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Middle East - report

Hopes and fears of Israelis living close to Gaza border

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-01-13 Latest update 2009-01-25 17:03 TU

Marlène Markovitch(Photo: Tony Cross)

Marlène Markovitch
(Photo: Tony Cross)

Zikim is a kibbutz in southern Israel, just a few hundred metres from the Gaza border. It is one of the areas that the government has sworn to protect from rocket attacks by armed Palestinian groups, such as Hamas. The residents find themselves torn between concern for Palestinian friends who have worked on the kibbutz and the desire for security.

Report from Israel: Life on the border

13/01/2009 by Tony Cross

Zikim resident Marlène Markovitch points at a field behind the paddock where two white horses are grazing. “That was all on fire,” she says. Beside is an improvised flower-pot – busy lizzies grow out of exploded ordnance.

Rocket attacks reached the level of 50-70 per day before Hamas’s six-month truce with Israel, she says. The number was reduced during the truce but the attacks increased again when it ended.

No kibbutz members were killed, although some children were injured and a direct hit on the dairy killed six cows. Zikim is one of the biggest milk producers in Israel and has two small factories, which have also been hit.

The number of attacks has gone down again since the offensive began. But military activity brought new disruption to the kibbutzniks’ lives.

The sound of military’s drones and helicopters frightened the children so much that they had to be evacuated.

“They know that they are from Israel but it’s frightening when you hear them at night, the few last days it was horrible,” says Markovitch. “The few last days, we couldn’t sleep, we were scared. