A Memorable Day in Israel: Our Trip to the Gaza Fence

0

By Julia Weller

In February, my husband and I spent three weeks in Israel on our own personal support mission. Our friends and family thought we were crazy. “How can you go now? There’s a war going on! It’s dangerous!” But we rarely felt in danger and had a surprisingly wonderful visit.

We packed vegetables in a warehouse for delivery to needy families and met other volunteers, mostly American Jewish retirees like us, but also young non-Jews who sympathized with Israel. We visited museums (often the only visitors), walked through Jerusalem’s Old City to pray at the Western Wall, bought aromatic teas in Jerusalem’s colorful outdoor Machane Yehuda market and used the sleek new electric light rail system in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Restaurants were crowded with laughing Israelis and surfers in wet suits crested the waves along the Mediterranean. A friend took us hiking in the peaceful Tzora Forest to see wildflowers. Despite the pictures of the hostages still in Gaza on billboards and posters everywhere, it was hard to remember there was a war on — until we took a trip to the Gaza fence advertised on a WhatsApp group. That was our most memorable day.

After a two-hour bus journey, we met up with Yossi, a fortyish Zaka volunteer and our guide for the day, with two Israeli soldiers carrying machine guns. They were our guards — the first indication of potential danger. Yossi had been an ambulance driver on Oct. 7 and was there to tell us what he saw and what we were seeing.

Superficially, it looked like a used car lot, with dozens of cars lined up behind a fence. But soon we saw this was no ordinary car lot. Many had bullet holes. Others were left abandoned because their owners had been murdered. Just over the barrier were what looked like modern art sculptures — grotesquely twisted rusted metal towers made of burned-out cars.

I remembered a news report about a large chunk of burned wood found on a kibbutz. But when it was X-rayed, it was found to contain the spinal columns of an adult and a child. Hamas terrorists had tied them together, poured gasoline over them and set them ablaze. Their bodies had turned to charcoal. I wondered if those metal sculptures contained people.

At the Gaza fence, we saw where it had been breached by bulldozers. In the distance, we could hear the “boom” of Israeli tanks firing rounds into Gaza. We all jumped nervously. The fence between us and Gaza looked so fragile. It used sensors to alert army posts of infiltrators, instead of electrified wire. One of the soldiers said they had trained for an incursion of maximum 60 infiltrators, never for 3,500 heavily armed terrorists using bulldozers and crossing on motorcycles and hang gliders.

The Supernova music festival site was the hardest to see. It was dotted with pictures on wooden posts of the 364 young people who had been murdered there on Oct. 7. We walked between the smiling beautiful faces and the little memorials of stones laid in the shape of hearts, inset with paper flowers and candles brought by families. Some 40 partygoers had been taken to Gaza as hostages.

In Jerusalem, we met a man whose son had gone to celebrate his 23rd birthday. He was still somewhere in a Gaza tunnel. Yossi said his ambulance, meant for one person, ferried five bodies at a time to the nearest hospital because there were so many dead. He described finding bodies half-naked, their lower garments torn off, and said he could tell they had been raped multiple times, men as well as women. Despite having told this story often, Yossi’s voice still caught in his throat.

Next, we drove to Kibbutz Nirim, where our two English-speaking IDF guards gave a tour. Approximately 20 terrorists attacked early on Oct. 7. They killed five kibbutz members, shot others and took many to Gaza. Yossi said that on another kibbutz he found the body of a young boy without his head. They searched for it but could not find it. He assumed it went to Gaza as a trophy.

Even knowing these details, the tour was sadder than it was horrifying, because we did not see the kibbutz when it was alive with the sound of voices, people working in the fields, children laughing and playing. It was eerily silent, as if everyone had suddenly been abducted by aliens.

It was the little things that hit me, like skeins of colored knitting wool on a porch floor, photos stuck to the refrigerator of a burned house which the heat had erased, leaving just ghostly outlines, and a garment bag labeled “JJ’s House” still hanging on a wall. There were no knickknacks on tables or pictures on walls, so the houses were denuded of personality.

Hundreds of Gaza residents had followed close behind the terrorists and taken anything of value they could carry. Only the number and letters scrawled on the outside wall, identifying the army unit that had examined the house for bodies and terrorists and given the “all clear,” gave any indication as to the awful tragedies that had occurred inside.

Our last stop was a relief from the horrors we had seen, even if only secondhand. We ended our day at the Amitai army base, preparing a barbecue for 300 soldiers. I was one of the salad makers and my husband Dan was on the meat grilling crew, making hamburgers and turning hot dogs and chicken over charcoal fires.

The soldiers looked so young, most of them just in their early twenties. They seemed happy to be treated to a barbecue, despite the fact that the Givati Brigade has been in the thick of the fighting in Gaza.

Yossi had brought a boom box and connected it to the loudspeaker system. Soon, music was blaring throughout the base. After eating their fill and piling up plates to take to their friends, the soldiers put arms on each other’s shoulders, sang loudly and danced the hora, grabbing the male visitors — most of whom were old enough to be their grandfathers — to join them.

Dan, who speaks Hebrew, struck up a conversation with two tall soldiers, one of Ethiopian descent. After circling him round and round, one on each side of him, when the music stopped, they both bowed and thanked him for coming to Israel to support them. That little gesture, more than anything, made the trip to the Gaza fence worthwhile.

Julia Weller is an international energy lawyer who retired from practice two years ago. She and her husband Dan split their time between Chevy Chase, MD, and Healdsburg, CA.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here