We were so close to a return to normalcy, to what an Israeli summer should be: sun, beach, family time and a sense of freedom. But Hamas had other plans for us, as well as for the people of Gaza.
After a full 72 hours of cease-fire and three days of negotiations in Egypt, after Israel completely withdrew from Gaza raising both Israeli and Palestinian hopes, Hamas rejected extending the cease-fire. The terror organization demanded a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip before it would consider renewing the ceasefire again.
It’s important to understand that the blockade on the Strip isn’t as Hamas describes it: Goods arrive at Israel’s port from foreign countries on a regular basis and after they are checked to see if they contain weapons, they are transferred to Gaza. Israel allows exports and imports to and from Gaza, but insists that it be able to check all goods. Israel strongly opposes allowing Hamas to build and control its own sea port, as clearly we would lose control over what goes into Gaza. Without that control, weapons could be transported into Gaza and then used against Israeli civilians.
The ceasefire officially ended at 8:00 a.m. this morning, but at 4:00 a.m.Hamas was already firing rockets at communities near the border. Since exactly 8:00 a.m. more than 40 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel , with two direct hits to homes in Sderot and Ashkelon. Four casualties were reported and there was property damage. The Israeli Air Force struck back a few hours after the rockets were fired.
Since Tuesday morning, Israelis have been trying to restore routine. Residents of southern communities began — not without great fears — to return home. What should have been a happy return home for people is now an act of bravery. More than 50 percent of families in the south left their homes as soon as the war began and stayed with family and friends around the country. Some kibbutzim sent their families, as a group, to be hosted at northern kibbutzim, so that they would be able to keep their sense of community and feel at home away from home.
Orna and Rami live in Netiv Ha’Asarah, a kibbutz located on the border of Gaza. Rami is an agriculturist growing vegetables. Rami’s field is literally on the fence with Gaza. Orna left the kibbutz with their three boys as soon as the war began. She stayed with family in Ashdod, a southern town under rocket threat but not near Hamas’ deadly tunnels. Rami couldn’t afford to leave the kibbutz — someone needed to take care of the field — otherwise the family would lose a year’s worth of work.
Rockets aren’t their main concern; it’s the tunnels and the deadly surprise they promise. When the 72-hour ceasefire began, Orna decided that it was too soon for her to return home. She wasn’t convinced that all the tunnels were exposed and destroyed, so she rented an apartment in Ashdod and plans to live there until she feels it’s safe for her family to return to the kibbutz. When will that be? Today’s renewed barrage pushes that day even further away.
Rami, Orna’s husband, is staying at their home in the kibbutz. He won’t allow Hamas to destroy his lifelong investment. He is connected to his land, and so is Orna. But she is painfully torn between what they have built and protecting her three boys. Her need for them to be safely away has won out. So for the moment, Orna and Rami don’t live together. Not by choice but by a cruel reality and the necessity to protect their children.
Orna and Rami are just one example of thousands: Families afraid of going back home; children suffering from trauma; couples divided between their gut feeling and what the army is telling them. Israel’s beautiful south, the miracle blooming in the desert, now faces a new threat, one in which families leave their homes and communities to escape from the looming threat of Hamas’ tunnels built beneath their homes
These new, very real and painful dilemmas are the direct result of discovering how extensive and developed the Hamas tunnel network is. Israel is only now beginning to fully understand how cruel and dangerous this phenomenon is.
Tomorrow, Shabbat morning, we will read this week’s haftara from Isaiah: Nahamu, nahamu ami, “Give comfort to my people.” (Isaiah 40:1)
I’m hopeful that the first of the seven Shabbats of consolation that take place between Tisha B’Av ( the 9th of Av) and Rosh Hashanah will mark the beginning of comfort for the people of Israel.