Worried that renewed rocket fire could force them to hit the road again, Sagi Yosef and Orit Nahamias returned to their home near the Gaza Strip on Thursday after living out of two suitcases for seven weeks with their three young children.
“We’re all scared of what will happen in the next month,” Orit said as she stood in her living in Moshav Netiv Ha’asara after unloading their car.
She noted the obvious: The cease-fire was not set in stone and violence between Israel and Hamas could resume when the first phase ends in a month, if not before.
“I cannot imagine that the cease-fire can last,” her husband Sagi agreed. “It’s just a gut feeling.”
Their small community of 230 families is separated from Gaza by only a large concrete wall.
For the last two months, mortars and rockets fell in and around Netiv Ha’asara’s small streets with flowered gardens and single-family homes.
At night the sky would light up with flashes from the aerial bombings on Gaza, and there was a constant sound of explosions.
During an alert, Netiv Ha’asara residents have only a 10-second window to reach a safe room. Rockets and mortar shells were launched against the community even in the days leading up to the war in early July, sending them and their three children – Yahav, four, Erel, six, and Shalev, nine – to live in the basement right next to their home’s protected space.
“We are used to the danger,” Sagi said, explaining that his moshav has been under attack for the last 13 years, just not at this summer’s level of peril.
After the war began, the nearly continuous sound of explosions from Israel’s aerial attacks against Gaza and the hardship of keeping their children in the basement made them decide to leave.
“It was an impossible situation,” Sagi said.
They packed their bags and left for what they hoped would be temporarily, just as they did in the last two Gaza wars; operations Cast Lead, which lasted for three weeks, and Pillar of Defense, which lasted only eight days.
This time, however, the war dragged on for more than a month. Sagi joked that they were in so many places that future vacation itineraries for Israeli families could be based on their travels to Ra’anana, Ness Ziona, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
They learned some things on their wanderings, such as families of five cannot easily camp out in someone’s living room or spare bedroom.
It was exhausting, particularly for the children, who did not have their friends and were not any place long enough to be placed in a summer program.
Finally they found an empty apartment in Kibbutz Ha’ogen in central Israel and were able to put their children in an activities program. They returned home optimistically when a cease-fire ensued.
“We returned home,” Orit said, “since there was a ceasefire, but I don’t remember which number it was – there were so many of them.”
When a mid-August ceasefire was declared, they waited for five days to pass before they felt safe enough to return home and unpack.
“There were three days of near euphoria,” she said with a smile. “We felt: This is it, we’ve come home. The children went outside to play.
And then suddenly the violence started again.”
Renewed barrages of mortar fire sent them constantly racing for shelter. A number of the shells struck the moshav.
On Friday, August 22, along with 100 other Netiv Ha’asara families, they left for the city of Ariel in the heart of Samaria, over the Green Line.
Ariel University agreed to host members of their moshav in its empty student dorms for an unlimited amount of time.
Orit jumped at the opportunity.
“We flew out of the moshav,” she said. In Ariel “meals were organized for us,” she said, adding that the children were excited to be with their friends and have activities. She said the stay at Ariel was the best one they had found during the war and, with the school year due to start, there was even talk about enrolling their children in the city’s schools.
“It was wonderful,” she said, noting that it was her first visit there.
Sagi pointed out the irony that their moshav, founded by families who were evacuated from the Sinai Peninsula as part of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, had now fled from Israel to the West Bank.
He explained that he himself was a Sinai evacuee who had come with his family to Netiv Ha’asara at age 12.
Orit said the war and the brief time spent in Ariel with her neighbors gave her a new understanding of the word “home.” Beyond family and a physical structure, it is also about community – the Netiv Ha’asara community.
“There is no other place,” she said.
Neither of them believes that peace has arrived, nor do they know what the government’s next step should be. The only thing they are certain of is that they are still under threat of attack, including from infiltration tunnels, they said, which seem scarier than the rockets and mortars.
The IDF should have continued with Operation Protective Edge until it destroyed Hamas, Sagi said, adding, “It’s not possible to negotiate anything with Hamas.”
Orit said she is more on the left than her husband.
“I’m not for war. It has made people more violent. I was surprised by the violent statements people made during the war,” she said.
On one hand, she said, she wants to make peace with Gaza. On the other hand, “They want to kill me, so how can I speak with them? It’s oxymoronic,” she said.
The IDF is the “most humanitarian army. We did the maximum we knew to do,” she said. At the same time, she noted, the destruction and the harm to innocent people in Gaza is very sad.
“I am returning to a house, what are they returning to?” she asked.
For now, they are getting re-acquainted with their house. As they spoke, the cat they adopted from their time in Kibbutz Ha’ogen, appropriately named Ogen, sat on the back porch.
Their small son, Yahav, played with toy trucks, humming to himself as he pushed the vehicles across the shag rug.
“Color Red, Color Red,” he said, adding the word “bomb” for the explosions that followed the warning sirens he heard all summer.
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