Residents of Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip gathered outside the Knesset early last night to protest what they fear is a decision to end the military operation there without restoring their sense of security. In addition to the fear of renewed rocket fire from the Strip, they say they fear there are still tunnels under the border that terrorists could use for attacks inside their communities. The protesters say they as a result, they are refusing to return to their homes.
- Israeli Running Low on Shelter
- Ghost Towns Haunt Gaza Border
- 'Tunnels Club’ Members Say They Don’t Feel Safe
- War Exposes Southern Israelis to Asbestos
- Southern Communities Return to Normal
- Israelis in South Demand Gaza Border Fence to Match Egypt's
A Facebook page created by protest organizers said: “We have not seen any military or diplomatic achievement against Hamas, and in practice the firing of rockets has not stopped for a minute. The fear of the tunnels ... has become more real and concrete than ever.”
The protestors are calling for the state to find an immediate solution to their problems: “We want to return to a situation where we can go to work and leave our children at preschool and school without fearing that a tunnel will open up and they will be slaughtered. A solution must be found also for the trickle of rocket fire the government takes for granted throughout the year, and to start to accept residents of the south as part of the State of Israel and not just ‘the people of the south.’”
Despite the start of the cease-fire yesterday morning, people from border-area communities did not rush to return home to communities that have become virtual ghost towns in the past month.
Nevertheless, some people have come back. One of the reasons some families returned, they said, was that the Israel Defense Forces stopped its artillery fire from near the communities, which was a large part of the noise and disruption. In any case, local governments are are far from calling a return to routine life.
The head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, called on residents of the Negev and the area near Gaza to return to their homes in safety. “I am certain that the operational situation today is better and safer, so all the residents can feel calmer,” he said.
Tamir Idan, the head of the Sadot Negev Regional Council, where a greenhouse in one of the communities was hit yesterday morning by rockets just minutes before the cease-fire took effect, said he hoped the truce would hold and called on the government and the IDF to respond with force against any violations of the cease-fire.
Arnon Segev, whose family returned yesterday to its home in Kibbutz Erez after being away for a month during the fighting, said he felt the end was in sight and that calm would be restored.
Over the past month he returned to the area a few times in order to open his optician practice in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai especially for local residents, but said each time the rocket fire never stopped and he was forced to take his children back to the center of the country.
“Our main worry is of course the tunnels, but it seems that is something we wil have to live with,” said Segev. “Even before the operation we knew there were tunnels, but it was just talk. At least now they are talking about it and taking care of it. We trust that they will give us the security backing that we need,” he said.
Orna is from Kibbutz Kfar Aza and did not want her last name mentioned in the article. A home in the kibbutz was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip just minutes before the cease-fire took effect. She said there had been previous cease-fires, and it might not mean the war was over.
“A few weeks ago they also announced a humanitarian cease-fire and we came back to the kibbutz, but to our regret we saw that not only did the [rocket] fire not stop, but in many cases it increased,” she said.
Gili Cohen contributed reporting.