Israeli soldiers prepare for a patrol just outside the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ilan Regev waited for the silence of peace on Friday morning but instead heard the sounds of war.
Life has been noisy in the last month for those who live and work in the communities that border the Gaza Strip. The sounds of explosions and artillery fire resound through the air day and night.
Regev, the manager of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, said that less than two hours into Friday morning’s cease-fire between Israel and Hamas he heard two mortars explode as he sat in his office.
“Then we heard machine guns, a helicopter and a warning siren,” Regev said. “We ran into protected rooms. We knew something was happening, but we did not know what.”
He had been preparing to receive a busload of journalists on a Government Press Office tour of the kibbutz and the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, where goods are transported between Israel and Gaza.
That Israeli crossing is located close to the Rafah crossing, between Egypt and Gaza.
Trucks had already unloaded goods for Gaza at the Kerem Shalom crossing on Friday morning, when a Hamas suicide bomber emerged from a tunnel and blew himself up – killing two soldiers who were in the midst of an operation to destroy such tunnels.
The incident took place in Gaza, in the vicinity of Rafah, not far from the kibbutz. The IDF responded immediately.
Journalists on a protected bus a short distance down the road at the time of the incident heard the explosions as well, saying that at first it sounded almost like a car backfiring, but then it got louder.
The bus pulled into a gas station, filled with soldiers and some of the area’s residents. Explosions could be heard every few moments.
After half-an-hour, the bus turned around and headed to Erez crossing – located on the other end of Gaza. It is used mostly for pedestrian traffic into the Strip.
Wearing a red T-shirt, shorts and sandals, Regev traveled to Erez to meet with the reporters, where he described for them the morning’s events.
“The houses of the kibbutz are 20 meters from the border,” he said.
But the issue for kibbutz residents is the tunnels and not the mortars or rockets, Regev said. “We are use to these rockets. The main problem is the tunnels, which is the new strategic threat.”
Regev said that the fear of tunnels began in 2006, when one close to their kibbutz was used to kidnap soldier Gilad Schalit.
But kibbutz members didn’t really understand the depth of the threat or how dangerous the tunnels had become until the past month.
In the weeks before the war, he said, the IDF had already provided the kibbutz with extra protection against the threat of tunnels.
The soldiers do provide a sense of security, Regev said. But people are fearful of the tunnels because “you do not know what to expect.” They are scared that terrorists will suddenly emerging out of the ground.
There are those who are traumatized, he said.
As a result of the tunnels, 70 percent of the residents of his kibbutz have temporally left, and they do not want to return until the IDF destroys all the tunnels, Regev said.
Kibbutz members are warned to go into their homes and lock the doors when there is an infiltration alert from the tunnels, he said.
“But you do not know what is going on outside your door. Sometimes it takes three or four hours until you know. It is not so easy,” he said.