For Israelis living by Gaza, life amid tensions is 99% heaven, 1% hell

Residents living along the Gaza border share their experiences following recent tensions.

Fire raging at Kissufim forest, near the Gaza border on August 23, 2021. (photo credit: MOSHE BARUCHI - KKL-JNF)
Fire raging at Kissufim forest, near the Gaza border on August 23, 2021.
(photo credit: MOSHE BARUCHI - KKL-JNF)

As tensions escalated along the Gaza border with retaliatory airstrikes in response to a rocket fired on Monday evening, all 13-year-old Libi Kohn of Ein Hashlosha wanted was for there to be calm, so her kibbutz youth group could hold its planned gathering in the evening.

“I just mostly hope that this won’t develop into anything, and we can go on with our activity and I can meet with my friends,” she said. “We asked our counselor whether it would be canceled, and he said he didn’t know yet. So we are waiting. I want the Passover vacation to be like it should be where I can enjoy it with friends.”

The rocket fired from Gaza followed tensions in Jerusalem, as dozens of Palestinian rioters were injured and hundreds arrested following violent clashes with police on the Temple Mount.

The sound of sirens has been so much a part of Kohn’s life that she didn’t know if she could really use the word “fear” to describe how she felt when she heard the red alert phone application beep, when a rocket was launched at her kibbutz just as she was sitting down to dinner with her family at her grandparents’ home at around 8:30 p.m.

“We heard the red alert for Kissufim, and at first didn’t understand what was happening,” said Kohn. “Then we heard a loud boom and ran to the bomb shelter in the house.” The whole family had gathered for dinner, 16 people altogether. “We let my grandmother go in first so she could sit down, and then we the grandchildren went in.”

 The Iron Dome missile defense system in action. (credit: Israel Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office) The Iron Dome missile defense system in action. (credit: Israel Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)

The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system. There were no reports of injuries.

After the all-clear, they returned to the dinner table. At night they closed the metal window on the bomb shelter, which is also Libi’s bedroom, and made sure there was a clear path to the room in case the family needed to reach it in the middle of the night.

“I want the government to create a situation where we don’t have to pay for the situation every Passover,” she said. “We want the government to make us feel safe so we don’t have to pack a suitcase all the time and run. I don’t know how they should do that, but the nation voted for them and it is time that they do that.”

There are no magical solutions to the situation, said Libi’s mother, Meirav, 49, who was born in Ein Hashlosha.

“You never know when or where it will come, but we understand that with everything that is happening in Jerusalem, we will end up paying the price,” she said. “When the security situation heats up, it will end up reaching Gaza.”

FOR THE most part, the Kohns enjoy a quality of life that makes up for the occasional missiles they have to contend with. “I am sure this is where I want my kids to grow up, even if sometimes we have these” attacks, said Meirav.

But the government should reach a comprehensive solution once and for all, she said, even if that means an initial military operation to get both sides to the negotiating table.

Almost 4,400 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in May’s 11-day war, Operation Guardians of the Wall, in which 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. In 2014, Operation Protective Edge lasted six weeks and some 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli citizens were also killed. Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 left 167 Palestinians, including 87 civilians, and two Israeli soldiers and four civilians dead, according to B’Tselem.

“It is obviously a very challenging situation for all the governments, also for the last government,” Meirav said. “Before we reach a solution we need a serious military operation, but at the same time, if we keep doing the same thing all the time, nothing will change. I do expect the government to be ready after the next war for the day after, and to come with clear goals and to sit and talk and come to an agreement for the last time – not to just come, reach a ceasefire agreement, and then go home.”

Sirens were also activated on Sunday afternoon in Nahal Oz. The IDF later said they were false alarms.

However, 67-year-old Adele Raemer, who has lived on Kibbutz Nirim since 1975, said Israeli residents living along the Gaza border know there is no such thing as a false alarm.

“A false alarm means something was shot at us from Gaza and didn’t reach the border,” she said. “So two days ago after the ‘false alarm,’ we knew something could happen. We have been getting rockets since 2006. This is not something anybody gets used to but is something you learn to live with. Everyone is aware and ready. We know how to sense an escalation.”

With Ramadan coinciding with Passover, and with Israeli Independence Day and Yom Hazikaron coming up, it can become a “prime time for terror,” she said.

However, Raemer noted, most Gaza residents do not want an escalation now with an increase of work permits being issued by Israel and Egypt, sending experts to help them rebuild the infrastructure destroyed in last year’s war.

“That is something they don’t want to lose,” she said.

And while Islamic Jihad has been held responsible for the latest rocket attack, it is Hamas that controls Gaza and needs to be accountable.

“We are the strong ones here, and I would really prefer that we don’t do things that can be seen as inflammatory,” Raemer said. “I understand we want to say this is our land, and people have the right of freedom of expression, but we have to take responsibility for our actions.”

Raemer mentioned the planned flag march by the Im Tirzu NGO.

“Going out on a march just to beat our chests can have an effect on the rest of our country,” she said. “I hope people will keep their heads on straight and not do something that will be inflammatory.”