We got an early start on day 8. With my alarm set to 4:30 AM, I woke up and joined our group for a sunrise hike.
It was not the “glorified walk” we were expected, but the beautiful views made the trek worth it.
After the hike, we spent the morning at the Dead Sea, which is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the earth. It has about 34% salinity, which is 9.6 times the salinity of most oceans.
I won’t lie, going in the water wasn’t the most comfortable experience I’ve had. But when in Israel… it was one of those things everyone had to do. It was cool seeing everyone’s reactions as they floated. Because the water is so salty, and therefore very dense, people tend to automatically float in the Dead Sea.
After our salty rite of passage, we began our journey to Be’er Sheva, one of the biggest cities in the Negev and a technology hub. They call it Israel’s “Silicon Valley.”
Here we visited TechSheva (Tech7), a tech and entrepreneurship community, with over about 14,000 members and 100+ startups.
We also saw WeWork, a shared working space in Be’er Sheva. Here, we met Yussif Alasnah, the Director of Software at Allied Telesis Wireless Ltd. Alasnah had an interesting background because he was born in England but his family is originally from the Bedouin community. He was a good example of the Bedouin community being present in modern Israeli life. Alasnah said there aren’t a lot of Bedouin people in the tech sector, but they are trying to change that.
Because there is such a strong focus on military in Israeli society, studying in the STEM fields and keeping up with technology is really important there. Generally speaking, Alasnah said Israel is a booming hub for technology for three main reasons:
- there’s a clear need
- there’s room for failure
- the education system emphasizes STEM
After Be’er Sheva, we went to Sderot where we met with Sharon Shelly and Amit Kitain , both involved in Community Work there.
Sderot is just ten minutes away from the Gaza Strip, yet despite the region’s hostility Shelly and Kitain continue to live there. Shelly said that the Israeli media and government pretend that Gaza isn’t here – and she says much of this neglect and avoidance is a survival mechanism. If you ignore the problem, you don’t have to deal with it.
Shelly also said there was nothing spectacular about living in Sderot. She said other cities have dangers like robberies and natural disasters, for them, it’s just missiles. I was astonished to hear her say, it’s “very much like any other place in the world.”
She also had a unique perspective because Shelly is an art therapist who works with children. She said children suffer the most, especially with PTSD. She said most adults also have at least some type of trauma symptoms.
So why do they still stay? Shelly said because any place in the world can get dangerous; and this conflict is just part of the area’s common destiny.
“The war made me love this area more… it’s your home,” Shelly said. “You feel that you need to make it better.”
We got a similar story at a Kibbutz called Nahal Oz, just about 900 meters from Gaza. They’re close to violence, but they continue on with their daily lives.
We spoke to resident Daniel Rahamin, who came to the kibbutz in 1975. He said he used to go to Gaza all the time. In fact, four friends at his wedding were Palestinian. But he said he lost contact and stopped going to Gaza after the first intifada.
“The best hummus I ever ate was in Gaza,” Rahamin said.
Below, you can see some images of the bomb shelters in the kibbutz, decorated to make them appealing to children.
We couldn’t go in to Gaza, but this fence was as close as we got. Just 700 meters behind this fence, Hamas has militant control of the 2 million people living there. Right now, there are major blockades in this area, the movement of goods and medicines is restricted. People cannot leave or enter. There is also concern of violence as the U.S. embassy moves to Jerusalem in May — in fact, the two soldiers at the border (pictured below), said shots were fired when Trump made the embassy announcement.