Over 50 Qassam rockets and mortar shells have been fired at Eshkol Regional Council, bordering Gaza, since Thursday. Residents have become used to the sirens and remain in the area without hesitation. Since the cease-fire, over 10 mortar shells and rockets have been fired at regional settlements, but what frustrates Haim Yalin, the head of the regional council, most of all is the distinction made between the Gaza outskirts settlements and Be'er Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Haim Yalin, should Israel launch an attack on Gaza?
The main task of the government of Israel is to ensure the security of its residents. It can do so in two ways: using military means, or using political-diplomatic means. It controls the options. For 11 years, all of the regional council heads in the Gaza outskirts did not tell the government what to do and how to do it. In point of fact, we have been fighting a war of attrition for 11 years now. Perhaps it's time for the government to think outside the box on both levels, militarily and politically.
Are the residents of your council, who are targeted most frequently, angry at the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces?
We see a big difference between residents of settlements that have shelters where the children can be taken in case of a siren, and residents in settlements without any security arrangements. In those places, when a Color Red siren is activated, the parents don't know which child to run to first in order to protect him/her with their own body. When the period of escalation is over, residents still have to deal with occasional fire, without shelters or protection from the Iron Dome missile shield system.
The Iron Dome was sold to the public and the decision makers as a system intended to protect the Gaza outskirts settlements. That was the reason presented when seeking funding for its development. Today it's entirely clear to us that it is ineffective in protecting the Gaza outskirts settlements. The government deceived us, leaving 2,500 homes with no solution - neither shelters nor the Iron Dome.
The Gaza outskirts settlements, unlike the major cities, are targeted throughout the year, not just during periods of escalation. That is the uniqueness of the area, and that's why it was defined the way it was from the start. The government should remember its obligation to these residents and provide them with protection. If not through an Iron Dome, then by building shelters.
The greatest security the government can provide for the residents of Israel is peace. Until it arrives, I, as head of a regional council, bear the responsibility of fighting for the security of our residents. It's been 11 years now that we've been living under unstable security conditions. We absorb qassam and mortar shell fire, and light weapon fire on agricultural workers. The terror organizations control the timing of the escalations and the State of Israel continues its policy of reaction, rather than leading toward a solution.
In the next escalation, when the center of the country is targeted, the lull will be a period when "only" Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon are fired at. This kind of chain of events makes it legitimate to fire on Israel with impunity. Any sovereign country, no matter who leads it and what his political opinions are, cannot allow a situation in which even one bullet at a farmer is not answered. As of today, the escalations have no bearing on the amount of fire on the Gaza outskirts but rather involve heavier fire on other areas. All of the governments of Israel in the past 11 years rely on the resilience of the Gaza outskirts residents but show no determination to end this war of attrition.
Will the current cease-fire hold?
I have no doubt the cease-fire will hold, until the next escalation. Neither do I have any doubt that the next escalation will arrive.
Is the council prepared for an escalation in the security situation?
Our council is one of the most-prepared councils for dealing with extreme security situations. Our preparedness consists of an array of local emergency teams that provide solutions in each settlement, a resiliency center that provides emotional assistance, on-call teams in the settlements, a 24-hour year-round hotline that can activate and synchronize the various functions, and more. We have 600 resident volunteers, many of whom provide backup to position-holders on the various shifts. "Protecting the home" is not just a slogan for us. People take part and are actively involved.
Does the fact the large cities have become a target make things easier for you?
The large cities are part of our living sphere and I am very sorry that the circle of violence and anxiety has now grown to include them. The effect this has on us is that when the large cities are targeted, in Eshkol we absorb a greater number of mortar shells outside the spotlight. We've prepared ourselves here in the council for independent treatment of the population, because we knew that the moment the circle of violence widened, all the attention of the IDF, the Home Front Command, and government ministries would be turned to dealing with the large cities. We see it as part of our mutual responsibility and our solidarity. We do not become a burden and we know how to take care of ourselves.
What would you say to the prime minister regarding the decision to reach a cease-fire agreement?
I am not the prime minister's consultant. I know the residents of Eshkol are prepared to steel themselves and absorb extreme situations, on condition that the political leadership is clearly taking steps toward a political horizon that will end the situation. Right now, the residents see no horizon. They know for sure there will be another escalation. And there is no solution in sight. That is very hard to come to terms with.
Should the IDF have brought down Hamas in Gaza?
The IDF is an instrument meant to carry out government policies. The IDF does not decide what to bring down and what not to bring down. I know that the Gaza Division has devoted and professional soldiers and commanders. They have close connections with the citizens in Eshkol and do what they can to protect them.
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