'We work at night, when the snipers can't see us'

Kibbutz Nir Oz struggles to harvest its fields under constant threat from Gazan terrorists next door.

Nir Oz 224.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig )
Nir Oz 224.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig )
"We used to ride here on bicycles," says Uri Dan, the head of security at Kibbutz Nir Oz, as he points to the fields of wheat flowing in the hot late-spring sun. The minarets and half-completed houses of Gaza are a few hundred meters away, and snipers are almost certainly watching his kibbutz truck drive through, from their positions in the adjacent village. "Before 1967, it was quiet around here," he continues. "After the Six Day War, things changed. And in the past two years, since the disengagement, things have gotten worse." By "worse," Dan is referring to the constant threat of sniper fire from Gaza directed towards workers in the fields of the kibbutz. While Kassam rockets regularly pepper the fields and open areas of this rich agricultural bloc just south of Sderot, it's the snipers that remain a very real and dangerous threat. "We often work at night, when their snipers can't see us as well," Dan explains. "But just two nights ago, they fired on our tractors." The kibbutz's fields are positioned in such a way that they stretch parallel to the border with Gaza. The two entities are so close they'd be one if it weren't for the security fence that runs between them. The dilemma at Nir Oz is that going out to harvest a season's crop means walking into an open field in full range of the myriad Hamas positions set up along the border. Workers that go out to the kibbutz fields are simply sitting ducks. Therefore, Dan was opposed to the idea, proposed by the kibbutz movement last week, of bringing 50 volunteers to the kibbutz on Tuesday, to go out to the farthest field - closest to the border - and harvest potatoes. "You can see why," he says, gesturing to the field, and the heavy sprawl just behind it that is the Gaza Strip. "It's completely open, anyone can shoot at you as they wish." But Yoel Marshak of the kibbutz movement, who organized the event, was defiant. "We're not going today," he told The Jerusalem Post. "The army wouldn't allow it, but we might try again tomorrow." In fact, the IDF is responsible for protecting the kibbutz's workers. When they do head out to the fields, it is done in close coordination with the army. "If the army didn't protect us, we wouldn't go out at all," Dan says. "One time they brought a platoon of tanks into Gaza, just so we could harvest." According to Dan, the reason the volunteers were asked not to show up was the sheer danger of taking 50 people out to the field for a daytime harvest. "If they wanted to come and help with the carrots, which are in a much safer field, we would have been happy to have them," Dan recounts. "But they were set on working in the potato fields, where you can see the rooftops of Gaza and the snipers have no problem shooting at you." Despite the gunfire directed at workers on Sunday night, Dan said the kibbutz plans to harvest its potatoes over the next few nights. "Sometimes they shoot, and other times nothing happens. As I said before, it's entirely up to them [when they decide to shoot]. But we have to do it," Dan says. "This is our livelihood." Still, given the circumstances, Dan and other kibbutz members feel that their ordeal pales in comparison to that of their neighbors. Nahal Oz, just down the road from Nir Oz, was the site of an infiltration two weeks ago in which Hamas terrorists killed two civilian gas workers. "Those living in Sderot suffer much more than we do," says Dan. Every five minutes, they have to get up and run to their shelters. The Kassams that land here, thank God, only land in open areas." But the kibbutz has little protection - none of its homes are protected from incoming rockets, and Dan had to bring in large sections of discarded cement piping to provide makeshift shelters near the children's area. "We have underground shelters, as well," he explains. "But some of them are too far to run to when you [only] have little time." Thus, with its workers under fire in the fields and its homes vulnerable to rocket attack, Nir Oz has taken its place among the South's frontline communities. This does not necessarily surprise Dan. "Every community gets its time," he says. "Now it's ours."