Despite the bombs, incendiary balloons and kites, frequent sirens and nights in secure room, Shatil’s Gali Bessudo has never considered leaving Sderot.
“This is home,” she told NIF News. “When we see our area in the news, we see a region covered in smoke. But that is not necessarily the reality we live in.”
Gali is happy to live in Sderot, located in the “Gaza envelope” and lauds its many attractions.
“Sderot has turned into a city that is really fun to live in it. I bike every morning to the train and within an hour I’m in Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv. There is a student village that creates a young, lively atmosphere, a cinematheque, tax breaks, a mayor who knows how to use the discounts and benefits for the good of the residents and the city’s ebullient atmosphere. There are many advantages – and one big disadvantage.”
She says that paradoxically more and more families are moving to the area. In Sderot alone, six new neighborhoods are being built.
Gali has been a kibbutznik all her life. She was born to a native of Kibbutz Amir in the Upper Galilee and now lives in the Migvan (Diverse) urban kibbutz in Sderot. She arrived in Sderot as a soldier in a Nahal unit in 1991, met and married a member of the urban kibbutz and they have made their home there ever since.
In addition to the feeling of belonging and mutual aid that comes from living in an intentional community, Gali says, “Many of us are social activists and our ability to be active in the place we live is based on the fact that we have a strong community to return to at the end of the day.”
Gali’s optimism extends to her activism. After the 2014 Gaza war, she joined the fledgling Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, an activist group that demands the government enter into political settlement in order to bring peace and security to the area.
“The situation is extremely complex. Hamas has been weakened. Is that good? Bad? If it falls, there could be anarchy. It’s no wonder our government is paralyzed.
“But the constant rounds of fighting have not brought peace. As residents of this area, we must demand no less than a political settlement. A hudna that even some right wing politicians support is a start. We must talk to Hamas, talk to the Arab countries. However it’s done, it must be done. There is no other way.”
Last week, the daily Yediot Achronot published a cover that was crowded with place names and times over the course of a Shabbat. The entire page was covered with words like “Sderot” “the Ashkelon Coast” and times of attacks that were sometimes just minutes apart. How does her family respond to such a night?
“It’s scary,” says Gali. “You feel that any minute, it could fall on your home and you have no control over it and you have to do your best to protect your kids. That night, our three kids slept in our secure room. We stick as much as possible to our routine because the worst thing in our situation is to let it affect our routine. We don’t allow the situation to stop our lives. The kids adopt this attitude from us.
“The morning after that terrible night, my husband took our 11-year-old out to pick sabras. The saw the burned areas and just when they came back, the sirens started wailing. Our son was really scared and tense. You hear strong booms again and again and again, and you hear the Iron Dome, which starts like the sound of an airplane and then you hear a boom and you don’t know where it will blow up — and if it’s close you also hear what falls.
“Some people say, How can you leave the house on a day like this?’ but keeping to the routine that maintains stability.”
Perhaps part of Gali’s resilience comes from the fact that as a child, she also spent many nights in shelters, when Lebanese bombs reached Israel’s northern periphery before the first Lebanon war.
“We lived in children’s houses and they would wake us up and night, tell us to take blankets and then we would wait in the cement passageway until the shelter was opened. But we never felt our lives were in danger. Here, we do. Every place I go in Sderot, something fell, including in front and in back of our house.”
Gali has applied lessons she has learned through the Western Negev movement to her work at Shatil, where she has been a consultant to southern social change organizations for 13 years: ways to change language in order to recruit people who are not the usual suspects and to harness their energies; ways of breaking the usual left-right divide and look at things in a more complex way. She has also brought her experience in crowd funding for the movement to the organizations she works with at Shatil. Gali also co-coordinates Shift, Shatil’s social change blog and its new podcasts.
Gali would like to see more and more people realize they can change reality and to connect long term with social change organizations and view them as their home. That is the way, she believes, to make Israel a more just, inclusive and egalitarian place.