MOSHAV YATED JOURNAL
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: October 8, 2009
MOSHAV YATED, Israel - At the last stop of the artists' tour through this hazardous semi-desert, Yaron Bob fashions roses out of pieces of Qassam rockets fired out of Gaza at residents in the area. Mr. Bob repeatedly heats a metal band sawed from a rocket until it glows orange and pounds it with a hammer, working it into a slim stem and petals.
He chose to make roses, he said, because he was "looking for a new symbol of peace, and an answer to death."
Last winter's war in Gaza has brought some quiet to Israeli communities along the border like this one, which lived under the constant threat of rocket fire from Gaza for much of the last eight years.
Israel said its three-week offensive was intended to change the reality in the south. Since January, when the military campaign ended, the rocket fire has significantly fallen off and residents here are trying to accustom themselves to a kind of normalcy amid the lingering uncertainty and fear.
Guesthouses in local villages and kibbutzim enjoyed 80 percent occupancy during the recent New Year holiday, according to the tourism manager for the regional councils. In August, the villages and farms put on a week-long South American festival with concerts, salsa dancing and workshops, attracting thousands of visitors. Now the regional councils are promoting the tour of artists and galleries in the area.
But in some respects for the people here, the war is not over. Occasional rockets and mortar shells still puncture the calm, causing the population to relive the moments of panic. The international outcry over Israel's military conduct, meanwhile, has left many here feeling that the world is out of touch with their plight.
Up to 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, including hundreds of civilians, while the war left 13 dead on the Israeli side. A United Nations investigation led by Richard Goldstone, an internationally respected judge, found evidence of possible war crimes by both Israel and the Palestinian militant groups. Israel denounced the report as one-sided and said it ignored Israel's right of self-defense.
Not surprisingly, Israelis in southern Israel have little patience for the international condemnation, and there is not much soul-searching under way.
"People scoffed" at the Goldstone report, said Sasson Sara, the owner of a newspaper store in Sderot, the border town hit by thousands of rockets. "What does he understand? He sits in an air-conditioned room and he writes."
Yafa Malka, a glamorously made-up Sderot hairdresser, said she felt "pain and humiliation" when she heard about the report.
"I am very sorry for all those who were killed in Gaza," Ms. Malka said, "but I expect my country to defend me no matter how."
According to the Israeli military, some 3,330 rockets and mortar shells were launched from Gaza at southern Israel in 2008, compared with fewer than 330 since the end of the war. But the calm remains precarious; in recent weeks there has been more frequent, if sporadic, fire. Over the Jewish New Year in September, the familiar but heart-stopping incoming rocket alert sounded over the public address system in the middle of the night. Two rockets landed on the edge of Sderot.
"The problem is not whether it is quiet or not quiet," said Mr. Sara, the newspaper vendor. "The question is, will it last? In business you cannot plan anything. People here live from one day to the next."
The relative calm has brought some problems of its own. For one thing, the steep decline in rocket fire has led to a corresponding reduction in government funds and other donations.
"We bless every day of quiet," said Amnon Kuznits, director of the Sderot Economic Company, a municipal body that develops initiatives to help the town. "People are back at work, and the children are going to school."
But as soon things improved, he said, foreign donors and government ministries cut their financing. So while many of the residents continue to suffer the psychological effects of the rocket fire, Sderot's emergency trauma center is in danger of closing down.
From a rise along the border, observers can watch the sun set in a red orb behind the buildings of Hamas-run Gaza before it drops into the Mediterranean Sea. The sounds of wartime bombing and the black plumes of smoke are gone.
Here in Moshav Yated, a cooperative village in a remote corner of the western Negev where the borders of Israel, Gaza and Egypt meet, residents grow flowers, cherry tomatoes and other produce in hothouses. Some tease lush gardens out of the sand. And in a converted agricultural shed behind his house, Mr. Bob, 38, a teacher of computing and a part-time metal sculptor and blacksmith, makes his roses out of pieces of spent Qassams, collected from the police station in the nearby desert town of Ofakim.
He made his first one last winter, at the height of the Gaza war, seeking an outlet for his often conflicted emotions. Mr. Bob says he is "not for violence," and is "for solving things peacefully." But the military offensive "brought quiet," he said.
The mayor of Sderot, David Buskila, has presented several of Mr. Bob's roses to visiting dignitaries, including Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations. The roses are created with a combination of brute force and finesse, then they are welded onto metal bases shaped like a map of Israel, growing out of the spot that marks Sderot. There are no lines on the map demarcating the borders of Gaza or the boundary of the West Bank.
That, Mr. Bob says, is "because I am not trying to say this is mine, and this is yours."