About Me

Friday, January 14, 2011

15 Seconds

15 seconds.  As I noted in my post yesterday, that’s the time Israelis who live within reach of Gaza rockets have to take shelter from the moment the civil defense sirens wail.

However, while touring Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the site of Saturday’s mortar attack, we learned that such projectiles (as opposed to rocket fire) aren’t detected by Israeli monitoring devices, leaving residents absolutely no warning before impact.

Dov Hartuv, a long time resident of the community, came to Israel forty years ago but, by his own admission, his native South African accent hasn’t diminished a bit.

Nahal Oz was first founded by a group of soldiers who served in the “Nahal” Israeli army unit opposite Gaza, in 1953.

The Kibbutz has had its ups and downs, and the current danger posed by rocket fire from Hamas is seen in the context of previous threats they’ve lived through over the years. 

During the first fourteen years – when Gaza was controlled by Egypt – Nahal Oz suffered from artillery shelling and mines planted in their fields. (Parts of the kibbutz fields straddle Gaza.) There were also many border infiltrations during that period. 

Four members of the kibbutz were killed during the first few years of the new settlement, Dov told us.

The population of Nahal Oz  consists of 360 people, including members, children and residents. Since its founding, many soldiers have settled on the kibbutz and raised a family after their army service. The kibbutz has also absorbed many families from the city, new immigrants from Russia, Argentina and the U.S.

The young men and women from Thailand who work at Nahal Oz do so because, despite the fact that their salary and accommodations are modest, they still earn enough to send money to their families back home.

On Saturday, four 181 mm mortar shells, fired from Gaza, exploded in the kibbutz, including one which slammed into a worker’s home.  One man is still hospitalized, sustaining serious shrapnel wounds to his chest. (The Thai worker pictured to the left is indicating he’s been working at Nahol Oz for four years.)

Dov spoke of the risks of living at Nahal Oz with a sobriety consistent with most of those who I spoke with that day – Israelis not governed by fear, but also not blind to the very real dangers they, and their families, face.

He, like the overwhelming majority of those who call Nahal Oz home, is fiercely secular – the community is currently debating the suggestion by one resident to build a synagogue – but also fiercely protective of the kibbutz (and Zionist) values which brought him to Israel in the first place.

Like the overwhelming majority of Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum, residents of Nahal Oz are proudly nationalistic.

Though burdened with risks which most in the West will never have to face, they have no interest in evacuating to safer ground, and have no doubts about their right to live where they wish in the Jewish homeland.

In September, a rocket fired from Gaza landed just across from the kibbutz kindergarten (picture right). 

As is the custom at Nahal Oz, a tree was planted at the precise location where the rocket landed – as a symbol that their pragmatism is always balanced with an inextinguishable hope for a peaceful future.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Israeli child's view of life near the Gaza border

While on a tour of Israeli communities along the Gaza border, I had the opportunity to visit an elementary school on the front line of Hamas’ war of terror.  The close distance between the school, located in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of Israel, and the Gaza border left it extremely vulnerable to Hamas rocket attacks after the Iranian backed group came to power in 2006.  As such, students at the school have had to cope with red alert sirens and bomb shelters as an everyday part of their childhood.

Once the siren wails the children have about 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter -  the approximate time between the siren and the time an incoming missile would strike.  Before Operation Cast Lead, this consisted of a staggering 30 to 50 such “events” per day.

After the war, such incidents are more rare, but still represent a consistent part of their elementary school life. And, as Israelinurse has reported (but all but ignored by the Guardian and most of the MSM), the situation along the Gaza border has been slowly deteriorating.  For instance, in April there were 5 rockets (or other live fire) launched from Gaza into southern Israel, while in December that number rose to 51.

Anat Regev, the school principal, told us that the school’s buildings were recently reinforced to make the roofs less vulnerable to rocket strikes.

While touring the school grounds, we had the opportunity to speak to a few of the children.
Dan, pictured below, is 12 but had an air about him which made him seem quite older, perhaps touched by the world-weariness that most don’t acquire until well into adulthood.  His mother was killed 2 years ago in an auto accident and his father, a medic, was a first responder to Saturday’s shelling of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, not far from the school, which injured three Thai workers, one who is still hospitalized.

Dan is periodically plagued with nightmares, especially in the immediate aftermath of such attacks, but – perhaps driven by a child’s fascination with the macabre – rode his bike to the site of the attack at Nahal Oz, to see “the blood and destruction,” before being told by his father to return home.

Dan told us that the time when he’s most afraid is when he’s neither at school or home – thus, not in close proximity to a bomb shelter – and must respond to the wail of the the civil defense siren by simply laying on the ground face down, with his hands covering his head.

Those few seconds, before the all-clear siren sounds, are, Dan suggested, not so much by his words but more by his expression and demeanor while relating the story, are the most terrifying.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How many enemy rockets were fired into your country this week?

If your answer is "None", then you're not a citizen of Israel.

Far, far from the attentions of the analysts and the reporters and the photographers and the editors and sub-editors, some 30 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza in this past week.

The following map illustrates our country's vulnerability in the event a future Palestinian state becomes overrun (as in Gaza) by Hamas, or other extremist elements, and acquires an arsenal od Katyusha rockets.

This is something I humbly ask that you consider when meditating on Israel's reluctance to withdraw from the West Bank.