Eric YellinThe next day we head for Sderot, the town in southern Israel that bore the brunt of the Hamas’ Qassam rocket attacks in the six months leading up to the Israeli assault on Gaza last January. The last team had had a presentation in the government media centre three months earlier. It had not been altogether successful. Some of the EAs got a bit hot under the collar faced with the ‘they brought it on themselves’ argument from the American guide when Gaza was mentioned (she was only doing her job). In turn, the guide had not liked what she had interpreted as a lack of sensitivity to Israeli suffering in some of the EAs questions. So much so, that she had written an article in the liberal daily Ha’aretz complaining about the group’s callous attitude.

Not wanting to repeat a very expensive tour that had spectacularly failed to build bridges, the office contacted a group called Other Voice to show us round. Eric Yellin showed us a little of the modest town of Sderot before pointing out the myriad bomb shelters, the places that had been hit, the growing sophistication if not accuracy of the rockets. He said that although the rudimentary rockets had killed and injured few people in ten years, as a father of three young boys he could testify to the trauma of living with the constant anxiety of one of your kids being the next victim.

Then on the high ground overlooking Gaza Eric talked about the death and suffering on the other side. The Strip was so near, the sun sparkled on the skyscrapers, urban sprawl still standing although you get the impression from TV that it is all rubble. It felt obscene watching, knowing of the prison conditions still in force, the un-rebuilt houses, un-restocked hospitals, depleted schools, the sewage plant on the brink, the despair. Eric also felt despair at the fact that the only communication between his town and the Gazans was through bombs and rockets, whereas when he was younger people had had cordial relations, had even worked together. Even now his organisation had counterparts on the other side with whom they kept in touch by phone, email and video link, trying to maintain a contact for better days that now seemed so far off.

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