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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

On the Gaza-Israel Border… February 2023

On Friday a week ago, before I knew Hamas had attacked Israel, I mailed a letter to my friends, Irit and Avi, who live in Har Adar near Jerusalem. In the letter I included an article I’d read that same day about the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Many memories came to me from that time. I was pregnant, expecting a first child, and on leave from teaching high school in the Napa Valley. Husband Mike, a USAF captain, was sent off to Hawaii for an assignment and had no sooner returned in early October than he began flying armaments and medical supplies to Israel, which Syria and Egypt had attacked on October 6th. His load on one occasion out of Dover AFB in Delaware, was a tank and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition. He and his crew would land in Israel, file a flight plan, be handed something to eat, and leave in a forty-minute time frame with an empty aircraft. So it went until the war ended in late September.

Our daughter Michelle, born on February 5th, 1974, shares a birthday with our friend Avi. And he, a pilot injured and severely burned during the Yom Kippur war, later was sent to Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama, which is where I met Irit in 1985. A story of chance and circumstance that we met. I think of her as the sister I never had, and I cannot imagine life without having met this couple, visited their country nine times, and known their exceptional children, and countless friends.

During their time and ours that year in Montgomery, I tutored Avi for a college literature course. I think of helping him write a paper on Flannery O’Connor’s story, “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” I also helped him write a speech he delivered in Cleveland, Ohio, in celebration of Yom Kippur. His speech honored a friend and fellow pilot who died during the 1973 war.

Just this past February I visited Israel again, along with my friend and webmaster, Ilona. A world traveler, Israel was one country she had not seen. On our last day there, Avi and Irit drove us South to see an area where I had not been. It was also the time of poppies blooming near Sderot with people out and about, children playing, families having picnics, a lightness of being in the air.

Until that day, Gaza was only a mark on a map and news on television. Yet from a high point, looking across fields, I saw Gaza city in the distance. A peaceful, agricultural scene in memory. We also visited Erez, a Jewish settlement on the Israel-Gaza border.

What I won’t forget is a wall with countless ceramic disks, all bearing messages related to peace and love. Yes, there were fortified bus stops that Sunday, and I knew about the missiles Hamas would launch into Israel. But what I loved was the way the bus stops had been decorated in wild and whimsical ways, as if to say, our spirits are alive and well and will not be broken by hatred.

The first news I heard on October 7th was about the festival, the barbarity against those enjoying music and dancing into the night. Then news about butchery in communities along the border. The worst kind of convergence: of cultural, religious, and political hatred, rooted in blood, satisfied through violence, enacting once again, inhumanity to man, woman, and child.

Next week: Two West Bank Mayors & A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

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