"Hello, Erez! How's it going there? I heard on the news there's a war," thundered a worried voice from the speaker of Erez Manor's cellular phone. Manor is director of the La Medavesh ("the pedaler") bicycle center at Kibbutz Be'eri. "What are you talking about? It's 8 kilometers away from here. It's in El Bureij [a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip]," Manor said, trying to calm down his caller. "Good. I'll speak to you ... I need to hang up," the voice from the phone said.
"That was a doctor from [Be'er Sheva's] Soroka Hospital," Manor said after the call ended. "This weekend we are having a bicycle [competition] from the Southern Workplaces League here. He must have seen the wounded and dead from this morning's incident."
The telephone call is the best example of the lives of operators of tourism and recreational facilities and other businesses in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip. Every time a Qassam rocket falls on the kibbutz, farmers are shot at - or as Manor tried to explain - soldiers are killed 8 kilometers away, the army and the media choose, arbitrarily, one of the neighboring kibbutzim to provide a perspective. Then all the tourists and vacationers flee and Manor is forced to contend with an empty business.
"When the name of your community is mentioned in the press it costs you money," said Avivit John of Be'eri - and she certainly was not referring to advertising.
Earlier yesterday morning the incident between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists ended with three soldiers killed and six Palestinian militants dead.
The incident was accompanied by mortar rounds fired at the Israeli communities, and after weeks of relative quiet the residents of Be'eri were woken up by shelling, tank and machine gun fire. "It was a feeling of war," said John. "I jumped from the 'booms' in the middle of the night, it was louder than what we hear every once in a while. In the morning we woke up and we started to ask each other what happened? Is there a war?"
"We don't watch the news with the children, even though they live it live. We don't want to scare them," she said. Despite John's attempts to protect her 4-year old daughter Gili from the harsh reality, a few days ago she watched her and a friend playing "Color Red," the code for a warning of a rocket attack. "One called out Color Red and and the other screamed 'mommy' and then they threw rocks. Then they calmed each other down, saying there was an attack."
Four years ago Manor established his bicycle business. It includes a bicycle store, a cafeteria, bike paths and more. Due to the security situation his business has dropped 50 percent. Today most customers are experienced riders who come alone. Families and children prefer to ride elsewhere, despite the beautiful bike paths among golden wheat fields, windmills, eucalyptus trees and ammunition warehouses - relics from British army's stay during World War II.
Manor said he did not what would happen during the upcoming Passover holiday - perhaps a few religious people would come. "They aren't afraid like the non-religious are," Manor said.
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