On Day 3 of the trip we headed south to visit the destroyed kibbutzes near Gaza, see the sight of the Nova music festival, and speak with the people affected.  This day was graciously arranged for us by law professor and colleague Roy Peled whose connections to the kibbutz movement made these visits possible.  We are so grateful!

I’ll be breaking this day into pieces as there was a lot to digest.  A couple thoughts as we dive in—one, the vast majority of the people who chose to live in the kibbutzes near Gaza are part of the left-leading kibbutz movement, many were deeply involved in peacemaking organizations, and their sense of betrayal permeated so many of the conversations that we had.  That these activists were betrayed by their neighbors in Gaza is obvious and we saw brutal evidence of that.  Everyone we talked to also felt betrayed by the Israeli government—where were they on October 7 and where are they now?  The fact that the destruction on October 7th happened primarily in places and to people not represented in the current Israeli government has not been lost on anyone.  And people also felt betrayed by the army—who was supposed to be there to protect them.  We have heard that army has both acknowledged its mistakes and is rapidly fixing them—neither of which has happened at the government level.  So to hear from conflict resolvers—people who like us wanted peace among their neighbors—makes these stories particularly poignant.

Our first visit was with Julia Chaitin, a peace activist long involved in the Beyond Intractability project with Heidi and Guy Burgess (whose conversation with them last fall is posted here),  and professor, whose book on the conflict, Routine Emergency: The Meaning of Life for Israelis Living Along the Gaza Border, was just published by Palgrave last year.

As student Caitlin French described:

Dr. Julia Chaitin’s home in Kibbutz Urim is a veritable paradise, a community so lush and tranquil that my mind wandered toward the honeybees in the flowers, struck by the dissonance that for the bees, life is business as usual. For me, standing on a sunny day beneath the whine of a military drone that I could hear but couldn’t see, it seemed impossible that the world has kept turning and the bees have kept buzzing in the six months since October 7th. 

 Chaitin collects stories. She collects them as part of her longtime work with Other Voice, a peacebuilding organization which advocates for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and for better living and working conditions for Gazans. She also collects stories qualitatively as part of her research for her upcoming book Striving for Peace through Personal Narratives of Genocide and War. When we met with Chaitin on March 20th, she was generous enough to share her own story with us.

Student Maya Baker described the visit:

Inviting homemade art projects, birds chirping, blossoming gardens, sunshine and a light breeze, and the fervent humming of an Israeli drone overhead. This is life in Kibbutz Urim, where we traveled from Tel Aviv to speak to Julia Chaitin, a resident and social psychologist with an expertise in peacebuilding. 

 Kibbutzim are small communities rooted in socialist ideals for communal living, with political life associated with the left-wing and peace solutions. Julia is a shining example of a “kibbutznik,” or kibbutz member, dedicated to the leftist, peacemaking ideology at the core of the movement.

 Her belief system was challenged on October 7 when a barrage of rockets and sirens sounded off like she’d never heard before. Hamas terrorists got as close as a half kilometer to Kibbutz Urim, where many homes do not lock. Kibbutz Urim, about 14km from Gaza, does not have government-funded safe rooms. Of the 10% of community members who have safe rooms, many could not lock them for one reason or another. As the government trudged toward response, Kibbutz Urim waited like sitting ducks. Julia reported thinking, “Where is the army?” Like many Israelis living in the Western Negev, Julia felt defenseless, abandoned by the government on October 7 (and still doesn’t know why their kibbutz was spared.)

 Julia is a 16-year board member of Other Voice, a peacemaking organization that has long advocated for an end to the blockade in Gaza and aided Gazans in attaining freedom outside the confines of the Iron Wall. Still, Julia believes Israel was given no choice but to go to war after the events of October 7 – “You can’t live next door with Hamas in charge.” Nonetheless, she and her colleagues at Other Voice remain dedicated to peace, working towards moving humanitarian aid into Gaza.

 Six months into Israel’s retaliation in Gaza, life in Kibbutz Urim hasn’t changed, and the community continues to live with constant safety concerns. Only now, Julia hears bombs as she tries to enjoy her morning stroll and struggles to fall asleep with the sound of a drone floating overhead. This new normal resembles an effort to live with the problem, without solutions to the problem itself. From her life at the perimeter of the war, Julia wonders why anyone – Israeli or Gazan – puts up with it. As I write this from the (relative) comfort and safety of Manhattan, I share her sentiment.