Shahar Schwartz, 28, has been on the move with his girlfriend since they left their home on Kibbutz Nir Am near Gaza about two weeks ago. They spent two nights at Kibbutz Hama’apil in the north, then headed for Kibbutz Kalia on the northern Dead Sea.
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Their next stop was Sha’ar Hagolan south of Lake Kinneret, then on to Moshav Odem in the Golan Heights and Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha near Jerusalem. Schwartz says he and his girlfriend have spent thousands of shekels on their unplanned vacation and don’t know when it will end.
“We’re not paying for the rooms,” notes Schwartz, adding that they’re lucky in that respect. “But we need to eat and travel from place to place. When you’re home, you buy [food] and cook. When you put everything in the trunk and become a refugee of sorts, it costs more.”
No one knows exactly how many residents of Israel’s south have turned into nomads like Schwartz and his girlfriend in the past three weeks to escape the rocket barrages from Gaza. Some estimates put it in the thousands of families, most of whom live within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza.
Leaving comes at a considerable cost. Breadwinners lose days at work and don’t know if they’ll be compensated. They have to continue covering their expenses for a home they’re not living in, along with costs like summer camp they probably paid for in advance.
“We have to pay 2,000 shekels [$600] in rent, for example, because no one is interested in whether we’re at home or not,” Schwartz laments. “And of course there are the regular household bills.”
Schwartz doesn’t expect to receive government compensation for his household costs, but he does hope to get something for the lost revenue at Green Pub, which he opened with a partner on the kibbutz a decade ago.
“Rockets are falling there all the time, so there are considerable ups and downs in a business like ours, but we’ve still managed to grow,” he says. “In the first three years, we doubled our revenues every year, and since then our turnover has gone up 10% annually. We work hard and get over the unsettled weeks when revenues are down.”
No one going for a pint
But war is a different story. “During the first week of tension [before the air offensive], revenues dropped 30%; in the second week they fell 50%. By the third week, when the operation began, we had already shut down, though we weren’t ordered to close by the civil-defense authorities. We have no revenue coming, but we do have expenses,” he says.
“I’m self-employed, so I have to pay all the insurance and pension expenses. I was supposed to pay income tax and value-added tax from July revenues, along with paying suppliers, even though I didn’t sell anything. If you add my unexpected personal expenses, we’re talking about a considerable sum of money. Despite it all, no one should think of us as unfortunate souls. We’ll get over this.”
The people at Kibbutz Nirim know where to turn to when the going gets tough. Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek in the north adopted them two weeks ago, just as it did during the previous two military operations in the south. For two weeks more than 100 kibbutzniks from Nirim, where a number of Hamas tunnels have been found nearby, are staying at Mishmar Ha’emek’s educational center.
Most of the guests are mothers and children; most of the fathers are staying at Nirim to continue working. “The country hasn’t declared a state of emergency, so you have to go to work, even though all the roads near the kibbutz are blocked as a closed military area,” says one kibbutz member.
And yes, the need to move from place to place costs a small fortune. “It’s summer vacation for the children — there’s no framework, no school, no summer camp,” says Khen Bar Gil, a member of the kibbutz and a mother of three. “We have to keep them busy so we go to all sorts of places. Every such trip costs a lot of money and isn’t planned.”
The fact that many kibbutzniks are staying at another kibbutz shows how the government has abandoned them, says Bar Gil.
“The state doesn’t take responsibility and makes us beg for charity,” she says. “We’re dependent on the good will of Mishmar Ha’emek, which approached us as a private initiative. Who’ll compensate them? Who’s taking care of us? Not the government but the kibbutz movement. No government official has bothered to check what’s happening.”
Money lost for summer school
The Caspi family — Yaron, Na’ama and their three children — moved to Moshav Ein Habesor five and a half years ago, even though it was only seven kilometers form the Gaza Strip. It’s a pretty place with nice people and relatively close to work in Be’er Sheva, says Yaron.
For the past two weeks the Caspis have been living at Yaron’s parents at Kibbutz Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, while he continues to work back in Be’er Sheva. He has slept most nights at Ein Habesor. Na’ama isn’t working and is with the children at Ein Gedi.
“For Israelis it all started two weeks ago, but for us the tension has been going on for over a month. There are [rocket attacks] and the children are scared,” Yaron says. “Summer school is still open and people have to go to work, even if the children don’t want to go anywhere, and summer school is limited because the teachers have scared children at home.”
When Operation Protective Edge started the family decided to leave home. They paid 4,000 shekels for July for the kids’ summer school — money they say they won’t get back.
“At the same time, Na’ama isn’t working [she works taking care of babies] so she’s not getting paid. It’s also unclear if the government will compensate us,” Yaron says.
In the meantime, the Caspis still have to pay their household expenses and local taxes, which add up to 4,000 to 5,000 shekels a month. And then there’s the cost of driving to Ein Gedi.
The Caspis’ situation is relatively good, since they’re staying with Yaron’s parents, but two other families from the moshav are staying at the hotel at Ein Gedi. Even though they’ve received a discounted price of 75 shekels a day, they still have to eat and keep the children busy. And in the meantime they’re not working or collecting salaries.
Still, the Caspis have no immediate plans to go back home. “We’ll return,” Yaron says. “We only hope they finish the job, because we deserve to live in peace.”