‘We’re waiting to discover another tunnel’

Residents of Kibbutz Nir Am on the border with Gaza tell the 'Post' what it's like to live in the shadow of rockets, terror tunnels.

Yigal Cohen on Kibbutz Nir Am, July 21, 2014.  (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Yigal Cohen on Kibbutz Nir Am, July 21, 2014.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Early Monday morning, Nicole Rabin raced around her home locking the windows and doors so that a terrorist could not easily enter.
Now, as she sits on the sofa of her Kibbutz Nir Am home in the late afternoon, she can hear repeated explosions from the IDF’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip.
“This is the kind of place where no one locks their doors,” she said, but the idea of coming face-to-face with a terrorist in her home is more frightening than the more than 180 rockets that have fallen on the kibbutz during the last decade.
“This is an entirely different story,” she said.
The nightmare that she shudders to think about almost became a reality for the small kibbutz on the border of Gaza and across the highway from Sderot.
At around 6 a.m., 10 Hamas terrorists emerged from two tunnels on the outskirts of the kibbutz, in a field where its members often walk or picnic, said kibbutz member Shlomo Maizlitz.
It was as if, he said, they came “from the belly of the earth.”
Alerted by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the IDF sounded the alarm and an SMS message was sent to Kibbutz members to lock their doors and enter a safe room, until the IDF was certain that it had killed all the terrorists.
As soon as it was safe, many of the community’s members left to spend the rest of the day elsewhere.
As Maizlitz spoke, he sat in a small concrete situation room, next door to Rabin’s house. Here, throughout the day, soldiers, civilian emergency personnel and community leaders met to discuss the situation.
At one point, soldiers left, thinking that there was an additional infiltration in a nearby kibbutz, only to discover it was a false alarm.
The 70-year-old kibbutz has not experienced something like this since the 1950s, Maizlitz said.
Yigal Cohen, 69, who was born on Nir Am, said that he was “stressed but not scared.”
He explained that he has lived through all of Israel’s wars, starting with the War of Independence when he was three.
A rocket, he said, has already fallen on his home. On Monday morning, he said, he weathered the attack in his protected room with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and year-old grandchild.
He was not surprised by the attack, he said, because it was not the first infiltration in the area and kibbutz members had a feeling that terrorists could be digging tunnels that one day could be used against them.
“People spoke about it, and topographically and motivationally it makes sense. They want to kill civilians, and the most direct way to do that is this kind of a tunnel that would reach the kibbutz,” he said. “We are waiting for the discovery of another tunnel.”
Patrick Cohen, who has lived on the kibbutz for 31 years, said that initially he was woken by a warning siren about an incoming rocket, but luckily his four children were sleeping in the protected room.
Then he turned on the radio to get a better sense of what was happening but received the warning message on his phone. As they waited for the all-clear sign, there were more warning sirens, he said.
It could almost have been expected, he said, “because there is no reason why we would not also be in danger from an infiltration. Luckily we have soldiers who protected us. We have to thank them.”
Once the roads were safe, Miriam Middleman came to work in the kibbutz secretariat on Monday from a nearby community. Next to her desk, as she listened to reports of warning sirens and fielded concerned calls from residents, was a piece of a rocket that once hit the kibbutz.
She pointed to a map on the wall with 180 red dots and dates that show everywhere a rocket has hit the community during the past decade.
“Eventually there were too many attacks, so we stopped recording them,” she said.