Last week, Rachel Liel accompanied NIF Executive Director in Israel Eliezer Ya'ari on a trip to meet activists and SHATIL staff in the south. In a meeting with Kavkazi and Ethiopian Israeli activists in Sderot and Kiryat Gat, she heard about their efforts to help their communities by preparing shelters and providing activities for children. She met with members of Another Voice, a Sderot group, which regularly engages in dialogue with their neighbors in Gaza, and works to convince the nation that such dialogue is possible. "It's important to hear other voices in time of war," said Liel. "A single voice of consensus is not healthy for democracy.
"Everyone we spoke with emphasized the fact that both Jews and Arabs live and work together in the Negev. What does this crisis do to these relationships? How will we move on afterward?"
Liel also heard from SHATIL Be'er Sheva staff about how they are coping at home and at work. "I am very moved by the amazing staff in Be'er Sheva that is coping with such a difficult situation – husbands being called up, children out of school, friends and relatives in Gaza – and who succeed not only in working together, but in empathizing with each other's suffering. With such differences of opinion among them, they still manage to think together about the elderly, about Russian immigrants who don’t understand Hebrew, about Bedouin in unrecognized villages.
"I see SHATIL as a "sacred island" in which people can live with differences, even in the middle of Grad rockets falling on them," she said. "The discourse in SHATIL is very painful now. Sultan [Abu Abed, co-director of SHATIL Be'er Sheva] had two distant relatives killed in Gaza. Other Bedouin staff is asking serious questions about their identity. But the staff keeps the channels of communication open."
"I left with a heart full of pain on the one hand and admiration for our staff on the other."