So it took me longer to post this than I expected. Here's a description of my day Thursday:
Instead of Ulpan, all of our classes went to a Beduin Museum about 30 minutes from Be'er Sheva. At the museum, we looked at a number of exhibits that were described to us by a Beduin tour guide. He told us about the Beduin people, differences between culture and modern advances, and his personal story. We then went to a large Beduin tent where we discussed Beduin hospitality. In the tent, my Hebrew teacher, Hannah (who is awesome), translated a story from a Beduin man about hospitality. A man had come to his tent and the host was poor but had to feed the guest so he slaughtered the guest's camel and served it to the guest. The guest was not happy about this when he found out upon trying to leave and took the man to a Beduin court. The court decided in favor of the host and he ended up recieving 35ish camels from the tribe for his dedication to hospitality. After the story, we were served Beduin tea. It was splendid. After the tea, we saw a short video about the Beduin.
We then returned to the dorms and hung out for a bit before the next part of the adventure. At 1:00 p.m. a group of us met and had a pizza lunch ("American Pizza" was the company). We then took a bus to Netiv HaAsara, the closest community in Israel to the Gaza Strip. We were previously told that we didn't have a security clearance to go to the Gaza border, but apparently that was not entirely true. While we didn't get close enough to the border to touch it, we stood at a very close distance and were able to see the border clearly as well as right inside Gaza and perhaps the outskirts of Gaza City on the horizon.
We were joined by a man from Netiv HaAsara, the moshav, who told us about the history of the rocket attack situation. He definately had conservative, extremely right-wing views of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. He had some interesting points though.
After Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel built a wall/fence around the Gaza border in six weeks. The whole thing is a fence with strong censors on it except for a 2ish kilometer section around the moshav. The guy said that it was for more of the psychological effect of safety and that it had been breached once on a foggy day by three terrorists who started shooting nearby.
The fence is no help for the rockets that are shot over it and snipers could still pick people off. In fact, he told us that the Israeli army was watching us where we were and that snipers in Gaza could find us without much difficulty. Apparently they had let a previous group stand on a slight hill next to where we were and soldiers came over and questioned why they let people stand there. There were towers near the border with Gaza that take video surveillance as well as monitor all communication in the Gaza border area, if not all of the Gaza Strip.
Over a seven year period that includes several cease-fires or periods of calm, over 1400 Kassam rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza. That number excludes Mortor attacks. This community, Sderot, and the Kibbutz we visited have been the most affected.
Israel has instituted an "early" warning system for the rockets. After sensors pick up the rocket, sirens go off in the target area that say "Red Alert", or "Tzeva Adom" in Hebrew. This gives residents, at most, 12-15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter or at least a better protected area. Most people do not have bomb shelters in their homes and more are being built around the cities by the government to at least provide protection from shrapnel. 12-15 seconds goes by extremely quickly - we did a test run to see what it was like (it wasn't a real alarm, dont worry) and it took us 24 seconds and we could see the shelter close by. The alarm can go off any time and oftern it occurs at night.
In Sderot, we learned about their situation with the rocket attacks, being the most attacked city. The presentation, by the Sderot Media Center, focused on the human side of the attacks. Many who can afford to have left the city. It is rare to see people outside. Children don't play on playgrounds. People can't sleep. Schools are having bomb protection coverings built over them. Over 45% of the population of Sderot has some sort of anxiety or post-traumatic stresss disorder.
In Sderot, we watched a video while underground in a bomb shelter. We saw a playground that had bomb shelters built as part of the playground equipment. We saw shelters and protected areas all over the city. We saw a house with holes in it from shrapnel. We heard stories of death and injury as well as miracles and survival. We saw stores with thick metal doors and window covers. We saw a house that was being rebuilt after being leveled by a rocket attack. I held a Kassam rocket. This could not be a pleasant way to grow up.
Also in Sderot, we visited a Yeshiva that was growing as a statement that the rockets could not destroy the city. They were rebuilding the entire school. Their enrollement is growing. The dorms that they are building are all bomb shelters. We discussed the situation with the Rosh Yeshiva, the Rabbi who runs the Yeshiva for a different perspective and stood on the Yeshiva's roof for a look over Sderot and the surrounding area.
After Sderot, we visited a Kibbutz (They had the second highest number of rocket attacks) and got a tour by a resident who told us exactly where rockets had hit and how she would randomly start crying. It was very powerful.
When the media says that a Kassam Rocket was fired into or landed in an open area and no one was hurt, that means a field or a street. This is misleading. That does not mean that people were not nearby or that the entire city was not put on alert. People drive without seatbelts on, with the windows down, and without the radio on. This makes it easier to hear an alarm and then to get out of a car and to "safety" quicker. Additionally, no anouncements are made over loud speakers (in grocery stores, etc.). Loud noices get a reaction from the residents of fear. Parents are now trying to send their children into other areas of Israel for at least a year so that they can experience a "normal" life, without the constant threat of rocket attack.
On our way back to Be'er Sheva, we found out about an opportunity to go to a dinner at a Beduin tent with some overseas students at Tel-Aviv University and Hebrew University who were there for an overnight trip. A number of us went for dinner and a bonfire and hung out and met these students. I actually ended up meeting a friend from Kansas City who is studying at Tel-Aviv University who I have been out of touch with for about three years. It was kind of crazy. We ended up staying much longer than we were suppossed to which was okay with us, but our bus driver didn't seem thrilled.
Thursday was a great day. There was so much more that I learned and experienced that is not written here. I will probably write about my Shabbat experience tomorrow as I have a lot more to do tonight before bed. I will also post my pictures from the places described here shortly.