The entrance to Kibbutz Nirim in the Eshkol Regional Council is similar to the area’s other kibbutzim: palm trees by the roadside, a yellow gate, green grass, mobile shelters, electric carts. Everything looks normal but for one small detail – the number of people walking amid all this dwindled considerably as soon as the rockets from Gaza started firing this week.
It’s not clear what made Nirim depopulate more than other communities in the area – the trauma of the 2014 conflict with Gaza or the fact that leaving under fire is no longer frowned upon. “Keeping children here in this situation is nonsense,” says a veteran kibbutz member.
The sudden decrease in the number of people doesn’t surprise those who stayed behind. Unlike in the past, they no longer think it’s against the kibbutz ethos or try to hide the phenomenon. According to the council, 36 of the kibbutz’s 100 families left it this week. In the rest of the council’s communities only 15 percent of the residents left. For comparison, 20 out of 300 families left Kibbutz Be’eri, and even then usually one of the parents went with the children while the other parent remained at home.
Some believe the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, during which the kibbutz’s security coordinator and another resident were killed from a mortar shelling, caused great anger toward the authorities and traumatized the residents. Others think it’s because many young families have joined the kibbutz over the past few years, some of which tend to leave anyway. “Everyone today has a car or two, they don’t ask whether to leave or not,” says kibbutz spokesman Arnon Avni.
Another reason, which could be closest to the truth, is the way Nirim’s members view the departure: Not only don’t they condemn it, they apparently encourage it more than in any other community.
In the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, there was almost no thought of evacuating residents in the Gazan border area at large. In Nirim, though, they decided to evacuate almost all the residents to Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek in the Jezreel Valley, and the temporary arrangement became a recurring habit in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense and 2014 Protective Edge. But over the past five years the state’s approach has changed and today there are evacuation plans for every community along the Gaza border. Under the plan, Nirim residents are to move to Sde Boker. Since the recent events weren’t seen as a major operation, the state’s evacuation plans weren’t carried out – and anyone who wanted to leave the communities was obliged to do so on their own.
Today it is no longer seen as a disgrace to leave the area in times of warfare. “Evacuation isn’t a weakness, it’s a legitimate coping resource – certainly in an area of continuous emergency,” says Meirav Vidal, manager of the Eshkol Regional Council’s Hosen (Resilience) Center. “I see it as a sign of a lot of strength, they know what’s right for them and go about it.”
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On Tuesday at 6 A.M., about an hour after the IDF spokesman announced the targeted killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Tal Bornstein, his wife and four children were already at his mother-in-law’s in Be’er Sheva.
Bornstein spoke to the kibbutz secretariat, and a visit to Sde Boker was arranged for him. “Each one chooses what’s right for him,” he says. “We moved to the kibbutz in the 2014 war, we know what it’s like to be under relentless rocket fire. It eliminates any possibility of going out and letting off steam. We don’t want that. We think the right thing is to maintain a kind of normal life, even if it means evacuating.
“We support people who decided to leave,” said Avni, “and in extreme situations we’ll encourage others who have no role in the kibbutz at a time of emergency to leave as well. We don’t think the children need these experiences.”
Among the older kibbutz members one can see resistance to evacuation, either due to convenience or ideology. Ultimately “the family knows what’s good for it and we’ll help with any decision,” Avni said.
Reuven and Noa Domani, 82, chose to stay at home for the convenience. “You know how many medicines we have to take?” Noa asks with a smile. Reuven says: “I think the youngsters have more of a tendency to leave to take a breather.” But he’s not sure he would have left if he were young. In the previous rounds of fighting Noa traveled with the grandchildren to Mishmar Ha’emek and she believes leaving in time of emergency is the right thing to do – certainly in view of the traumas and fears she sees among the kibbutz children.
“It’s better to leave if you’ve got small children. I think anyone in this situation would do whatever possible to get the children out. If I had small children I would too. I don’t think it goes against the kibbutz ethos. Keeping children here in this situation is nonsense.”
Reuven, who was once the kibbutz head, doubts that if this situation had happened during his tenure, the kibbutz would have viewed it so favorably. “Our being here was a move of Zionist defiance, and raising children here was part of that statement,” he says. “Today it has no political or social significance.”