Living the Zionist Dream…Under Fire

 

In 2011, I made Aliyah to a beautiful kibbutz in the south of Israel with 25 other people. Most of us were from North America, all of us were joining the army with a program called Garin Tzabar. The kibbutz had everything I could ask for; wonderful people, a nice synagogue, a pool, fertile fields, and a dairy farm. Each of us received a host family and a place to live throughout our army service.

My host family has welcomed me into a life that seems like a dream. I could not imagine a better atmosphere for children to be raised. However, when I asked my youngest kibbutz sister if she would prefer to live in America or in Israel, I was shocked to hear her choose America, the place I left 3 years ago. She explained, “In America there are no tzeva adoms(warning for an incoming rocket)”. Suddenly, it made a lot more sense.

It explains a lot about my experience since moving to Kibbutz Saad. It is 3km from the border with Gaza. The tzeva adom alert warns people on the kibbutz that they have eight seconds to find shelter before a rocket lands in the vicinity.

In August 2011, instead of the welcoming party originally planned, we arrived to an empty kibbutz . The same day 3 terrorists had been killed by the Golani Special Forces after penetrating the Egyptian border with Israel near Eilat. Over the following week, over a hundred missiles were sent from Gaza to Israel forcing the people on Saad to stay within 15 seconds of their bomb shelters and leaving my garin without a welcoming party.

When I finished training and was deployed to active duty, I was sent 15 minutes from home, to an outpost on the Gaza border. A few weeks later a jeep, from my brigade, on patrol near our base was hit by an anti-tank missile. After a weekend full of rocket fire, the IDF responded with Operation Pillar of Defense, an attack on Gaza to restore quiet on the border.

When preparing to enter Gaza a company from my battalion was sent to my kibbutz as a gathering point. My kibbutz family, like many others in the area, went to stay by family up north. Our job as soldiers in the IDF was to let these families feel safe at home. Luckily, a ceasefire was signed before ground forces were sent in, but it did not remove the experience of getting ready to go to war. Learning our assignment, where and what we were supposed to attack, and preparing the necessary equipment was an experience I will not forget.

After the operation, I was asked if I felt a disconnect having to sacrifice my life for a foreign country. I explained, that in fact I felt a much deeper connection than many other soldiers. Many of the rockets were landing in my home.

I was not defending a foreign country. I was making sure that my home, my family, would be safe from Hamas’ rockets. This reality, is what left me with almost no response when a few weeks after I came back from Pillar of Defense my little kibbutz sister, Ravid, told me that she would prefer living in America.

The ceasefire signed after Pillar of Defense led to quiet on Saad that I had not experienced since making Aliyah. No rockets were fired by Hamas. The few that were shot into Israel were by peripheral terrorist organization in the Gaza strip.

In November 2013, I was discharged from the army and moved back to Kibbutz to do irrigation work in the fields. I work in the same open fields where most of the rockets from Gaza land. Thanks to the ceasefire with Hamas, there was almost no thought of incoming rockets. People on kibbutz are always aware of the proximity with Gaza, but it disappeared from the daily concerns of life.

I was living in a young Zionist’s paradise. On a kibbutz, working in the fields with friends, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, growing my hair long, and travelling around Israel at every opportunity. I was doing everything to appreciate being a civilian in Israel.

A few weeks ago, before the rockets started falling again, when someone asked my kibbutz sister if she wanted to live in Israel or America, I was hoping that she had forgotten her previous answer. To my disappointment, she responded, “In America, there are no tzeva adoms”.

I have spent so many hours of my life in America, in the army, and every place I’ve been sharing my beliefs on the importance and the wonder of living in Israel, but this time I remained silent. My kibbutz sister loves her life on the kibbutz, she just does not understand why it must come with tzeva adoms. To be honest, neither do I.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that Hamas was responsible for kidnapping the three boys in the West Bank. I was apprehensive about the response Israel would take. I thought, we needed to locate the boys, find their killers’, bring them to justice, and then deal with Hamas. I knew dealing with Hamas would be tricky, especially since it was the West Bank faction who perpetrated the kidnapping.

Should it call for action only in the West Bank, or would Hamas in Gaza have to feel it as well? I hoped Israel would restrain itself when dealing with Gaza. Not because Hamas in Gaza was not involved, I had no idea if that was the case, but because challenging the ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza should be a last resort.

The vibration and boom that penetrated my kibbutz as a result of the IDF air strike later, made it clear that the political echelon in Israel disagreed with me. Now it is clear to me, that they had good reasons. I felt the tzeva adom that followed could have been avoided, in fact should have been avoided. I wanted the ceasefire to last. I wanted to visit my kibbutz family for dinner at night, instead of speaking to them on Whatsapp while they are staying with family up north.

Quickly, the attacks from both sides escalated. My sister (by birth), who recently drafted into the foreign relations unit between the IDF and Egyptian army, had the night shift. She could not sleep at night because of all the attacks and could not sleep during the day, still thinking about what had happened at night.

