Kibbutz
Soldiers on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which was hit by a rocket last month. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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After two months of hostilities, Israelis living near Gaza are weary and bruised. Not only are their nerves frayed after weeks of wandering between welcoming relatives and distant host kibbutzim, their wallets are empty as their unplanned vacation refuses to end. When mortar shells started landing in large numbers and rocket alerts kept people in their safe rooms for entire days, many people decided to leave.

The Defense Ministry had said houses in this area were safe after the state had invested 1.2 billion shekels ($341 million) over two years to improve protective measures. When residents complained that they couldn’t even go outside to buy food, the state replied that “we are under emergency conditions.” These words have been used to legitimize the chaos in these people’s lives over the past two months without seeking to solve the problem, including the residents’ expenses.

Even after Hamas’ tunnels reaching into kibbutzim were revealed, and when the whole region was declared a closed military area, the Defense Ministry remained silent. It did not order residents to evacuate, it did not propose an orderly evacuation plan. The people found their own solutions, based mainly on private initiatives – friends, relatives, host kibbutzim and organizations such as WIZO that opened their youth villages to them.

After the last cease-fire, which lasted only five days, and following calls from defense officials including Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Israelis living near Gaza returned home. But the renewed fighting proved that they cannot maintain their routines and that the government must forge a plan.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said while visiting the area that anyone wishing to leave would receive assistance. In the same breath he declared that “the state does not evacuate its citizens.”

The meaning of this contradiction is simple: The state that is conducting an “operation” (not a war, whose financial repercussions are much higher) is in no rush to implement a plan and financing for an orderly emergency evacuation. Now that thousands of mortar shells have paralyzed life in these communities, the government must craft a comprehensive plan to help these people — at the state’s responsibility and expense.