Finding the Other Voice in Gaza and Sderot

Can one man’s voice start a revolution? In the Middle East, not one, but two men’s voices have united in the hopes of creating peace in the region. Under the aliases of “Hope Man” and “Peace Man,” the two men …

Can one man’s voice start a revolution? In the Middle East, not one, but two men’s voices have united in the hopes of creating peace in the region. Under the aliases of “Hope Man” and “Peace Man,” the two men blog together about the human and emotional side of the ongoing conflict from their homes in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, and Sderot, Israel

Their voices have sparked a mini-revolution that leads to daily and weekly phone calls between Israelis and Palestinians, a unique lifeline of hope and support for the people in the rocket-hit communities of Sderot and Gaza.

Submitting their entries on a regular basis to gaza-sderot.blogspot.com, the two anonymous bloggers have been featured in major media outlets like the BBC, Reuters, and the New York Times. Amid all the experts, journalists, politicians, and opinions published in the mainstream media, the two men offer a human take on the conflict.

BBC radio interview

Before the latest surge of violence between Hamas terrorists and the Israel Defense Force, blog posts between Hope Man and Peace Man were about living under rocket fire, or the poverty and difficulties of life in Gaza. Peace Man’s been trying for two years to get out of Gaza for studies, but with no success. Hope Man is just trying to raise his kids in a sense of normalcy.

With the increase in violence over the last weeks, their blog posts have taken on new meaning, and have illuminated a new organization, Other Voice, inspired by their communication.

The formation of Other Voice says Danny Gal, a spokesperson and friend to both Hope Man and Peace Man “was very interesting,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “Because out of this blog, Hope Man thought, ‘how can I involve more people on my side — the Israeli side?”

Looking for people in Sderot, the Israeli side of the Gaza border where rockets have been falling steadily over the last couple of years, Hope Man protested: “Violence cannot lead anywhere, and people must look for other ways,” recounts Gal.

Since starting Other Voice at the beginning of 2008, thousands of Israelis and hundreds of Palestinians have been directly involved in talking with each other, and in petitioning for non-violent forms of activism.

Messages of peace and support

In August last year, 50 residents from Sderot and the Negev region held a biking event along the border fence with Gaza to send messages of peace and love to their Palestinian neighbors. Other Voice members biked along the fence for a stretch of six miles, holding banners and messages. One read, “Hello Gaza, This Is Sderot.”

Although the hundred or more Palestinians looking on from their windows cheered the Israelis with words of encouragement, the Palestinians couldn’t leave their homes as originally planned, since the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah, two regimes in Gaza, made it too dangerous for them to do so at that time.

At the event, however, one Palestinian man, an economist in Gaza, was reported by the press to say on speakerphone to the Israeli group: “Please tell everybody that in Gaza you have partners for peace. There are people to speak to.”

Other Voice unites despite escalating violence

New ground operations in Gaza, and daily rocket fire into Israel have kept those involved in Other Voice united. Naomi Benbassat, a psychologist living in the Sderot region outside of Gaza, and an active member of Other Voice, spoke with ISRAEL21c on Tuesday. Other members in the group, she says, have been speaking with their Palestinians friends, but for her, she hasn’t built up the courage to make the call.

“I do speak [with them], but it is very difficult for me what is happening there,” she says. “I don’t have enough courage to phone them and am really suffering over what they are going through. Of course in the last year it was very difficult [for me] and for some periods of time we couldn’t live our normal lives because of the rockets. However, I think solution is not by violence or [by way of the] army, but by talking.”

Benbassat is now living temporarily in Jerusalem with her two children to avoid the rocket fire being launched by Hamas from Gaza into Israel.

Why did she add her voice to Other Voice? “I was feeling that I must do something in this area, and this was a way for me to be active and to have my voice heard,” she says, adding: “Since the operation, we are in contact with each other, and had a meeting two days ago.”

Talking daily with Gaza

Benbasset reports that there are about 80 dedicated people from the Israeli side in Other Voice, and about 15 who meet regularly to call their friends in Gaza. Eric Yellin, a founder of Other Voice, is talking daily with Gaza, says Benbasset, despite the fact that “communication is difficult.”

The activists involved in Other Voice Israel include both religious and secular Israelis from all ages. Plans to organize an in-person meeting between Gazans and Israelis are on hold until a period of relative calm is achieved in the area.

Meanwhile, Hope Man and Peace Man — the two voices that inspired Other Voice — still strive to offer a different view of the conflict for the world to see.

In his latest entry, on January 2, Hope Man from Israel writes: “Peace Man and I talk every day. We support each other and worry for each other’s well being. I am in contact with others in Gaza and share my situation while hearing of theirs. Much fear and pain on both sides.”

Says Gal, their confidante and friend: “More and more people are involved in the circle of dialogue. Each understands there are human partners on the other side, and that there must be another way beyond violence.”

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman is an award-winning environment news publisher who founded Green Prophet (www.greenprophet.com) to connect North Americans to issues that matter in the Middle East. She is the CEO of the Internet of Things startup flux, a company that is making social grow tools for urban farmers everywhere (www.fluxiot.com). Karin can be reached at karin (at) fluxiot.com.