Displaced kibbutzniks wary of returning home

Threat of Hamas tunnels leaves lingering fears among southern residents, even as sounds of warfare fade.

Soldier camp out last month on the lawn in Kibbutz Nir Am, just outside the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Soldier camp out last month on the lawn in Kibbutz Nir Am, just outside the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thousands of residents of southern kibbutzim will be following developments in the Gaza Strip over the coming days prior to deciding whether or not to return home, Ofer Neiman, a spokesman for the Kibbutz Movement, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
While the IDF declared that due to the destruction of Hamas’s tunnel network it is safe for residents of the South to return, there is still apprehension among those the government is urging to return home, Neiman said.
“In the next one or two days there are really few people who will go back to their homes,” he said, saying that there are around 10 or 12 thousand people who plan on remaining in the north until at least the end of the 72-hour cease-fire in order to “be sure and certain” that they can return safely.
One cannot really know if all of Hamas’s cross-border tunnels have been destroyed, Neiman continued, expressing his hope that the government and army will provide “all kinds of protections that do not at the moment exist.”
The Kibbutz Movement, he promised, will take care of its members and assist them in returning to normality as quickly as possible.
Most of the residents of Kibbutz Nirim, just off of the Gaza border, have not yet returned, according to Adel Raemer, a 59-year-old American member of the collective.
Only about a quarter of the kibbutz’s prewar population remains and, so far, not many families have come back.
“I would wait another three days to see if this [cease-fire] is holding. They said 72 hours, it’s barely 12 hours,” she said. “We’re right on the border. We’re really close, less than two kilometers so I think the families are still waiting to see how this plays out. All of the families with small children left.”
All of the kibbutz’s children were evacuated with the outbreak of hostilities, she said, recalling how similar evacuations took place during Israel’s two prior conflicts with Hamas in 2009 and 2012.
Like Neiman, Raemer said that she believes that most of her neighbors are not only waiting on the formalization of the cease-fire but on assurances that the government will provide security solutions to the threat of Hamas’s tunneling into her community to commit acts of terrorism.
“I’m not a politician or an army major so I can’t say what the army should be doing. But what I do think is different from the previous times – because of the tunnels. They are going to have to take it one step further and find a way to assure the people who live here that there is not going to be a terrorist smashing through their doors,” she said. “That is what I think people are waiting for, to hear what the solution is.”
While she is more relaxed since the cease-fire started, she added, it will take time before people are comfortable with returning.
Unlike Nirim, however, residents of Kibbutz Sa’ad have already begun to return, Gavriel Weisel said.
Weisel, who remained in the South, sent his wife and children up north while he served as a reservist in the IDF.
While unable to provide exact numbers, Weisel said that members of his community began returning home last week, despite the shelling from Hamas.
People wanted to return to “something they are used to,” he said.
His family returned to the kibbutz on Monday but are already considering their future, he added, saying that several young families of his acquaintance have begun mulling a future outside of the kibbutz.
“When we found out about the tunnels and that there are a lot of tunnels coming in, a lot of people thought of leaving.
We’re thinking if we want to stay in this area,” he said.
“The knowledge that they [Hamas] will be at our doorstep in four to five months is not a fun thought,” he said.