The swimming pool of Kibbutz Kfar Aza is usually full on Saturday afternoon. But this Saturday it was almost empty, a sign of the anxiety that has gripped the residents of Israeli communities adjacent to the border with the Gaza Strip during what they see as the most significant escalation since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. People were afraid to go to the pool. One family sent someone to put a towel on the chairs nearest the missile shelter, staking their claim to one of the most desirable spots at the pool.
It began about 1 A.M. on Saturday. As Israel struck targets in the Gaza Strip, Hamas fired rocket salvos at border communities, at intervals that did not exceed 15 minutes. After a “long” break of about 90 minutes from 3:44 A.M., the rocket fire resumed. In the morning, the Home Front Command issued the strictest orders of the past four years: residents were to stay within 15 seconds of protected space and public gatherings in open or closed sites were prohibited. The Zikim beach was closed.
A few hours without rockets raised hopes that Saturday might be quiet after all. It was hoped that a planned rally in support of the residents at Kibbutz Be’eri Saturday night could still be held. But at 12:35, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman announced that the army was attacking in Gaza again. The message was delivered to the local authorities and from there to the kibbutzim and moshavim and to the residents. Within two minutes the pool emptied, and then it was closed.
The atmosphere was tense around the Botzer-Suissa lunch table in Moshav Yakhini. At 1:14 PM, even before the family sat down, the father, Hezi, received a Code Red missile alert on his cellphone. After that, the alerts continued every few minutes until one had been sounded at every community in the area.
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No Code Red had sounded for Kfar Aza by that time, but the explosions of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile missiles and the roar of the combat aircraft were enough. Renana, 8, who an hour before had still refused to return home from the pool, ran to her room when the explosions sounded close and came out crying a few minutes later. After that, her mother, Ilanit, kept her close at hand, trying to convey a sense of normalcy for the sake of a cousin who was visiting from Ashdod. In her room, the best protected room in the house, Renana said that she never wanted to open the iron plating over the window in her room.
Between one escalation and the next, criticism of the government among the communities in the Gaza border area is mounting. If in the past, people would voice their criticism by calling for a diplomatic solution, now, in light of the incendiary kites, people are also calling for a strong military response. “A Qassam is the same as a kite,” is the slogan of a small but growing group protesting the government’s restraint.
People on the left are also part of this group. “This is a very leftist kibbutz, but we all agree that this has to stop,” Adi Cheri, of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, says. “You drive along and everything burned, every few minutes there’s a Qassam or a red alert. ... We can’t stand it. .. It’s driving us crazier than a [military] operation,” she added. Cheri believes the government’s approach only makes things worse: It should declare either that’s its going toward an agreement or toward a military operation, but it needs to decide.