Evacuation Diary Days One and Two: Operation Shield and Arrow
For all of the military escalations, bar the first one which took place in 2008-9, only a month after losing my husband, and with no saferoom in which to take cover, I have remained in Nirim. I stay home with purpose: to bear witness to what is happening right there, right then, and to report it to the world.
This time, I chose to leave.
When word got out at 2 a.m, yesterday morning, that three high-ranking terrorist leaders had been neutralized in Gaza, we were all sent to our saferooms. Sleep in the saferoom that night didn’t come easily (especially since my friend visiting from abroad was already sleeping there). When we got up a few hours later, it was verified that there had not yet been any rocket fire, but the tension was palpable, and all I wanted to do was to safely get my friend out of the region ASAP to security in the center of the country.
Throughout that very morning, plans for the evacuation of our community were under way. As a community just two kilometers (about 1.25 miles) from the border with the Gaza Strip, our tireless workers at the Eshkol Regional Council set the wheels in motion for organizing our evacuation venue extremely quickly: quicker than ever before. It had begun yesterday around noon, when families were told they could evacuate to Netanya, at the expense of the government. Previously, it has taken a few days to organize all the details for evacuating such a large group of people, during which times we needed to dodge rockets and keep the kids indoors, and occupied, near the safe rooms. But already yesterday, 180 people from Nirim made their way to Netanya, including my daughter and her family.
I, however, was not yet convinced. I remained at home, doing laundry, straightening up the house, watering the garden, making TikToks and eventually deciding to put together a small suitcase, just in case I felt the need to leave.
Despite the urgings of my daughter, I didn’t yet.
Since it was quiet in our area, without explosions of rocket fire or the blares of incoming rocket warnings in the air, and clear of Iron Dome anti-rocket missiles in the sky, I decided that I could give myself more time to decide. So Tuesday night (Day 1 of the operation), I went to sleep in my saferoom, expecting a very noisy night ahead.
When I awoke Wednesday morning, I was surprised once more (along with the rest of the country) that not a rocket had been shot off from Gaza. I got up, watched the news, showered, and decided that if it had been so quiet up till then, maybe the Universe was telling me something. I am generally not one who is brave enough to drive our roads for 20 kilometers (nearly 12 and a half miles) while under rocket fire, but I got the message: “Leave now, while it’s still quiet.”
I drove the two-and-a-half hours to Netanya, to find the rest of the evacuees from Nirim relaxing from the tension poolside, or at the beach, or doing any number of normal things that people do with their kids on a warm beautiful day. (Not the alternative scene, running with 0-10 seconds grace, to dodge rocket fire). We felt warmly welcomed by the people at the Ramada Hotel.
Less than an hour after my arrival, intensive barrages of rocket fire began, in the area near my home on Kibbutz Nirim, as well as throughout towns and cities as far away as Herzliya to the north and Beer Sheva to the east.
Here’s a question: Have you ever had to drive during incoming rocket fire? It’s like this: every cell of your body is alert and wound up tightly like a spring waiting to be released. And by the time I finished driving myself to Netanya, I was wasted. And I could only ask myself: was it sharp foresight or dumb luck that got me out of the range of rocket landings just in time? I say the latter. Regardless….
The previous day, my daughter had exited Nirim so quickly that she hadn’t remembered to pack clothing for her toddler (who can judge a mother packing for three littles with the threat of rocket fire looming?). So I had to drive to the nearest mall to pick up some essential basic baby-wear. Evacuating under impending rocket fire is not like going on vacation, regardless of what it looks like in the pastoral photos you might see. In the pictures, kids are smiling, being graciously entertained by artists, happy to come and cheer up those who left their lives and family members, homes and sometimes pets back in a war zone for an unknown period of time.
Some of these military operations have taken one day and then life has returned to normal; others — such as Operation Protective Shield in 2014, on the last day of which two fathers on my kibbutz were killed by a Hamas mortar, and a third got his legs blown off — that operation took 50 days. 50 days during which time kids were spirited away from their daily routines and everything familiar to them: their beds, their toys, their educational frameworks. They were kept occupied by the kibbutz team in charge of organizing activities, but it’s not the same when your heart is still back home, where you know that rockets are exploding all around the home, community and often one of your parents that you left behind. That memory is one carved into the brains of all the kids 14 years and older, as well as the adults on my kibbutz. That is the situation in which we find ourselves once again, for the third time (at least) in Operation Shield and Arrow.
Truthfully, I was too tired to write more last night, so I will continue sharing more of our life as evacuees in Netanya, when I sum up my second day on the move. Hoping for safety for those who remained behind on Nirim, and all those in the line of rocket fire — and now, typing these words, I have just received another phone alert, an incoming rocket warning for Nirim.