2016-08-17 / Voice at the Shore

“Unwitting war correspondent” describes life on Gaza border at JNF event

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Adele Raemer, an Israeli who writes widely about life on the Gaza border, spoke at a JNF women’s event at the shore. Adele Raemer, an Israeli who writes widely about life on the Gaza border, spoke at a JNF women’s event at the shore. “Until the Gazans have something to live for, they will only have something to die for,” according to Adele Raemer, an Israeli living in Kibbutz Nirim, just two kilometers away from the Gaza border, in the Western Negev. “Until their men can build hospitals, homes and places for their people, they are going to be under our feet, digging tunnels” for Hamas.

Raemer, who calls herself “an unwitting war correspondent,” spoke to roughly 75 women attending the second annual “JNF Summer Jam” at the Jersey shore, held at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Ventnor on July 17. The event, which began with an extended jam session that had everyone dancing, laughing and sweating, ended with a sobering description of the trials faced by Israelis like Raemer, who live so close to the border that they are in constant fear of being attacked.

“In times of escalation, we get rocket fire from three directions,” said Raemer, who has written widely about life on the Gaza border for Israeli and international media outlets since 2012, when the IDF launched Pillar of Defense in response to incessant rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza strip. Thirteen of those rockets fell inside of her kibbutz.

In 2014, her Kibbutz once again found itself under attack, this time for more than 50 days, while the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge, which found and destroyed numerous tunnels Hamas had dug under the border for the purpose of attacking Israeli civilians. After that conflict, she actually took a reporter into one of the tunnels. It was 17 meters deep, with walls of fortified cement, wired for communication and electricity. A branch of that tunnel led to her kibbutz.

“It was so scary,” said Raemer. “The tunnels were built and fortified for one purpose; not for smuggling, but for killing.”

Yet Raemer, a native of the Bronx who made Aliyah as a young woman, can also remember what life was like before the conflict and violence began. “When I first came here in 1975, it was not a war zone,” she recalled. “We would go to Gaza, and Gazans would come over to us. There were connections between people in the two areas. That was what life was like until 2000, when Hamas started getting power.”

By 2008, her kibbutz experienced its first casualty, when her neighbor was killed by a rocket. Although Iron Dome began protecting much of the country in 2011, her community was too close to the border to benefit. So in 2012, the Israeli government spent billions of dollars to build safe rooms onto every home in the border area.

Raemer’s safe room has a bed, two computers, a place for her dogs, and colorful decorations to make the room “as nice and calm and comforting as possible.”

Yet as the residents of her kibbutz and other nearby communities are well aware, it’s not always possible to get to make it to the safe room in the seven seconds warning they usually receive before an attack takes place. During periods of escalation, Raemer finds herself thinking about where she’ll take cover every time she walks her dog. Women stop wearing high heels. Mothers with babies in day care worry about whether the caregivers will grab their baby first. These are just some of the things Raemer writes about on a Facebook page she administers titled “Life on the border with Gaza – things that people don’t know but should,” which has nearly 2,500 followers.

JNF has tried to help create a sense of normalcy for residents of the Gaza border area by building a huge bomb-proof indoor playground that is five football fields long in Sderot, which is half an hour away from Kibbutz Nirim. “This is the real field of dreams,” said Betsy Fischer, a JNF volunteer from southern NJ who leads the Sderot/Sha’ar haNegev Regional Council Task Force.

Fischer spoke briefly but passionately about the playground to women at the JNF Summer Jam, many of whom were longstanding JNF supporters.

“JNF is very much a donor-driven organization, and we can have a say in what the organization does and the people that we touch,” said Fischer, who chose to work on the playground as a way to change the lives of families living on the Gaza border.

Raemer said that having this safe haven for border families and knowing that JNF cares enough to support Israelis such as herself, makes a huge difference.

“Often those of us living on the border feel kind of alone,” she said. “Knowing JNF is with us and supports us is powerful.”

The biggest problem her area now faces, noted Raemer, is nonmilitary. Gaza’s broken sewage system now threatens to poison the water used by her Kibbutz and other nearby communities.

“The Gazans don’t have the electricity or resources to fix their sewage system,” she noted. “Their sewage has poisoned Gaza’s water and is now about to poison ours. Water knows no borders,” she explained. 

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