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Tag Meir anti-price tag candle lighting 311.(Photo by: Courtesy of 'Tag Meir')
‘Candle of friendship’ lit across Gaza border
By BEN HARTMAN
12/26/2011
The Sderot-based “Other Voice,” outreach program sponsors candle-lighting ceremony at Netiv Ha’asara as message of friendship between Gazans and Israelis.
From an open field overlooking the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun on Monday night, the words of a young girl from Gaza accompanied the lighting of the seventh Hanukka candle.

“I can never forget the trauma I felt during that dark time [Operation Cast Lead – the Israeli offensive in Gaza in December 2007-January 2008]. This Hanukka season I am honoring the light of my life – my Israeli friends on the other side of the border, and today I would like to light a candle of friendship, friendship without borders.”

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The author of the Hanukka blessing, a teenaged girl from Gaza who accompanied her two brothers to Israel for medical treatment at Tel Hashomer this week, could not give her name or allow her voice to be recorded, out of fear for her safety, organizers said.

The blessing was read by Dr. Julia Chaitin, a member of the Sderot-based “Other Voice,” an organization that runs outreach programs between Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and Israelis in the areas of the western Negev hit by mortars and rockets fired from the coastal territory.

Chaitin said the event, a candle-lighting ceremony at Netiv Ha’asara organized by Other Voice in collaboration with Oxfam, was meant to offer a message of hope and friendship between the people of Gaza and the western Negev, who have seen their lives touched by fire in recent years.

“There are people over there who are suffering and we are suffering too, and we try to put a human face on it,” Chaitin said.

Chaitin said the contact, most of which is made between the two sides on Facebook or on the phone, is meant to spread the message to Israelis and Palestinians that “we’re not going to give up because our governments are not ready to talk.”

“The Hanukka message is that we should actually be a light to one another. One of the messages of Hanukka is that a miracle can happen and maybe a miracle can happen here and end this war.” She also said the event was meant to correspond with the three-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead.

Though there was a rather small crowd of around two dozen residents of the western Negev at the event on Monday, Other Voice said the initiative was driven by lofty goals that belied the low turnout.

“The residents in Gaza and the Sderot region have experienced a reality of continued violence for over a decade...the [Other Voice] initiatives create space for local residents and students to work towards a sustainable alternative to the military option that has failed both peoples,” the organization said in a statement issued this week.

Towards the end of the event, a voice recording was played over the speakers while two boxes of doughnuts fried by one of the local mechanics were brought out for the crowd.

The voice belonged to another anonymous Gazan, a grown man speaking English, who issued a call for friendship between neighbors.

“I am calling you from the Palestinian side. I wish for all of us, two nations to live in peace. We have to live in peace together,” the voice said, as the flames of the hanukkia and the lights of Beit Hanun shone against the night sky.
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