Israel could not let the attacks go unanswered. If she showed weakness Hamas would unleash even more violence. Unfortunately, force must be used in order to stop these attacks, in order for me to sleep a full night without running to the bomb shelter. Force must be used to allow the families on my kibbutz who have gone to stay with family in the north to feel safe enough to come back home.

How should this be done? What goal should the IDF pursue? Another ceasefire? Peace agreement? Reconquering Gaza? Should we use air strikes at specific targets, as in Pillar of Defense, or should ground forces enter and clear Gaza of terrorists, as in Cast Lead? These are hard questions. Decisions that I am fortunate not to have to make, but I will try to share what I think should happen.

I do not believe that peace with Gaza, will come through violence. It must come through cooperation, economically, culturally, and politically. Cooperation is not a quick solution, it will take time. It will take effort, creativity, and sacrifice, traits that Israel has in plenty. Time is not one of these. Israelis cannot continue to live under this threat of rocket fire, or a tunnel opening in the middle of a kibbutz.

Force is the quickest way to stop the threat from Gaza. When implemented properly, it reminds Hamas of their vulnerability, as well as our strength. There is only so much damage they can absorb before surrendering. However, this vulnerability and suffering can be used to gain sympathy from the rest of the world. The relationship between these factors determines how long Hamas will be able continue showering Israel with rocket fire before they must accept a ceasefire.

Israel should not have a desire to cause the citizens of Gaza unnecessary pain and suffering. She has a responsibility to stop the threat from Gaza, not to hurt innocent civilians when unnecessary. The Palestinians have experienced enough suffering, some at the hands of Israel, and some because of their own leadership. This trauma prevents their cooperation in any type of peace process with Israel. The more pain Israel causes them, the longer it will take to reach any type of cooperation. This must be a consideration when deciding how to attack Hamas.

Some may say that Hamas must be destroyed completely– the leaders, foot soldiers, weapons, and tunnels—the entire Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, and a new government should be put in its place. Without such a penetrating operation, the necessity would remain for these minor operations every few years. This is sound logic, but does not take into account the reality of such an operation.

The commitment is too steep. It would be an operation similar to those of America in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no clear end. It would cost too many lives, too much money, and nobody can say how long it would take. It would be nice to neutralize Hamas’ threat, but naïve to consider it a practical solution. This is before considering the damage it would do to those in Gaza and Israel forced to live in a state of war.

Pillar of Defense, in theory, was a combination of targeted strikes and a ground entrance into Gaza. It started with airstrikes, continued with artillery, and would have continued to a phased infantry attack in Gaza. Israel was prepared to progress as necessary through these phases, but left open the option for negotiations and a ceasefire at each level.

As a soldier, I felt this reality. While on the way to a training base in preparation for entrance into Gaza, we heard on the radio how close the government was to declaring a ceasefire. Even with this knowledge we were training with full intention to enter the war. Meanwhile, the government succeeded in attaining a ceasefire before sending in ground forces.

I believe that was and remains the proper way to approach an operation in Gaza. Israel needs willingness to take the necessary steps to bring Hamas to surrender, while pursuing all avenues to end the violence. I hope it will take as little force as possible to bring Hamas to a ceasefire, but I understand that it is Israel’s responsibility to put her own citizen’s needs above those of a hostile people when necessary.

The situation has developed since I began writing, so I will add an update:

Israel has been “hitting Hamas hard” as countless politicians have stated repeatedly. Hamas is the key word in the sentence. Israel is focussing their attacks on the terrorist organization, not the citizens and civilian infrastructures in Gaza.

The operation has extended to include ground forces crossing the Gaza border. Their focus is on destroying the tunnels used to store weapons and give terrorists a way to penetrate Israeli borders. It has yet to convince Hamas to accept a ceasefire, though Israel has repeatedly stated her willingness. Accordingly, it seems Israel will expand her attack as necessary to restore quiet to the South and the rest of the country.

I continue to work in the fields on Saad. The sound of war is all around us. Helicopters, tanks, artillery, and tzeva adoms. The army is not having an easy time. It has suffered many casualties at the hands of Hamas. At the same time, they are keeping us safe. The terrorists who have penetrated the border through different tunnels have been stopped before causing harm to civilians.

Across the border in Gaza, our soldiers are fighting with tenacity and determination. They are finding tunnels, stopping terrorists, and destroying other parts of Hamas’ infrastructure in Gaza. With each additional casualty, my heart pushes me to support an immediate ceasefire. However, I know that this operation is saving us from the nightmare of tens of armed terrorists entering a kibbutz on the Gaza border and doing a terrorist attack with unimaginable consequences.

I hope the IDF will continue and succeed in their operation to restore quiet on the border with Gaza and will make the nightmare of terrorists entering Israel through a tunnel impossible. Until then, I will continue living and working on Saad.  My bag remains packed, ready to contribute if called to reserve duty.