Sderot the Neighboring City to Gaza
In my first week as an intern in the Tel Aviv office of EcoPeace Middle East, I was invited by EcoPeace Negev Community Coordinator Dr. Shlomit Tamari, to visit the area around Sderot, with two fellow interns. Sderot is an Israeli town located at the northern border with Gaza Strip. This trip shed light onto the region’s rich history, alongside a hopeful future.
As we drove down a dusty road towards an old sulphur factory, Shlomit explained these roads and scattered ruins date back to the British Mandate. We were met by Rami Haruvi, an environment and cultural heritage programme planner, who had grown up his whole life there. He prefixed his talk on what the British left behind and their influence today – for instance, pointing in the nearby distance to Gaza, Rami explained that the refugee camps share the same names as the army camps dating back from the British Mandate.
Rami continued by sketching a map of the region in the sand, taking us on a journey of its ecological history. Casting our minds back much before humankind to 5 million years ago, Rami explained the expansive change that has taken place. From the flooding of the Strait of Gibraltar to the land drying up to form a salt lake, a rich, often unmentioned past was being shared. As our journey progressed through history, we learnt that the Gaza region acted as a vital trade junction for thousands of years. Complex trade routes crossed through Gaza, providing frankincense and myrrh to the Roman Empire from Somalia, Oman and Yemen. With the domestication of the camel, Gaza’s attractive environment helped contribute to connecting the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. Centred between arid and settled areas, Gaza provided an ideal junction to Europe, with characteristics ideal for sustenance and survival.
As the tour progressed around the sulphur factory, Rami explained how his hope was to repurpose this abandoned building as a visitor’s centre for people from Israel and around the world as a ‘lighthouse of the consciousness of Gaza’. By educating people about the region’s ecological foundations, rich history and Gaza Strip’s current struggle for electricity and water, Rami hopes for people to join in sharing ideas on how to help the region’s future alongside pressurise governments to act.
Currently the Gaza Strip suffers a dire humanitarian crisis, suffering from poor water quality and a lack of electricity. The consequences of this have the potential to be extremely devastating, with unsafe sanitary conditions and a lack of access to clean water for domestic use contributing to an increasingly urgent public health threat and possible risk of cholera, among other pandemic diseases spreading.
Whilst Gaza’s coastal aquifer suffers from extreme overuse, seawater intrusion and contamination by raw sewage, this is reflective of a much wider issue. Water and sanitation problems are not confined within the borders of the Gaza Strip but are experienced across the region. With climate change and population growth, the availability of clean and safe drinking water consistently reduces. In the last decade Israel has faced the water crisis by developing desalinisation, alongside using efficient conservation techniques such as recycling wastewater for agricultural purposes. As Rami said, by creating water, one creates possibility.
In the near distance, the aftermath of a kite bomb from Gaza the day before could be seen. On the same day, ‘Stars of Hope’ were put up here against some old railings. The stars were individually decorated by children from the USA, with messages of peace, hope and solidarity. Whilst the border separates people and their degrees of human suffering, Gaza and Sderot still share the same wind, water and land, the same ecological history and the same environmental challenges.
Our visit finished by eating lunch across from the ‘path to peace’ wall, a section of the wall which divides the Gaza Strip and Israel. Visitors continue to collaboratively decorate this concrete block with brightly coloured mosaics to form a peace wall. Surrounded by barbed wire and what appears to be a bleak future, this wall illustrates the power of hope and optimism. Words like forgiveness, peace, love and tolerance cover this wall, helping fuel a positive forward-thinking mindset towards eventual peace. Taking a primarily humanitarian perspective, rather than political or religious, allows for much hope and change in the future.
Written by Sarah Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org - EcoPeace Middle East \ Tel Aviv