Netivot from Marseilles because of anti-Semitism via the evacuated Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip, and I understood how insecurity and fear push even moderate people into a kind of lust for revenge.
Netivot, which began to thrive a bit in the mid-1990s, feels like a person who has been extricated from the cycle of poverty and has no desire to slip back into it and is prepared to do anything, so long as a bit of quiet returns.
As dark fell on Weizmann Street I could hear in the distance the heavy bombardment of Gaza, and the earth shook from the movement of tanks, preparing for the expected ground invasion. And I saw that the boy Eluz was building a kind of miniature security room of ceramic tiles for the rabbit who dwelt alone, in despair and waiting for it all to be over. ·
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