Israeli residents wary of returning to communities bordering Gaza

As the latest cease-fire took hold, bringing an end to the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza as well as infiltrations from terrorist tunnels, the IDF told residents of the south that it was safe to return home. But some residents of the kibbutzim, moshavs and other communities along the Gaza border were still wary.

With most of the residents gone, thousands of soldiers had moved into these border communities at the start of Operation Protective Edge a month ago. They patrolled carrying guns — ready for nasty surprises.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz photo/creative commons

The question was: Would the situation change as the fighting ended? “No one can promise us calm,” one resident said.

For communities defined as “on the Gaza border fence,” within 2.5 miles of the border, the situation was far different from that of the rest of the Negev and southern Israel, because of the threat of infiltration through terror tunnels. These communities had become, in a way, the IDF’s front line.

More than 80 percent of these communities’ residents fled their homes and moved to the north or the center of Israel, staying with friends and relatives. Only a few people remained, mainly those with key positions in security and agriculture. Residents of kibbutzim a bit farther from the border, 2.5 to 4.5 miles away, had already begun returning to their homes and resuming their daily routine as much as possible.

“Can anyone tell me for sure that it’s all over? That all tunnels are destroyed? That the hundreds of armed soldiers have left?” wonders Moran Freibach, from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, one of the kibbutzim closest to the Gaza border.

“As far as we are concerned, this operation continues and at the moment we don’t see ourselves returning,” Freibach added. “It’s not easy to be far away from home for so long. We miss our home, work and daily routine. I can understand those who return to their homes despite everything.”

Noam Shtal from Kibbutz Kfar Aza said: “Almost all the families with children left the kibbutz at the beginning of the operation. Basically the kibbutz is empty. Between 150 and 180 people are being hosted by Kibbutz Nir HaEmek, for which we are grateful. Other residents are staying at Kibbutz Ruhama and the rest are staying with friends and relatives.”

With the schools in these communities paralyzed, and places of work operating on emergency footing only, parents didn’t see a reason to return. Most of the communities were considered closed military zones, with suppliers entering kibbutzim only with special authorization and strangers forbidden from even getting close. The swimming pools were closed and the residents told to stay 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

Varda Goldstein, from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, said: “At the moment, the families are not returning to their homes, but we are in close contact with everyone. The situation here has stayed the same as it was when the operation began. We hope this will all end soon, and all the kibbutz residents will return.”