It seems as though Hamas is itching for another war. No less than 45 rockets were fired in recent days from the Gaza Strip into Israel, two of which landed near a community center and one just outside a kindergarten—the second attack on a kindergarten in the last few weeks. Operatives also launched scores of balloons and kites with Molotov cocktails, firebombs, chemicals and other incendiary devices attached to them. So far, these seemingly innocuous instruments have destroyed more than 7,000 acres of agricultural fields, natural growth and habitation, leading to extreme environmental devastation and an estimated $2 million worth of damage.
We have heard a great deal about the suffering of Gazans living under the ironclad rule of Hamas. It is absolutely tragic that the Hamas leadership has denied the population the opportunity to develop themselves and their region, and insists on using their people as nothing more than artillery in their ongoing war to obliterate the Jewish state. It is absolutely tragic that the textbooks used by UNRWA are highly ideological propaganda screeds that serve to perpetuate the 1948 conflict, rather than teaching their children fundamental skills to better themselves and their people. It is absolutely tragic that Hamas has syphoned off the funds and building equipment going into the area, and used concrete to build more underground tunnels to launch surprise attacks within Israel proper.
One never hears of the suffering of the Israelis living near the Gaza border, however. While in Israel, I have spoken to several.
Adele Reimer, a teacher of English who made aliyah from America in 1975, lives in Kibbutz Norim near the Gaza border. She spoke to me about the “relentless, ongoing stress.” Reimer said “it is not fair to call this post-traumatic stress syndrome. It is a daily, ongoing stress. Our children suffer from nightmares, bedwetting, refusal to go to bed at night, crawling into bed with parents. Many children, and even some adults, are immobilized with fear and refuse to leave the house. Every Friday, we brace ourselves. We hear the ‘Tzeva Adom’ [‘Red Alert’] several times a day, and we don’t know if it’s a missile coming to our house, to our school or signaling the beginning of yet another war.”
She adds: “I have tremendous sympathy for the people of Gaza. Nobody elected Hamas as their leaders. It came about because of a hostile takeover in 2007, when they threw their opposition off from rooftops. I consider myself left-wing and am still in touch with many Gazans. They are miserable under Hamas and would like it to change, but it is dangerous for them to open their mouths. I have one friend who has spoken out occasionally, but I and he are both afraid he is about to be arrested, tortured and shot.”
“But, she says, it is Hamas who is calling the shots—not only for the people of Gaza, but for the State of Israel. They have manipulated international community to such an extent, so we are perplexed as to how to respond. We care too much about international public opinion.”
Susie Shaul was evacuated from Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005. Her husband worked for 27 years, the bulk of his working life in agriculture helping to develop crops in greenhouses. After the evacuation, they lived with two of the four children in caravans (two of the children were married). She and her husband now live in the Ashkelon region.
She feels that the situation is beyond tragic. She recalls that before the evacuation, when she used to pass the roads that bordered the kibbutzim on the way to her home in Gush Katif, there were signs posted that said: “Jews, out of Gaza. Go home to Israel.”
But today, because of the untold devastation, she only feels tremendous sympathy for those who live on the kibbutzim near Gaza. “They don’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this.”
Shaul recalls that before the Hitnakut (the evacuation from Gaza), former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “Now if they attack, we can go in there and devastate them. We can use our rockets and our missiles. But do you think we can today? Nobody remembers. Nobody cares.”
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.