Updated: May 22
It's Wednesday. Wednesday is always shuk day in Ofakim. I have been going to the shuk in Ofakim (our closest town, 30 minutes away) since we moved to the area, almost 20 years ago. Where we live is a small rural area with six moshavim and another few kibbutzim grouped together. We are located as far west as you can go before running into either Sinai or Gaza. It's so out of the way, that we don't have a post office , a bank or any other convenience near by. (Just recently they built a 'center' with a grocery store and more stores available for rent. So a pizza place opened up and a hamburger restaurant and that's about it so far.) So if we need anything, off to Ofakim we go.
I love the shuk. Fresh vegetables , down to earth people and outdoor environment. However, the government always chooses the shuk first when they want to begin closing things down. First it was the "virus". Then it was the rockets. The people of the shuk have always been there: come rain, storms, rockets or "viruses". They are dedicated, hard working people who aren't afraid . They always show up no matter the circumstance.
But in the last 2 years, many of them were forced to close their market stalls because of tickets and other monetary punishments.
In addition to our veggies and fruit we get at the shuk, I also get my celery there. ( I have written about the shuk in Ofakim before here) . I get my celery from the "celery guys". A family who has been selling me huge bags of celery for the last 6 years. I knew the mom of this family, who has since passed. She was always spouting off wisdom and telling stories while running her market stall And now her children, three brothers, have taken over the business of selling greens and a few choice vegetables in their stall. They are a generous, practical, loving family who speak to each other and everyone in harsh tones. But once you get to know them, you realize that it comes from a place of love and kindness. They are always smiling, laughing (and yelling) and working together.
We have one road in and out of our area. Until last year it was a two lane road. One going in . One coming out. During the lockdowns, they placed army and police to guard that road so that no one could leave or enter. They have since began construction on the road to make it a 4 lane road. No one is quite sure why. We are a very small community. So far only about a thousand people live here . We've been here since the pullout from Yamit in the Sinai in 1982. (Forty years later, we have only doubled in size. Why such a wide road for such an out of the way place?? Especially since they keep locking us in and not allowing us to drive on it.... Makes you wonder...)
We have our one road, 232, that leads to our area, the Pitcha. But we also have a lesser known road that is not really a road at all. It was always a dirt road meant for farmers and their tractors to travel to their greenhouses , fields or orchards in between all the moshavim and kibbutzim without crossing the main road. It has recently been asphalted, but without the big to-do before laying the asphalt. So it is broken in many places, has potholes and it is a very narrow one-car-wide road . There are no street signs, painted lines, right-of-ways, or anything that would deem it a legal road. It is probably not even on any map. The only people who know about it are the local residents and maybe some truck drivers. It meanders behind and in between the local villages, curving, taking it's time and you need to go slow because you can't see who is coming from around the bend. If someone comes from the opposite direction, you both need to leave the road with at least two tires to make room for each other. If it is a large semi truck, you need to get all the way off the road before he rams into you.
From this normally empty road, you pass through huge open fields , orchards and uninhabited tracts of land. It is beautiful and quiet. There aren't many fences, telephone or electricity lines. We've seen deer grazing , huge desert lizards sunbathing and gazelle leaping. (The tourists would love it, but they don't know about it)
When the government locks us down and closes our main road, the residents of our area use this back road in order to escape. It takes us to a kibbutz at the end of the road and from there, the main road is not closed down to traffic. During the lockdowns, this became a very busy road. Everyone and their neighbor began using this road in order to leave the area or visit nearby friends. Then the truck drivers found out about the road and it became full of traffic and dangerous with fast driving trucks with wide loads barreling down our tiny, once quiet, one lane country road.
So Wednesday came around, like it does every week. Knowing that the shuk would be the first place they shut down for "security", I called the celery guys and asked about the shuk. They told me that the shuk was closed down because it is called "a public space" and people are no longer allowed to congregate in public spaces during a rocket scare. He said, " They won't let me sell in the shuk arena, so I will stand in the parking lot and sell." I said, "Great. What time?"
The government did the same thing to the shuk during covid. Shut it down for "public safety" reasons, even though it is held outside. It was shut down for an indeterminate amount of time. No one knew if or when they would be allowed to sell again. But these guys, the only ones from the shuk, found people in Ofakim who were willing to let them use their front yards to sell their herbs. Or side streets, or abandonded parking lots..... They never gave up and they never stopped harvesting or selling. All of this while the grocery stores with air conditioning and closed doors were allowed to stay open for all of covid.
Because our road is once again closed, I needed to use the field road. So I left at 6.00 am and it took me 45 minutes instead of the usual 30 minutes that it takes to drive on the main road. I was mostly alone at 6 am on that road. Even the Thai workers hadn't started work yet on their tractors. It was so beautiful and quiet, the fog still hoovering over the fields.
When I arrived in Ofakim, the town was just waking up. The celery guys and I were about the only ones driving around. I met them in the parking lot and loaded up my truck with my usual celery bags. It was so nice. Rebel meeting rebel. They were told, "Don't work. Don't bring home a salary to feed your families. Stay cowering at home and wait for the ok from us."
Their answer was, " We are not scared. We were never scared of homemade rockets made in some guy's mother's basement in Gaza. We are Israeli and we were born tough. We were soldiers in the Israeli army. We are Jews and we will not cower nor run away. We stand tall and work hard and we are proud men to provide for our families without government payoffs."
And however many times the government closes down our road, they will not stop me from buying celery for my morning celery juice from these guys. I will do whatever I can in my power to meet them where ever they park their van full of greens. So I will leave at the break of dawn, use unmarked back roads, driving my old untraceable 1999 Toyota pickup truck, leaving my phone at home so that no one can find me travelling outside of my "allowed" zone .
If this is what it will continue to be: lockdowns, 15 minute cities, blockades and whatever else they will come up with next, we need to stick together, support those who fight for their freedom and make sacrifices to survive.
The moral of this story is: Find your tribe, defend your rights fiercely and drink your celery juice.