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Israel Must Restore Southern Israelis' Trust

This is a task of no less national importance than fighting Hamas, aiding in the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip or reaching negotiated settlements.

House damaged by rocket in Sderot, July 3, 2014.
A house damaged by rocket in Sderot on July 3. Representative of U.S. Jewry came to witness the damage for themselves, and see what they could do to help. AP

The protracted ending of Operation Protective Edge, during which communities in southern Israel have again come under rocket fire, highlights the crisis in the confidence felt by residents of border-area communities in the government and the army.

This crisis began before the latest round of fighting, but it reached a peak last week: Many Israelis who live near the border with the Gaza Strip expressed their distrust in the statements of the government and the Israel Defense Forces and have not yet returned home despite promises that they can do so safely. Many also complain about what they say was the failure of the IDF and the government, before Operation Protective Edge, to respond to residents’ warnings about threats, chief among them the tunnels dug from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

Gaza-area Israelis point, among other things, to the Defense Ministry’s decision, less than a month before Operation Protective Edge began, to cut funding for civilian security coordinators in their communities. The residents’ claims are underscored by the IDF’s statement that it knew about the tunnel threat prior to the operation and had informed the political leadership, which failed to act on the information.

“Even if they knew about the tunnels, they decided not to address it, turning us into a human shield,” said Meir Kozlovsky, who heads the security committee of the Hevel Shalom Association of communities in the region. “There was no preparedness, no special forces on hand, and the terrorists could surprise us,” he added.

The problem of the tunnels joins other complaints about what residents say is insufficient state spending on their security prior to Operation Protective Edge. According to residents, until the military operation in the Gaza Strip began, the defense of their communities was entrusted to teams of untrained volunteers from the communities themselves. In the event of a terror attack, these citizen watch teams were to hold off attackers for a minimum of 20 minutes, until IDF troops could arrive.

There is a factual basis for the hard feelings of Gaza-area inhabitants and their fears that they lack sufficient protection from the threats posed by rockets, mortar shells and tunnels. The IDF and the Defense Ministry should investigate their complaints and endeavor to restore their trust in the army and the Israeli government. This is a task of no less national importance than fighting Hamas, aiding in the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip or reaching negotiated settlements.