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In the middle of our tour of Sderot with Jacob, he offered to take us up to the best observation point overlooking the Gaza Strip, to which we readily agreed. We drove over towards the Israeli side of the border, passing next to a kibbutz on our way.

Arriving at a gate, Jacob told us we had to get out of the car and walk up to the parking lot. It was a large gravel parking lot with several interesting features immediately around it. First of all, there was an iteration of the ubiquitous IDF watchtower on the edge of the lot, but with more fortifications around it than usual. It was part of a line of widely-spaced towers, giving us a clear idea of the Israeli side of the line, but not where the border line was exactly. There was a public IDF memorial to a Druze general who had fallen in battle. The middle of the parking lot was some sort of electronics/radio tower. Finally, on the edge of the parking lot was a civilian observation tower on the side of a small hill, with an artistic rendition of a map of the Gaza Strip in front of it.

We immediately walked towards the tower, and Jacob started giving some orientation and facts about the Strip. He pointed out the power station at Ashkelon, the location of Gaza City, the huge bare land in the middle of Gaza where the Israeli government bulldozed Jewish settlements and then forced the settlers to leave, and so forth. He pointed out something terrible to see – in the midst of 3-story buildings of the Strip as far as the eye could see, there were 7 or 8 huge, brand-new-looking skyscrapers. He explained to us that those are condominium-style apartments, built by Yasser Arafat with misused international aid money for use by his cronies. I don’t know if that is entirely true, but those buildings were too out of character to just accept them as they were.

We continued to listen to what he had to say, but three major facts really stood out to me. First of all, even from the distance of 1 kilometer, I could tell that major parts of the Strip were simply piles of rubble, left over from the recent Operation Cast Lead. As construction materials are illegal to bring into Gaza at present (see my previous blog post for the reasons given for this), people simply have not been able to rebuild much of anything. Second, Jacob expressed all sorts of excitement at going up to the lookout point as it was so obviously a clear and bright day. Once we got there, I was surprised that Gaza seemed so cloudy and foggy. It was explained to me that there is simply that much pollution coming off of Gaza, so as to make it look like it was cloudy only over that part of the land. That is deeply distressing, in and of itself.

Finally, the sort of “**GASP** Gaza” sentiments that we kind of had before getting there were at least partially dispelled by our time spent at the observation point. It was refreshing to see that although people inside the Strip do fire rockets, and Hamas does indeed mistreat its own people very much so, and all of the other known (and unknown, un-mourned) tragedies that occur; it is also just a piece of land with people on it, many of whom just want to live in peace and let their kids get an education and be successful. Just the same as most other places in the world, so it is intensely saddening for me that the peaceful people therein are punished alongside and because of the actions of those evil people located there. As Jacob’s explanations confirmed further, and my own personal experiences have highlighted, there is an aspect to this conflict that is not often-discussed by anyone. While the Israelis are unfortunately attacked and hurt and damaged by some Palestinian people who resort to violence, the majority of the Palestinian people are victims to both some Israelis (settlers, and sometimes members of the IDF, unfortunately), as well as every single Palestinian political force/government which has yet been formed. They have either been rife with corruption (Fatah), or they have been completely undemocratic and fairly extremist in their actions (the PLO, Hamas). I hope and pray for the day when the Palestinian people have a representative political group which has the best interests of individual Palestinians in mind in place of personal political concerns, or any of the other number of issues that currently exist.

Here are the photographs I ended up taking of the area (they are as clear as I could focus them, considering the large amount of pollution emanating from the Strip):

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