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August 28, 2014 8:20 pm

Doubtful Southern Israel Refugees Staying Away From Homes Near Gaza, Awaiting ‘Long-Term’ Vision — ‘We’re Mostly Angry’

avatar by Dave Bender

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with southern leaders. Photo: Haim Zach - GPO

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with southern leaders. Photo: Haim Zach - GPO

Despite the cease-fire with Hamas, many residents of the Gaza perimeter have made “‹”‹it clear that they have no plans to return home without a long-term peace, Israel’s NRG News reported Wednesday.

“We respect the cease-fire, but will not send the children to school so quickly,” one resident of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, adjacent to Gaza, said on Wednesday. “We do not believe in false cease-fires.”

Over a hundred members of the kibbutz remain in the Rabin Youth Hostel in Jerusalem, and where they have made “‹”‹it clear that they will accept no promise to return home without a long-term peace deal with the Islamic group that rained over 4,000 rockets and mortars on Israel during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, itself meant to foil thousands of similar attacks up until then.

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“We’re waiting for a real quiet,” said Merav Cohen, who is with her four children at the hostel. “After having been called back once already, with all our bags, we no longer believe in the government and any false ceasefires.”

Cohen stressed that, “Our precious children’s lives are everything to us. Nobody’s going back to anywhere until our neighbors over the fence are disarmed. We are willing to wait as long as needed and have all the patience in the world.

“We’re gritting our teeth, just like the defense minister [Moshe Ya’alon] said [during a recent visit with residents], until there’s a long-term solution. A month-long cease-fire just makes fools out of us,” Cohen adamantly concluded.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Hamas was hit hard and it did not receive even a single one of the conditions that it set for a cease-fire, not even one.”

Netanyahu said, however, that it was “still too early to say,” if Israel could expect “prolonged calm.”

“…but I can say that the harsh blow that Hamas and the terrorist organizations have taken, as well as our ability, via border controls, to prevent their rearming increase the chances that this goal will be achieved,” he said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to say that if it resumes firing, we will not tolerate sporadic firing at any part of the State of Israel and how we have responded up until now – we will respond with even greater strength. We are prepared for any possibility,” Netanyahu said.

However, Eshkol Regional Council Chairman Haim Yellin completely backed up the residents refusal to return, and unequivocally urged them to stay where they were, far from the Gaza perimeter. He’s doubtful of any long-term cease-fire, too.

On Thursday, Netanyahu met in Beersheba with regional mayors and leaders like Yellin, and promised help.

“On Sunday, we will submit a major aid package for the residents of the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and – later on – a general assistance package for the entire south,” Netanyahu promised.

However, Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni, who boycotted the meeting in protest over the apparent lack of a practical government response, was doubtful.

“An absurd situation has been created. All over the world they are talking about the rehabilitation of Gaza, about salaries for Palestinians, about the openings of the border crossings and the transfer of cement to the Strip, but what about the rehabilitation of southern Israel?” Shimoni told Israel’s Ynet News.

“No one is talking about that, and no one is doing anything either,” he said in frustration. On Wednesday and Thursday, residents of neighboring Kibbutz Nirim buried two members killed in a mortar strike on Tuesday, just before the cease-fire went into effect.

“Friends of my children have become orphans,” Cohen said. “The feeling is really painful. Hearts on Kibbutz Nirim have experienced an indescribable disaster; we know the people and the feeling is very sad.”

At nearby Moshav Nativ Ha’assarah, the statements were a little less emphatic, but suspicion of the cease-fire remains.

Fifty of their families, with children, are currently being hosted at the dorms of Ariel University in Samaria (West Bank), and another group of 20 families are staying at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, near Haifa. According to Ettie Levy, who is staying at Ariel, “Most families will return home on Friday.

“The fact that families are planning to only return very slowly, and not all at once is indicative of a crisis of confidence,” Levy assessed.

“Usually when there was a cease-fire, everyone would immediately pack up and go home, but this time it’s happening in stages. Only if for three full days after the announcement will the quiet hold, will we return … I’m skeptical if we’ll all be there to properly celebrate the Shabbat Friday evening on the moshav.”

Kibbutz Yehiam is hosting close to 30 families from Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev near Gaza. They prefer to continue their stay at Yehiam, and not return to their homes.

“There is a great concern,” Anat Ben-Ami said. “We are very experienced with ‘cease-fires,’ and we’re mostly angry.”

“It’s an awful feeling to think that the future of life in the western Negev is being decided by an entity other than Israel, and it is very difficult to accept this. On Monday we are supposed to send our children back to school, and we want to know that we’re not again headed towards ‘escalations’ and more ‘escalations.’

“Yesterday, was a hard day that started in injury and ended in the death of two members of Nirim, and the cease-fire declaration,” Ben-Ami said.

“We are a closely-knit community, and the tear in that fabric is great,” she said.

“Today we’re launching a new campaign: ‘Bibi – Talk To Us,’ in which we call on the prime minister to come and explain to us what his long-term diplomatic plans for the region are.”

Netanyahu said Wednesday that “…there is a realignment of forces in the Middle East … The realignment is based on the common concern with the dangers posed by radical Islamic terrorists who are sweeping the region with a ring of fire. And many understand that this is a danger to them. As we understand, it’s a danger to us. And many certainly begin to view Israel less than the full, or an enemy than a potential ally in this common battle.

“What I’d like to explore is to see if we can translate this understanding of our common challenges into cooperation in common opportunities, and yes including the pursuit and development and achievement of a peace between Israel and our Palestinian neighbors,” the PM said in answer to a question about his longer-term diplomatic goals.

“This obviously cannot happen with the likes of Hamas, who are committed to our destruction. Everybody says you make peace with an enemy. That’s true. But you make peace only with an enemy who decides to go to peace.

“That’s the most important and fundamental distinction. An enemy who wants to destroy you is not a candidate for peace. An enemy who says I want to put down, I want to end the hostilities, I want to take a new beginning, make a new start, give a new future for our children and our grandchildren, well that’s somebody that we can make peace with. And I hope that we’ll achieve this,” Netanyahu said.

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