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Living with Kassams on Kibbutz Nir-Am

NirAm Rescuers respond after kassam attack

Nir-Am is situated on the Northwestern border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The kibbutz consists of 120 adult members and 60 children. Nir-Am was one of eleven kibbutzim established along the Gaza border and surrounding areas between 1943-1945 for the purpose of settling the land and securing the border. It was the first kibbutz where subterranean fresh water was found, a discovery that made it possible to successfully settle the Northern Negev Region. My husband's parents were both members of the small group of 22 young Zionists who founded the kibbutz in 1943. At the age of 17 Asher made his way, mostly on foot, to Israel, having escaped the Nazis in Russia. He never saw or heard from his family again. Rachel and her brother were put on a train to Israel by their parents in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Her whole family perished in the Nazi concentration camps.

Nir-Am's location – between the Northern Negev town of Sderot and Beit Hanoun, the Palestinian town where most of the Kassam rocket attacks originate – has been devastating for our community and has turned a small piece of heaven into a living hell. Every bomb that falls in Sderot travels over our kibbutz, and almost every bomb that falls short, falls in Nir-Am, both in the living areas and in our fields. Nir-Am has suffered more attacks than any other community outside of Sderot. Since 2000, 90 Kassam bombs have fallen among the houses and childrens' houses of Nir-Am and another 500 have fallen in the surrounding fields, killing livestock and setting our crops on fire. When the news reports speak of bombs falling in 'open areas' it usually means that they have fallen in Nir-Am.

The attacks are unprovoked, unpredictable and continuous, and their effect has been close to catastrophic for us, both economically and psychologically. Our every action, our every waking moment, is geared toward minimizing the impact of living under enemy fire. Our first concern is always for our elderly and our children. My son Gabi, who turns ten in December, was three years old when the bombings started and doesn't remember life without Kassam bombs. There are no reinforced rooms in our homes and the old communal shelters cannot be reached in the 5-10 seconds it takes a Kassam bomb to travel between Beit Hanoun and Nir-Am. So our family does what all the other families do; when we hear the "Tzeva Adom " (red light) alert we huddle in a small windowless area (in our case, a small passage between bedrooms), our bodies and the tiled roof the only barriers between our children and the incoming bomb. We silently count the seconds to impact and I often need to remind the children to breathe – they are frozen in total terror. And we pray that this time, too, we will be spared.

The effect has been most obvious on our children. At home, bedwetting, aggressive behavior, extreme mood swings, insomnia, loss of appetite … and at school, lack of concentration, absenteeism, hyperactivity, outbursts of anger and physical and verbal aggression. But no one is spared the psychological warfare of which we are all victims, almost as many adults are in counseling as are children in an attempt to cope with the harsh reality of our daily lives. In fact, as parents we carry the additional burden of guilt for not being able to protect our children, we feel responsible for what is happening to them.

Driving with car windows open, even in the heat of summer, so that one can hear the alert and perhaps have a chance to stop the car and get to some kind of shelter … children playing outside, always acutely aware of exactly where the nearest house or tree is, so that they can run for their lives and find what inadequate and pitiful protection they can … cell phones for every child of school age so that we can stay in contact with them when they are not at home and can call to see whether they are safe after every bomb has fallen… how can I describe the long moments waiting for my child to answer the phone after a Tseva Adom alert?

Due to repeated and deliberate targeting the elementary school has been relocated to Kibbutz Ruhama, an affiliated kibbutz out of range of the bombs. There our children attend classes in temporary trailer-type rooms and this facility will be their school for the next few years until a new reinforced school can be built for them. There are no playgrounds and no recreational facilities or sports fields, but they are safely out of range… at least during school hours.

Economically, the impact has been no less severe. In Nir-Am, the various businesses have all been affected and we have lost more than $1.3 million in income over the past few years as a direct result of the Kassam attacks. This is an enormous loss in our terms.

The Government has completely failed to come to our aid where it counts most, the protection of our loved ones. For seven years we have been waiting in vain for reinforced rooms to be built in Nir-Am, our Government is unable or unwilling to fund this project.

And so to our personal Chanukah miracle. On the first day of Chanukah this year, at 6.30am, a Kassam bomb fell less than five meters from where my son Gabi and daughter Mayan were sleeping. I had been busy in my home office when the Tzeva Adom alarm sounded. I could not hear the children running for our little "safe corner" and I immediately realized that they had not heard the alarm and were still asleep in their beds, even as the bomb was on its way from Gaza.

I ran in the direction of their bedroom, shouting for them to wake up, as I reached the bedroom door they jumped from their beds but a second later the bomb struck. It did not explode upon impact, but penetrated deep into the soft earth and later had to be retrieved with the help of a bulldozer.

Our personal Chanukah miracle had just occurred, had the bomb fallen one week earlier, before the first winter rains when the earth had still been hard, it would have exploded on impact and the result could have been catastrophic for our family.

It is in the tradition of the pioneering spirit of our kibbutz founding members that we have not spoken out to World Jewry until now but have chosen to carry the burden of our situation in silence, hoping that our Government would come to our aid. However, I feel that it is of utmost importance that our plight is brought to your attention and, therefore, I have chosen to send you this story of our life on the Gaza border.

 

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Monday, 06 December 2021

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