Locals return from West Bank | TheUnion.com

Locals return from West Bank

Palestinian children stand in the rubble left after an Israeli strike on a house in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. Efforts to end a week-old convulsion of Israeli-Palestinian violence drew in the world’s top diplomats on Tuesday, with President Barack Obama dispatching his secretary of state to the region on an emergency mission and the U.N. chief appealing from Cairo for an immediate cease-fire. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

While reports that Israel and the Hamas militant group edged closer to a cease-fire dominated the international media Tuesday, two Nevada County residents who recently visited the region continued to monitor explosive conflicts as a peace deal remained elusive.

“The night before I left, I didn’t sleep a wink because I was hearing bombings,” said Wendy Hartley, a Nevada County resident and an Jewish American with Interfaith Peace Builders.

“One shook our hotels,” she said.

Hartley was in the Gaza Strip from Nov. 5 through Nov. 11, a period that abutted the beginning of what is now a week-long Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“If people realize it doesn’t matter who started it,  then the most important question  is how to end it.”
— Brian Fry

The conflict has ensnarled the diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi to end fighting that raged on both sides of the border.

Israel launched the offensive on Nov. 14 in a bid to end months of rocket attacks out of the Hamas-run territory, which lies on Israel’s southern flank. After assassinating Hamas’ military chief, it has carried out a blistering campaign of airstrikes, targeting rocket launchers, storage sites and wanted militants.

The campaign has killed more than 130 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians and wounded hundreds of others. Five Israelis have been killed by rocket fire, including a soldier and a civilian contractor on Tuesday.

Israeli tanks and gunboats pummeled targets in Gaza Tuesday in what appeared to be a last-minute burst of fire, while at least 200 rockets were fired into Israel. As talks dragged on near midnight, Israeli and Hamas officials, communicating through Egyptian mediators, expressed hope that a deal would soon be reached, but cautioned that it was far from certain.

“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem by diplomatic means, we prefer that. But if not, then I am sure you will understand that Israel will have to take whatever actions are necessary to defend its people,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a late-night meeting with visiting Clinton, according the Associated Press.

Clinton expressed sorrow Tuesday for the heavy loss of life on both sides of the conflict, but called for the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel to end and stressed that the American commitment to Israel’s security is “rock solid.”

Both Hartley and Brian Fry, a Grass Valley resident also with Interfaith Peace Builders and who also travels to the region, noted that the conditions in Gaza are an ongoing provocation.

“I saw such a complete and scientific thorough effort on the part of the Israeli government to make sure the Palestinians never have a state on the West Bank,” Fry said.

“My experience was not frightening, but it was devastating to realize that the peace process the U.S. is promoting, and Israel is purporting to be in, does not exist.”

Hartley visited the home of a woman mourning the loss of her 13-year-old boy who was reportedly killed by “indiscriminate” Israeli tanks guarding bulldozers in the buffer zone on Nov. 8, days before the recent conflict escalated, she said.

“What isn’t all over newspapers is that many of the people killed by Israel are children, “Anybody is subject to being shot if you unknowingly step in to the buffer zone. They are hitting civilian homes where women, children and elderly are being hit.”

Following the boy’s death, Hartley said Hamas militants fired rockets out in retaliation, hitting a Jeep and wounding four soldiers — an action she said she also deplores.

“Israel has been looking for an excuse to invade or bombard the Gaza Strip again,” Harley said.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

“If people realize it doesn’t matter who started it, then the most important question is how to end it,” Fry said. “The biggest question is who can end it and how to end it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

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