Conflicts & War

Israeli communities near Gaza Strip ‘scared to death’ as violence escalates

By Yemeli Ortega

Jerusalem, Aug 7 (EFE).- The silence of rural life of Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip has been interrupted by sirens amid an escalation of tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in recent days.

“We are scared to death and we want this to end,” Eduardo Polonsky, a 61-year-old farmer who lives in the Or HaNer kibbutz, one of the many Israeli agricultural communes bordering the Gaza Strip, tells Efe.

The violence erupted on Friday after Israel launched a “preemptive” offensive on PIJ, killing over 30 Palestinians, including several of the organization’s members. The PIJ has launched an estimated 600 projectiles towards Jerusalem while Israel continues to bombard the Gaza Strip with air strikes.

“We went from paradise to hell in a matter of minutes,” Polonsky says.

Unlike the people of Gaza, Israel has a siren system to warn residents of possible rocket strikes.

When the alarm is triggered, residents of communities near the Strip have 15 seconds to take shelter in safe rooms, which are set up in their homes and public spaces.

“You can imagine, at two in the morning, waking up half asleep, running desperately, barefoot and in your pajamas to the stairs of your building, looking for the safest place, (…) these are terrible situations,” Janet Swierzenski, a 56-year-old Uruguayan woman who has been growing vegetables for 25 years in the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz, four kilometers from the Strip, says.

Of the 550 people living on her kibbutz, some 200, most of them with children, have fled to safer areas.

“We feel hostage to the situation,” says Swierzenski, who is traveling to the Dead Sea to seek refuge.

Swierzenski recalls with nostalgia the 1980s when people from the kibbutz — Israeli communities based on agriculture — would go to the beach or visit friends in the Gaza Strip with no issues.

“In the last 21 years, we have seen violence escalate,” she says.

Laurence Baziz, a 61-year-old French woman who lives near Ashkelon, a few kilometers north of Gaza, is also worried.

In 2005, the Israeli government ordered her to move to Ashkelon from another community, also very close to the Strip, where she had lived for 20 years.

“We were told we had to move because it was safer here but now, ironically, after leaving everything we had built for 20 years, it’s getting worse and worse,” she tells Efe.

Most Israeli residents in communities near Gaza empathize with the Palestinians from Gaza and long for them to return to work on their land, according to Polonsky.

“None of us want a war, what we want is to live in peace,” Polonsky says. EFE


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