Israelis come to Horseman's Hill for firsthand glimpse of war

Those who drive up the dirt road outside of Sderot are unapologetic.

givat haparash watch gaza 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
givat haparash watch gaza 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Some come with maps to track the explosions or binoculars to improve the view. Other stare at the horizon, gasping, pointing and snapping photos when a missile hits its target, sending gray smoke into the air and a shock wave across the hills. Since the start of Operation Cast Lead, residents of the South and beyond have been climbing a tree-topped bluff locals call Givat Haparash (Horseman's Hill) for a firsthand glimpse of the war. Some cheer while others become reflective. All share the view prevailing in southern Israel, that Hamas is responsible for the war and is finally getting what it deserves. "I came to make sure the army is doing its job," Ayala Yahalomi, 24, said on Friday. She lives in a nearby kibbutz and sat on a stone wall on the hilltop, drinking take-out coffee with a friend and looking over Gaza. "We waited eight years for this operation." The spiraling Palestinian death toll and footage of massive destruction inside Gaza have sparked international outrage and diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting. But the Israelis who drive up the dirt road outside of Sderot are unapologetic. Many come from nearby towns that have been targeted by the more than 10,000 rockets Gazans have fired at Israel since 2001. "It doesn't make me happy to see the pictures from Gaza," said Anat Shahar, 27, who drove with her boyfriend from the town of Kadima, southeast of Netanya. "We're not, like, let's bomb them, let's destroy them. It's that we want quiet," she said. Surveys indicate that Israeli support for the war is not limited to those watching whirring Apache helicopters or orange-hot tank shells arcing across the horizon. A Haaretz-Dialog poll found that 82 percent of Israelis believe their army has not "gone too far" with its military force against Hamas in Gaza. But international outrage has been growing, especially following hits on hospitals, schools and a UN compound. Many of the people watching blame Hamas for fighting in populated areas and using civilians as human shields. "We don't want to kill even one child, but when they hide behind in mosques or hospitals, they cover and shoot, we have to respond," said Baruch Noam, a high school music teacher who also drove from near Netanya to visit Sderot with a friend. "Yes, lots of them get killed, too many," he said of Gaza's civilians. "But don't blame the Israeli soldiers. Blame Hamas." While watching from the hill makes most glad their government is addressing a problem that had long vexed them, the view is different for others. "I wanted to see Gaza bombarded," said Yisrael Sa'adon, 14, from Ramat Gan. "I don't want the children of Gaza to suffer, but I want my family that lives in Sderot to live a normal life." "We came to see from up close what is going on," Albert and his girlfriend, Milena, from Tel Aviv, said. "We decided to travel here today to see and to feel for ourselves what has been reported in the news for the past three weeks. We just don't want to be disconnected from this part of the country. God forbid, we don't want to see flames and fire." "We came to send some good thoughts to our son," said Sharona Aisenberg, 46, who stood on the hill with her daughter, watching the sun set over Gaza. Her son is a solider who left for Gaza two weeks ago, she said. She hadn't spoken with him since. "I hope it will finish soon and he'll come quickly home," she said. Her daughter Shani said she fought during Israel's last struggle to stop rocket fire on its territory - the 2006 war with Hizbullah. "Two years after the war in Lebanon, it started all over again," said Shani, 23. "They're still firing rockets." She supports the Gaza war but thinks its gains will be modest. "It will give us a few months of quiet, but not too long," she said. "Just until the next time."