In South, a Troubling question:'Where Are You for the Holidays?'

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Kids play in Kibbutz Alumin, near the Gaza border, August 19, 2014.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The mortar that fell in Israeli territory Tuesday evening didn’t surprise the residents of the communities near the Gaza border. On the contrary; it seemed many had actually been waiting for it, as proof of what they have been saying and thinking – that the Israeli government didn’t make enough of an effort to restore quiet for the long term.

The initial month-long cease-fire was meant to end on September 26, the second day of Rosh Hashana – the same Rosh Hashana on which security sources had said Hamas was planning to emerge from the numerous tunnels it had dug from Gaza into Israeli territory and carry out an attack on one or more of the communities near the border fence. That knowledge, along with Tuesday’s mortar, is making many of the communities tense, and dozens of families have already decided not to spend the holiday at home.

‘First proof’

Sharon Calderon of Kibbutz Sufa, for one, will not be celebrating the new year on the kibbutz. “Yesterday we got the first proof that there won’t be quiet,” she said Wednesday. “On Rosh Hashana we’ll leave with a slightly larger suitcase in case we won’t be able to return home.”

The Calderon household, which includes children ages 18, 16, and 10, spent the period of Operation Protective Edge wandering between 10 different places. “The operation did not end cleanly; we feel as if it got cut off in the middle,” says Calderon. “There were 74 dead, some of them close friends, and we’re back to square one. They didn’t even wait for the month to be over and they started firing. This is a routine that repeats itself; after Operation Pillar of Defense we held out a week until there was shelling.”

A man from Kibbutz Alumim said, “It used to be that if would say you were spending Shabbat off the kibbutz because you were having a hard time with the Qassams, people would raise an eyebrow or even be a little critical. Today it’s different. What 14 years of Qassams didn’t do was achieved by two months of a military operation.

“There’s no mass exit, but a lot of people have said they won’t be here for the holiday,” he continued. “The problem is actually those who were staying and wanted to invite guests, and now it’s not sure that that’s happening. The atmosphere is gloomy.”

That gloom seems common to all the Gaza border communities as the question, “Where are you for the holidays?” has become a fateful and turbulent one on the paths that are finally clear of the dust clouds left by the heavy military vehicles.

“There’s this fear that it will be a ‘party’ here, after all we’ve been the State of Israel’s cannon fodder for 14 years, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change,” said Calderon. She added that leaving the kibbutz for Rosh Hashana is not all that’s on her mind.

“For the first time in 20 years we are not rejecting the notion of moving off the kibbutz for good. In the past, when people asked if we would leave, we would reject it completely. Today we’re deliberating,” she said. “It’s a combination of all the years that we’ve gotten hit from all directions. A couple of days before Protective Edge, a Katyusha exploded 20 meters from where my oldest son lives, and at the end of the war a mortar shell exploded 50 meters from me.

“How many times can you recite ‘Hagomel’?” she said, referring to the blessing said by someone who survives a life-threatening situation. “I’m the resilient type who’s always saying, ‘It’ll be fine,’ but this has shattered my resilience. The feeling throughout the region is that things aren’t holding together well.”

Protest demo 
on Saturday

On Saturday, a new group called the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev is to hold its first demonstration. The group was founded during the waning days of Protective Edge by southern residents who decided it was time for them to take their fate and that of the region into their own hands. The decision to hold the demonstration at Sderot Junction stemmed from what they say was the need to fight for their homes at home.

“It’s illogical that people only pay attention to us if we travel to Tel Aviv,” says Ronit Ifergan, one of the protest leaders. “This is our home and our statement is that we are putting the south at the center of things.”

No politicians were invited to the gathering in an effort to keep the movement as apolitical as possible, with a message that will appeal as broadly as possible.

“The message is not rightist or leftist, although we are demanding a diplomatic arrangement and there are those that see that as ‘left,’” says Ifergan. “But we can’t forget that right-wingers can also understand a diplomatic arrangement, it all depends on the conditions. The problem is that people here have lost faith that there will ever be a permanent arrangement. We even got a derisive letter from someone who asked how we can even think of quiet, that this is our country and that’s the way it is.”

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