Hoping for a normal summer

Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Gaza are slowly returning home, though the tension is still in the air.

Locals from towns bordering Gaza watch IDF activity from a hill in the region last week. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Locals from towns bordering Gaza watch IDF activity from a hill in the region last week.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For Orit Zadikevitch, the return home to Kibbutz Kfar Aza with her four children last week was something of a relief. After spending a month away in the North to avoid the rocket fire, she was ready to go back to the kibbutz with hopes of a normal summer routine for her family.
“It’s so nice to be home again,” says Zadikevitch, who was born and raised on this secular kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Region. Her parents, who live on the kibbutz, were among its founders in 1957. Her sister also lives there with her four children.
“I love this kibbutz, but life is far from easy,” she says. “I know everyone here, and we constantly worry about each other. Before this past operation, my daughter needed braces.
We took her to the orthodontist, and I was thinking to myself that life would be wonderful if I only had to worry about my daughter’s braces and not about rockets or my family’s survival.”
The Zadikevitches were among some 220 people from Kfar Aza whom the WIZO Nir Ha’emek Youth Village, near Afula, recently hosted.
The youth village housed and provided meals for families from the South seeking refuge from rocket attacks and terror infiltrations throughout Operation Protective Edge.
“It wasn’t easy to keep the kids busy and calm during the war,” she tells The Jerusalem Post this week. Her four children – Gali, seven; Lior, 11; Neta-le, 14; and Liran, 16 – all deal with the rockets differently, and the youngest children are extremely edgy, according to their mother: “My seven-year-old keeps talking about death, and she tells me, ‘Mommy, I don’t want you to die.’” Lior, Zadikevitch says, constantly draws monsters and guns. “When he wants something from us, he dresses up as a Hamas terrorist and makes demands.
We try to laugh and use humor in this situation, but the fear is always there.”
She and her husband, Omer, decided it was best to relocate the family temporarily away from Kfar Aza, which is about 2 km. away from the Gaza Strip, once Operation Protective Edge began.
“We know from previous experience during operations that our kibbutz will get hit by a rocket at least once every hour, sometimes up to 12 rockets a day,” she says.
And the rockets can fall anywhere.
Six years ago, a mortar rocket killed kibbutz member Jimmy Kedoshim while he was standing in his garden.
During the last few weeks of fighting, Gaza rockets have directly hit several homes and one kindergarten on the kibbutz.
“After we were alerted to the terror infiltrations in our region and after experiencing a kibbutz lockdown during an attempted attack through a terror tunnel, I said this is something we cannot deal with, and we left,” she recalls.
Her husband had to stay behind because of his work managing the kibbutz’s situation room. In the beginning, the Zadikevitch family stayed with friends in Kfar Saba and traveled to other areas of the country, until the youth village opened its dormitories to Kfar Aza evacuees, covering all costs.
Most of Kfar Aza fled north, with only 100 of the 800 residents staying behind on the kibbutz. On August 7, buses brought back about half of the families, who decided to return after the Egyptian-brokered 72-hour cease-fire went into effect and the army and Home Front Command confirmed that it was safe to return.
“Most of the families have now returned to Sha’ar Hanegev,” says Alon Schuster, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. “But the tension is still in the air, as well as the anticipation of what will happen next.”
He adds that “if the rocket fire and terror start again, the residents will respond strongly. We are disappointed with Hamas’s actions, but in the meantime we are working with the government to continue to develop the region both demographically and economically.”
The regional council, located in the western part of the Negev, consists of 11 communities – 10 kibbutzim and one moshav. Its western part is bounded by the Gaza Strip, and the region’s 7,000 residents have been the target of rocket attacks for 14 years.
In the region’s Kibbutz Nir Am, Oren Yehezkeli says he doesn’t let the rockets get to him.
“We’re used to this,” he said. “To say that I don’t get mad and frustrated that this hasn’t stopped would be untrue, but home is home.”
Yehezkeli, a video editor and lecturer at Sapir College, near Sderot, has been living in Nir Am for 15 years with his family. He is currently building a new home on the kibbutz.
“I want to live here,” he says. “We have a beautiful life in this region, except for the rockets.”
However, while most of the residents have returned to Sha’ar Hanegev, residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, next to Kfar Aza, are not taking chances, for fear of further rocket attacks and terror tunnels. On July 28, a group of Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel that led directly to Nahal Oz from the Gaza Strip. IDF soldiers were able to thwart the attack and kill one of the terrorists, while the remaining four fled back to Gaza.
“We are very confused right now,” Zadikevitch says. “People ask us, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ I’ve lived here for 43 years, and I can’t just turn my back on my home and my life because of these Hamas terrorists. Our plan is to stay. We don’t have a choice, and we want the government to offer some kind of permanent solution.”
Nonetheless, Zadikevitch, who works as the administrative manager of Sapir College’s English department, points out that she and her family do not feel alone in their plight. When the family returned to the kibbutz last Thursday, a local TV channel interviewed them. Following the airing of the report that night, she says, she received an outpouring of phone calls and emails from complete strangers, some offering to host her family, and others inviting them for dinner and a vacation.
“This support gives us strength; this is what is so amazing about Israel,” she says.
But the kibbutz residents’ happiness at finally coming home last week was quickly shattered when Hamas fired some 61 rockets at the South throughout that Friday. Two Israelis in Sha’ar Hanegev were wounded, including Kfar Aza resident and Sapir College director Dr. Nahmi Paz, whose hand and leg were pierced by rocket shrapnel.
It was not the first time Paz was affected by an attack: Two years ago, a rocket landed right outside his home, and he suffered hearing loss from the explosion.
“We only have one life to live, and I want it to be a peaceful one,” says Zadikevitch. “I told Dr. Paz that while those Gaza rockets may have injured him physically, they will never hurt his good heart. That’s how I feel about the rockets in general, that they cannot hurt the heart of our community, no matter the damage they do on the outside. We teach our children morals and appreciation for life and humanity. My daughter Gali asked me recently if our kibbutz could take in all of the children of Gaza to protect them from Hamas. That kind of empathy Hamas will never be able to destroy.”