The polling booth on Kibbutz Nahal Oz near Gaza was guarded by soldiers. Outside, people were talking about change — the change that could come due to the election, or the missed chance if “people vote incorrectly,” as one resident put it.
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“For 60 years we’ve been living here, and all we have is faith,” said Saraleh Shimron. “If we didn’t have faith, we couldn’t be here for a day.”
She and her husband were hoping Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog would be the next prime minister. If that happened, “we’ll have achieved our goal, because this government must be replaced,” Shimron said.
Still, she admitted, what a Herzog government would do “is a question.”
Her husband Binyamin added: “We who live here know that you can rocket-proof more and more, but there must be an agreement with the Palestinians for us to be able to live here in peace to build our homes and raise our children and grandchildren.”
Both professed astonishment at a nearby poster for the rightist Habayit Hayehudi party, noting that most Nahal Oz residents voted left – mainly Meretz or Zionist Union. “But there are also new residents, maybe they’re voting” Habayit Hayehudi, Saraleh Shimron said.
In the early afternoon, Habayit Hayehudi MK Ayelet Shaked visited the kibbutz as part of a series of campaign stops in the south. “We know it’s Meretz here, but it’s important to us to raise the turnout rate everywhere,” Shaked said.
But one resident pronounced Shaked's visit “bizarre.”
“There’s an atmosphere of hope, and Ayelet Shaked doesn’t bring this hope,” she said. “We aren’t waiting for Habayit Hayehudi here.”
A few kilometers away in Sderot, residents were already proclaiming victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last election, Likud won 37 percent of the vote in Sderot, while ultra-Orthodox party Shas came in second.
Resident Yossi Halevi said last summer’s war with Hamas hadn’t changed the city’s voting patterns. “There’s an enormous construction surge like we haven’t seen for 15 years - there’s a train, soon a mall will open,” he said.
As for the war, “what happened happened. And it’s not like the other parties are offering anything better.”
Mayor Alon Davidi similarly insisted that Likud would take his town. “There’s no doubt Sderot will continue with Likud,” he said. “We’re a vibrant city that keeps going, despite everything. People have faith, and with that we keep going.”
As always, people were campaigning at intersections throughout the south. But in contrast to past elections, the junctions weren’t laden with posters and banners.
One southern city where the election was hotly fought is Netivot. The town, once a Shas stronghold, is now divided between Shas and Yahad, the new party led by former Shas chief Eli Yishai.
Throughout the city, loudspeakers mounted on cars were proclaiming that rabbis had declared it a religious commandment to vote. The late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’ founder and spiritual leader, starred in the Shas proclamations but was often cited in the Yahad ones as well.
Still, some residents said they doubted Yahad had much support in the town.
“Yahad voters in Netivot are acting under pressure and threats,” said Liat Vaknin. “They say there are masses of voters, but behind the curtain they put Shas in the ballot box."