Living Next Door to Gaza: What Local Kibbutzniks Think of Hamas

Residents living within walking distance of the border may differ in political opinion, but they all seem to agree on one thing: They want a lasting solution to the hostilities.

Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad
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Rockets as background noise? Kerem Shalom residents barbecue.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad

A visit Sunday to three kibbutzim on the Gaza perimeter that have no protection from the Iron Dome, as they are too close to the Strip, offered an impression that differs somewhat from what we generally see on television, which is sweaty, harassed-looking residents demanding that Gaza be crushed.

At Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, only a few dozen meters from the Gaza border, four people were fed up with staying inside and decided to barbecue in someone’s yard. When I asked how many rockets had fallen, they waved me off and said everything’s fine.

David Habaz, who is responsible for irrigation at Kerem Shalom, sits near the defrosting steaks. “I’ve been through all the operations here,” he says. “There’s this feeling that every time they get all heroic and then stop suddenly – both us and them. There’s no point in these types of operations.

“I get the feeling that they’re toying with us and not giving us a lasting solution one way or the other,” Habaz continued. “I want something final, not something ‘lite.’ If they want to make peace, fine; if it’s a military operation, also fine. If they want me to hand out candies in Gaza for it to be quiet, I’ll give out candies.”

Not far from the grill lives Ronni Kissin, 48, who works in the local plant nursery and practices Chinese medicine. She came here four years ago, lives less than 100 meters from the border and couldn’t tell me how many rockets had fallen. “I’ve lost count of when it’s us and when it’s them. The noise confuses me because of my lack of sleep.” She says she’s lost all her customers since this round of fighting was launched, because most of the residents had left.

On Sunday morning Daniel Matari, a Kerem Shalom resident who drives a truck, got fed up with the rocket launches that were keeping his family awake at night and decided he was going to block the transfer of goods to Gaza by obstructing the crossing with his body. “I understand his frustration,” said Kissin. “They fire at us all night, and we send them washing machines. Who can guarantee that the motor isn’t being used for other things? Food and medicine I can understand. But not Coca-Cola.”

How could you have come with kids and a husband to live in such a dangerous place?

“I live on the edge,” Kissin admits. “But I love the quiet. And just know that between 90 and 99 percent of the time, it’s nice to live here. The city also has background noise.”

At Kibbutz Nirim I meet Bar Hefetz, whom I had already met at a peace gathering between Israeli and Palestinian journalists during the second intifada. They couldn’t find enough journalists to attend, so someone brought Hefetz, who grows avocados. He lives less than two kilometers from the border; his wife and children have been evacuated and only about a third of the residents remain.

While we were talking, a few rockets fell and missiles struck in Gaza. Hefetz says that, except for irrigation, the farm work has come to a standstill. “The Thai workers are siting under the dining hall, talking on Skype and rather enjoying it,” he said. Asked what the solution is, he said that as a leftist, he would be pleased to see Israel invade Gaza, because only then will it get into enough trouble to be forced to lift the siege on the Strip.

“I would have preferred that this wouldn’t have started, but it can’t end with the Pillar of Defense understandings, by which Hamas accumulates missiles and Israel imposes a blockade ... I’m shocked when I see the TV commentators acting as spokesmen for the IDF. One commentator explained that Hamas is demanding as one of its cease-fire conditions that its fishing area be expanded, but that Israel won’t be able to accept this. Why can’t Israel deal with expanding the fishing area?”

Hefetz is angry that it took the state two weeks to declare a “special situation” in the south, which allows workers to stay home and be with their children.

“There’s always this feeling on the Gaza perimeter that people here don’t count. They give us some tax breaks and tell us to manage,” Hefetz says. “Why is only firing on Tel Aviv an escalation? Firing here is okay?”

He says that in the Gaza perimeter communities, some people want to “finish off” Hamas and some don’t. “The main problem is that they don’t do anything after the wars. I want that the day after it’s over, they speak to Hamas and sign a 30-year cease-fire in return for a state, a port and an airport, just so they leave us alone.”

A few kilometers from the border stands Kibbutz Re’im, where the feeling is more one of routine.

“I’m a little scared,” says Gili Shmuel, a 9-year-old girl. “Today I went to the community center and near the dining room we ran to the migunit [freestanding shelter]. We got there in time but I cried because it scared me.”

Her mother, Sharon, says they get one rocket landing a day, which is less than in the Tel Aviv area. From her cell phone she reads to Gili a version of “A Story of Five Balloons,” called “A Story of Five Launches,” which ends, “The air force identified the target / Nabil blew up and was torn to pieces / There’s no reason to mourn / That’s the end of the terrorist.”

Assi, the father of the family, comes home with the groceries – a lot of frozen schnitzel and hot dogs. “We’ll get fatter in the end,” says Sharon. “War is a good excuse for eating.”

'I’m a little scared.' The Shmuel family in Kibbutz Re'im. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Letting off steam in Kibbutz Re’im.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ronni Kissin, who lives within a hundred meters of the Gaza border. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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