Israelis in South Are Taking Cover but Not Fleeing

Unlike during Operation Protective Edge, no mass evacuations are reported.

Shirly Seidler
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Shirly Seidler

Israelis in the south, and especially on the Gaza border, woke up Wednesday to another day of massive rocket fire aimed at their communities. About 60 rockets have so far been fired into Israel, at cities including Ashdod and Ashkelon and at the regional councils throughout the south.

But one thing has changed: While during Operation Protective Edge residents hurriedly left their cities, they're now staying where they are, albeit moving to safe spaces when necessary.

“The situation is very tense and we are hearing a lot of war noises,” says Merav Cohen of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha in the Eshkol region, about two-thirds the way south on the Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis. On Wednesday, "we were stuck in the safe space for several hours. And we understood it was because of the assassination and we waited for the response, which wasn’t long in coming." Hamas has claimed that Israel attempted to kill its military chief in Gaza City, Mohammed Deif.

"There is a contingency plan for leaving, but as of now there is no demand," Cohen said. "We’ve already been through days like this — they are very unpleasant but we can deal with them.”

She says the children are in summer activities in protected spaces and the instruction from the security team in the regional council is to stay on the alert.

“I think there has to be a decisive end to this," she says. "We aspire to a diplomatic solution, but in order to get there it is also necessary to use force. The time has come for the cabinet to be more decisive and come up with a long-term solution, even if it means there will be fighting again. Everything the Israel Defense Forces asks for and decides, we will do — and we are prepared to pick up and leave the kibbutz again if we know that in the end we will have a home and it’s safe to go back to it.”

At the same time, in locales along the border fence, especially in Sha’ar Hanegev and Hof Ashkelon, many families left their homes Wednesday morning and went to stay with relatives until the shooting stops. In the Hof Ashkelon regional council, people note that they are helping with logistics for families that want to go elsewhere, but unlike during Operation Defensive Edge, entire locales are not leaving.

“We thought it was over but the optimism has evaporated," says Moran Arad from Carmia. "We haven’t yet had time to think about what to do and whether we will leave, but most likely on the weekend we will go to the center of the country.

“It’s hard to be away from home with three children. I’ve been hearing about a lot of families that have already packed up again and left, even families that had been away from home for five weeks. It’s impossible to leave the situation under dribbles of uncertainty when you don’t know whether you can move about freely. Yesterday evening we were at the swimming pool and we had a red alert. This isn’t a situation you can live with. We want to trust in the army and the government, but that’s questionable now.”

On Wednesday afternoon the regional councils and municipalities were assessing the situation and determining whether to continue activities in the wake of the shooting. Cultural events in Be’er Sheva were canceled, while in Ashkelon it was unclear whether the Breeze music festival would open as planned. In hospitals, the neonatal-intensive-care units have been relocated to protected spaces, as have children's activities throughout the south.

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