Bring a Picnic, Watch the Show: Enjoying Gaza Assault In a Lawn Chair

Seven times in eight years, Israel has assaulted the Gaza Strip. For many in southern Israel, the massive airstrikes shattering the cities of their Palestinian neighbors in the latest attack make for a gratifying show and a nice day out for a picnic, writes Nissim Behar in France’s Liberation.

“Wait, who threw their egg sandwich in the fruit salad?” someone asks.

Less than a kilometer from the border with the Gaza strip, the Hazan family is watching the spectacle of war while enjoying a nice picnic lunch in the shade of a hundred-year-old-tree. Ezra, the father, Shoshana, the mother, and their three children, have set up here on the outskirts of Sderot, on a landscaped bluff with perfect views of the Palestinian enclave. In the distance: muffled explosions followed by giant columns of black smoke rising into the sky. In between helicopter raids, Israeli F-16 jets regularly rip apart the sky, flying toward southern Gaza to release their loads of bombs.

“I have been waiting for this operation for a long time,” says Ezra, “because those people have been making our lives miserable with their rockets. My kids are all between 7 and 12 years old, and they have never known a single week without an alert or a rush to the family shelter. For them, sirens are almost part of the landscape. That’s no way to live. Sometimes the alerts are so frequent that the youngest one pees the bed and gets eczema. Do you think the people in Gaza are the only ones suffering here? You’d be wrong; you have no idea how many people in the towns and villages surrounding Gaza are on anxiety medications or in therapy. If you were a pharmacist or psychologist around here, you’d be rich!”

During the conversation, Ezra’s children fight over the family’s pair of binoculars to view the explosions. At each strike by the Israeli warplanes, the oldest cuts loose a “Wow!” or a “Boul!” (‘Right on target!’ in Hebrew).

“Of course, what is going on over there is sad for the Palestinians, since there are undoubtedly plenty of fine people there,” says Shoshana. “But oh well, they voted for Hamas, right? So they have to pay the price!” Adding that she “doesn’t get involved in politics,” she goes back to making sandwiches.

In spite of the rocket alerts, a continuous parade of people passes through the Sderot overlook. There are retirees, vacationers, truckers: ordinary people who drop in to reassure themselves “that the government isn’t lying when it says that Operation Protective Edge is expanding,” as one of them says. Some bring along chairs, others, folding loungers. On Wednesday, it was the turn of the Economy minister, Naftali Benett, who dropped by to rub elbows in this strategically important place. Leader of the settler party Jewish Home, and strong supporter of a ground invasion of Gaza, Benett is certain there will be early elections in 2015, and he is already in campaign mode. He is here to shake hands with people and be photographed with columns of smoke in the background. “Israel will deal with every terrorist leader, one after the other,” he says, departing in a wave of applause.

Born in Tel Aviv, Eran Shirman, 49, had just started a Harley-Davidson tour of Israel the day Operation Protective Edge was launched. Relaxing on an inflatable mattress facing the outskirts of Gaza city, he slowly rolls handmade cigarettes, punctuating his sentences with long swallows on his beer. In his everyday life, he manages a couple of pizzerias in Bat Yam, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv; but while he is on vacation, he is playing a reborn beatnik.

gaza-sderot21Gaza, 2012. Photo: Anne Paq/ActiveStills.

“We live in a region where bleating about human rights has no place,” he says. “Whether it’s high intensity or low intensity, this part of the planet is in a permanent state of war. People are conditioned for that and are ready to accept it. That’s why they come up on this overlook with no shame: because violence is an integral part of their lives and it doesn’t shock them. For them, it is a show like any other.”

.

Nissim Behar Translated from French by International Boulevard