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Memories of Israel, near Gaza

Four years ago, I visited Sderot and other small communities in Israel which lie close to the northern border of the Gaza strip.

The woman who showed us around had lived in a moshav (small agricultural community) of 900 people for over 20 years. Her children, the eldest turning 18, had slept in bomb shelters for the entirety of their young lives. Such was life, with the routine experience of sirens, Hamas rocket attacks launched from Gaza, as well as catapulted fire-bombs that would set fire to the fields of Israelis, destroying their crops.

Bomb shelters were placed throughout these communities. Residents had 15 seconds to reach one when the siren sounded. These shelters were to be found in homes, bus stops, schools and children’s playgrounds, including one that was cleverly disguised as a giant smiling caterpillar (pictured). From time to time there were casualties, and the stress and psychological trauma, especially among children, was a constant to be carefully managed and treated.

Still, life went on.

Remarkably, despite these extraordinary daily pressures, our guide spoke without malice towards the Palestinian population of Gaza. She expressed resilience and the determination not to be driven from her home, but not a hint of hatred.

In fact, she took us to the 'Path to Peace’ wall where residents had created a huge mosaic on a portion of the security barrier facing Gaza, decorating it with messages of peace. It was their way of communicating that, while they opposed the destructive agenda of Hamas who governed Gaza, they had no desire for enmity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and maintained their hope for peace.

It is worth mentioning that Sderot and its surrounding communities are not situated in the “disputed territory” of the West Bank but are on land that has always been considered by the United Nations to be part of the modern state of Israel proper since its establishment in 1948.

Our guide’s moshav was one of the small Israeli communities overrun by Hamas militants on 7 October 2023, where residents were brutally tortured, murdered, mutilated and abducted. We still have no news as to whether or not she and her family survived the massacre.


Dr Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based writer, faith educator and author of Catholic-Jewish Relations: Twelve Key Themes for Teaching and Preaching (Paulist Press, 2023).

This article may be freely reproduced with acknowledgement.

© Teresa Pirola, 2023 |

Photos (T. Pirola): Bomb shelter in children’s playground in Sderot; ‘Path to Peace’ wall at Moshav HaAsara, Israel, near the Gaza border.

Lend a hand in the crisis: Donate to Hadassah Australia and Caritas Australia.

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