The Shavuot festival of first fruits, celebrated last week, has long been the symbol of kibbutzim and moshavim: men with scythes followed by young girls dressed in white, gathering wheat into sheaves - all in honor of the harvest theme of the biblical Book of Ruth. The modern tractor rolling along nearby, reaping the harvest, symbolizes the return to Zion and the renewal of this nation's deep ties to its land. "Plow until the very last furrow," was the motto expressing sovereignty of our people in the land, and some said this viewpoint determined the country's very borders. But lately something has happened in Israel. Our sovereignty has been violated by seven bad years during which farmers on territory bordering Gaza have become sitting ducks for sniper fire and missile attacks. Farming the land - just living on a kibbutz - has become a life of Russian roulette. Farmers wearing flak jackets, driving bulletproof vehicles - even a combine harvester with a tank at its side, its cannon pointed toward Gaza to warn off those who wish us harm - these have replaced the peaceful rural atmosphere in which our people used to work the land. SIXTY YEARS ago we lived through days of war and gunfire; an entire nation stood beside the pioneers, and all were ready for battle. But today the citizens of these veteran kibbutzim and moshavim alongside Gaza are being left to face their fate alone. National headlines focus on the economy, on police investigations - and, now, on elections. In this harvest season, Negev farmers do not bear baskets overflowing with fruits. They bear coffins containing the bodies of their friends - Jimmy Kedoshim, Shuli Katz and Amnon Rosenberg. This is the earth's blessing in the Negev of 2008. All that the citizens of this area (termed "Otef Aza," meaning the area bordering Gaza) want is expressed by the words of late songwriter Yehiel Mohar in his song "Guardian of the Border": "All are asleep / the flour in the wheat, The fruit among branches / secretly ripening, We / who sowed here with our tears, Wish to harvest / in joy and song." But in the Israel of 2008 this is too much to expect. Months of a "do-nothing" policy have shut the armed forces up inside their barracks while abandoning the people of the Negev. The proposed cease-fire - or tahadiyeh - with Hamas is but an interim agreement at the end of which a military confrontation must come. That is the opinion of all concerned, from the Left of the political spectrum all the way to the Right. It is also the opinion of the defense minister, who has declared it publicly more than once. The citizens of Sderot and Otef Aza are being held as hostages to a loose and poorly planned political arrangement. Under such circumstances, how can people with any sense of responsibility come and build homes in the region? Will a businessman invest in a new factory? Will parents come here to raise their children? SEPARATING Gaza from more northerly Israeli towns, the citizens of this region serve as Israel's flak jacket. If there is no chance that the missile attacks will cease terrorizing them, then there is no point in postponing the inevitable: Military action in Gaza. Not to conquer Gaza - that is not what we need right now. What is necessary is a direct hit on Hamas's interests and against its fighters, an ability the IDF demonstrated during the Givati action in Jabaliya a few weeks ago. Another target could be the infrastructure and properties of Hamas and its leaders. And if that does not suffice, the leaders themselves should be targeted. This would not be an unacceptable move. We can progress in stages, by degrees, so as not to terrorize the one-and-a-half million civilians living in Gaza. But focused action has become a necessity. Even if the decision is a difficult one, even if it involves great danger, our leaders should be brave enough to think the matter through and take responsibility for providing the citizens of the Negev region with what the country owes them, but has not provided them, for the past seven years. The writer, a Kadima MK, is a member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza.