2 Israelis, 3 Opinions – on Gaza and More

In a country like Israel, where patriotic emotions run high and strong Zionist convictions can divide families, it's not at all unusual to find two people who harbor vastly different political viewpoints.

Thus, it was hardly surprising to discover that two men – albeit the mayors of neighboring towns that border the Gaza Strip – would express opposing views on the Jewish state's recent disengagement from that territory. Far more important, though, was their assessment of Israel's future.

Yechiel Zohar, mayor of Netivot, and Meir Yifrach, head of the Sedot Negev regional council, which encircles Netivot, paid a visit last week. Eight years ago, Philadelphia formed a partnership with the Israeli region to address basic needs of the citizenry, as well as to strengthen local Jews' connections to the Jewish state through visits and fundraising.

The two leaders spoke at a breakfast program about the necessity of continued investment in the region to an audience of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia employees. The mayors also reported on the disengagement and how that profound move affected their constituents.

"We should be proud that Jews got up and got out of [the Gaza Strip]," said Zohar in Hebrew, which was translated into English for the audience. "My son is going into the army, and I hope he won't have to fight for the same things his parents and grandparents had to fight for. That chapter is closed."

Zohar called disengagement a "wonderful step that needed to be taken," and was confident that his community, as well as the Arabs who live "just 1 kilometer away," can live in peace.

Yifrach, on the other hand, expressed disappointment over the way in which the disengagement was conducted. "I would have been a little bit more supportive if there had been a better" agreement in place, he said via a translator.

Speaking of the Israeli citizens who had established close-knit communities in the Gaza Strip, he added: "These people were sent there by the government. They converted the wasteland into a blooming desert. Their families were killed, and then they were evacuated, to receive nothing in return. The State of Israel also received nothing in return."

Concern for the Children
The two men did agree on other issues, like feeling concerned for the children of their towns and how they've been affected by the changes taking place in their homeland.

Yifrach questioned whether Israel's youth could remain passionate and confident about the strength of their country and its army. He expressed concern that perhaps, for youngsters about to enlist in the army, disengagement symbolized a weakness in Israel.

Zohar spoke of the emotional and psychological toll that disengagement from Gaza – as well as the resumption of Palestinian rocket attacks against the Sedot Negev region – has had on the children of his town, which, located northwest of Beersheva, is the closest Israeli city to Gaza.

"It's only natural that something like this hurts children and their ability to concentrate," stated Zohar. "When rockets go off in the middle of the night, it hurts children and adults, but it is the price we pay on the way to quiet."

In the end, both mayors were convinced that the land of milk and honey would rebound, and even come out stronger.

"Israel is used to ups and downs, and we rise above the downs with strength and continue to reach new heights," said Yifrach. "I'm sure the crisis will vanish, and we will continue to … maintain a sense of community. Jews love Jews – there is no changing that."



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