Hope inspires British-born peace activist


Few Israelis know the dangers of Gaza better than Roni Keidar. The former JFS pupil's home lies just a few hundred metres from the border with the Hamas-run territory.

In last summer's conflict, a Qassam rocket from Gaza killed one of the Thai workers on her family's farm. A few days later an exploding mortar damaged their home and destroyed their and their daughter's cars. Later they found the opening to a Hamas tunnel among their greenhouses.

But despite three wars with Gaza in under a decade, the 71-year-old grandmother has not lost hope. She is an active campaigner for a local peace group called Other Voice, founded in 2008, and speaks out, wherever she can, for the need for a Palestinian state.

"Violence is making it worse and worse as time goes on," she said during a short trip back to Britain to address meetings of Yachad students and Meretz UK.

"There is all this talk now of the next round. I dread to think what the next round is going to be like. So why don't we start talking of how to stop it?"

From a strongly Zionist family, she went to Israel from London aged eight in 1951. After the Six-Day War in 1967, she and her Egyptian-born husband Ovadia became settlers, living in a new village, Netiv Ha'Asara, in captured Sinai.

When Israel signed its peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, the Sinai settlers had to leave their homes. But around 60 families rebuilt Netiv Ha'Asara inside Israel on the border with Gaza.

Then came an unexpected turn which changed Mrs Keidar's way of thinking. In the mid-1980s her husband was invited to go back to Egypt as an agricultural adviser. The couple lived there for four years.

Mrs Keidar said: "I grew up knowing one side of the story of the Middle East - the Jewish side. As far as I was concerned, Israel could do no wrong. All of a sudden I come to Egypt and I meet people on the other side of the conflict - Palestinians living there, friends of Palestinians. It opened my eyes to another way of looking at history."

Until last summer, the Keidars had been lucky. But one morning they were having breakfast when a rocket siren sounded. Mrs Keidar explained: "We had 15 seconds to get to the shelter. When we came out I could hear crying and shrieking.

"Three rockets had fallen near the greenhouses. One of them had hit one of our Thai workers, Navakorn, and he was killed. They have a shelter but not 15 seconds away, so they have to lie on the ground.

"He was quite new to the area and when he saw the rocket coming across he wanted to photograph it on his mobile and he was hit. You could see it all on the phone. It was dreadful."

Three of the Keidars' five children, and 10 of their 16 grandchildren, live in the village. While the young families were evacuated during the conflict, Mrs Keidar and her husband remained. "He didn't want to leave the farm or the workers," she said.

Her commitment to peace remains unshakeable. She regularly meets Palestinians who are allowed out of Gaza for medical treatment in Israel.

She believes Israel should do more to lift the siege in order to make life more bearable for ordinary Gazans. Jewish history "should make us understand the Palestinians more than anyone else in the world because we are very similar", she said.

"I know many people call me a dreamer. I don't think I am. I think the dreamers are those Israelis who think they can bomb Gaza again and again and eventually the Palestinians will come on their knees and beg for peace. That only creates more vengeance and hatred.

"Everything I do is for the love of Israel. I want a better future for my children and grandchildren. I won't accept the fact that many Israelis say we are going to have to live by the sword forever."

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