Darkness in Qassam-Land

In the winter, the Negev becomes quite beautiful. Though it rains very little here, the rain we get turns everything green, and there is a cleanness in the air that we don't have during the dry summer months. But since Saturday, when a major Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip, less than 20 kilometers from my home and less than two kilometers from the college where I teach, all we have had is darkness, despair and fear.

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals -- long-term "normal" life for the residents of the Negev region. The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only "crime" is that they live in Negev or Gaza. This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another. It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force. This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

And so this is an unnecessary, cruel and cynical war -- a war that could have been avoided if our leaders had shown courage during the months of the cease-fire to truly work toward creating better lives for people whose only crime is that they live in the south.

Since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza, it has been almost impossible to speak openly against the war. It is difficult to find public forums that welcome a call for a new cease-fire and for alternative solutions to the conflict -- ones that do not rely on military strength or a siege of Gaza. When people are in the midst of war, they are not open to voices of peace; they speak (and scream) out of fear and demand retribution for the harms they have suffered. When people are in the midst of war, they forget that they can harness higher cognitive abilities, their reason and logic. Instead, they are driven by the hot structures of their brains, which lead them to respond with fear and anger in ways that are objective threats to our healthy survival. When people are in the midst of war, voices calling for restraint, dialogue and negotiations fall on deaf ears, if their expression is allowed at all.

I live in the Negev and teach at the Sapir Academic College -- the school located next to Sderot -- in the heart of what is called "Qassam-land," after the rockets that fall on us. I know the fast beating of your heart and the awful pit in your stomach that comes when a tzeve adom -- red alert -- is sounded, heralding a rocket attack. I know what it is like to comfort students and colleagues when the rockets strike very, very close -- and to wish that someone was there to comfort you as well. I know what it is like to be afraid to get into the car and drive to work because you are not sure you will make it from the parking lot to your classroom alive.

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

Julia Chaitin, a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the Sapir Academic College and program developer at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.