High ground overlooking GazaEric also regretted being ‘shielded to death’ by the millions of dollars pouring into Sderot from abroad solely for defensive infrastructure, when his town had so many other needs. And he also felt uncomfortable about his town being used as the vanguard of his government’s war on terror rhetoric since despite their own very real fears there was a wide range of opinion there about the wisdom of such a massive attack on the captive population in Gaza. Eric was remarkable. He humanised everything, everyone’s pain became important, Eric’s family, all the Sderot families. He managed something I had previously found difficult faced with the Australian-Israeli spokesman Mark Regev on TV as I mourned the people in Gaza.

I thought a lot about Eric and common humanity; even more so when a rather weird episode on the hillock overlooking Gaza took on added significance. As our bus arrived, we could see a tent set out with drinks and nibbles. In front of it, very large entwined British and Israelis flags flapped in the wind. When we stopped nearby, some soldiers rushed up and told us to move on. We drove on a bit further, got out, and started taking photos of Gaza and the countryside around Sderot. Soldiers zoomed up again and again told us to clear off because this was a military zone, etc. As we drove off, some British big cheese arrived in a convoy of cars bearing more entwined flags. I didn’t think much more of it until I got an email forwarding an article from Ha’aretz about the secret visit of British Chief of Staff Sir David Richard to Israeli units that are using advanced military equipment and also to exchange military intelligence with Israeli top brass. It somehow felt even more obscene to have shared that hill with Sir David knowing he was inspecting the Gaza laboratory.

The next day, our group heads north to Haifa. On the way we pass the largest settlement in the OPT, the Modi’in Illit block, a sort of dormitory town for Tel Aviv, 40 minutes away. It’s vast. It is doesn’t look middle class like Efrat. In fact, more like Pete Seeger’s song about ‘living in boxes, all made out of ticky-tacky, that all look just the same’. The point about Modi’in Illit is that part of it, called Matityahu East, was illegal even under Israeli law and should have been demolished but… instead of the bulldozers, building permission was granted retroactively under dodgy circumstances. It is built entirely on land from the nearby Palestinian village of Bili’in that was previously being cultivated. The villagers, with Israeli and international activists, hold a weekly protest that has been met with extreme violence.

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