Residents in South Remain Defiant Under Gaza Fire

Helicopters were prevalent in the skies above the communities bordering the Gaza Strip in recent days, but they have become as routine as the blasts of fallen rockets.

In the communities bordering the Gaza Strip, residents are accustomed to the alarms warning of missiles being fired at them. However at Kibbutz Be'eri they decided to go on with plans to host a sing-along Friday. Hundreds of visitors traveled to the kibbutz, including politicians like opposition head Tzipi Livni, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai and mayors of southern towns, all to offer their support.

"We came here from Tel Aviv and at first we were concerned, but a few minutes later our fears disappeared and we simply had fun without any fear," said Rinat, who lives in central Israel.

rockets - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - April 10 2011
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

"This shows the strength and stamina of the residents of the communities around the Gaza Strip, when they fire and we sing - we will not let them beat us," said Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin.

When GOC Southern Command Tal Russo entered the hall and saw the many people celebrating, he was very moved. However, he did not want to sing.

"The army is strong and for the civilians, if they are able to gather and sing in such difficult times, it is heartwarming and strengthens the army even more. At this time no soldiers are going on leave, and they are working in order to give some security so that we can have normal lives," Russo said.

However, not everyone from the communities bordering the Strip could come to this event. In some kibbutzim in the area the residents opted to stay close to their reinforced secure rooms. "We are concerned about the situation and there is a lot of tension. The only thing we want is a little calm," said Gilad, who lives in one of the communities.

"We are not afraid," said Uri at Kibbutz Be'eri, who did not stop singing. "We have the strength to overcome anything, and we are here to tell everyone that we will always be here."

But not all felt the same. Yaron Levit and his wife Michal, from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, decided to spend the weekend at home. "We mostly stayed at home during the weekend, near the secure room," said Michal. "We normally take walks in the kibbutz and the playgrounds or ride bicycles, but today [Saturday] the children did not leave the house and stayed near the secure room. We are afraid and the kids sleep in the secure room."

"There is no panic," Yaron said. "We try to keep the tension inside so that the children will not be damaged by it, but we are not going to run away. We are dealing with the situation and try not to disrupt our routine, but stay near the secure room."

For residents near Yavneh and the Be'er Tuvia Regional Council, the past few nights have not been calm ones. "It is not pleasant to have to get up this way from bed. I returned home on Friday at 2:30 A.M. and about an hour later I heard the sirens," said Lilach Ben-Yishai, who lives in Gan Yavneh. "I have younger sisters and had to wake them up and lead them to the secure room. Everyone was in total hysteria and the alarm caught people outside, where they had no protection, and they did not know what to do. A few minutes later there were more alarms."

Sirens could also be heard at Kibbutz Palmahim, making residents rush to bomb shelters. At the nearby air base, where sirens are part of their routine, the special alarm calling on people to take cover from air attack could be heard.

Helicopters were prevalent in the skies above the communities bordering the Gaza Strip in recent days, but they have become as routine as the blasts of fallen rockets. But there are also new sounds, of lesser blasts.

"We hear some small blasts, and that makes us think that since it happens after the siren, it may be an interception of a rocket by Iron Dome," said Mor Sofer of Moshav Beit Ezra, south of Ashdod. "There is air activity all the time over our heads. If the Palestinians always complain about the noise of aircraft over them, now it's over us."

But Sofer says that since his community has not experienced the fall of a rocket, "we just go on normally. But the minute something falls here or in the area, it'll be a different story altogether."