Students Rally near Sderot
Students Rally near Sderot Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Jewish children and Jewish students from around the world released hundreds of colorful balloons bearing messages of hope for the future in the direction of their peers in Gaza - while at the same time, anti-Israel protests were being held in response at the Erez Crossing to Gaza and in Egypt.

Public Information and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein traveled to the south to participate in the “March of Freedom and Hope" by the residents of Sderot and southern Israel on Thursday. The parade was held to mark the one-year anniversary of the IDF's counterterrorism Operation Cast Lead and "hopefully the start of a new decade of hope, security and peace," organizers said. In response, marches against Israel took place simultaneously in Egypt and at the Erez Crossing into Gaza.

The Sderot event was initiated by the Sderot Community Media Center, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Information and Diaspora Affairs. Students from all over Israel streamed into the city, and some even flew in from abroad to attend the march. A number of international officials also attended, including Zambian presidential candidate Dr. Sbior C. Ishimba. 

Edelstein noted that the counterterrorism operation was launched a year ago specifically to remove the threat of rocket attacks constantly fired at the southern Israeli communities. “We have had a year of relative quiet following the operation,” he noted, “with only 286 missiles fired at areas within the State of Israel.” The military operation, Edelstein said, was intended to “give hope a chance for peace in our region and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, while we are calling for peace, at the Erez Crossing there is a protest going on against Israel, rejecting our very existence.”

The balloons with their messages of hope for the children of Sderot and Gaza were released early Thursday afternoon on Highway 34, between Kibbutz Nir Am and Kibbutz Erez. They were followed up with a rally at the Sderot Cinematheque, where participants were slated to light memorial candles in honor of terror victims around the world.

Sderot resident Moshe Amar, 23, was set to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the event as well. Amar’s home suffered a direct hit by a Kassam rocket, and became a symbol of the destruction visited upon his town for the past eight years. It was Amar’s home that became a “must see” for foreign diplomats and government officials when they toured the south of Israel - among them U.S. President Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.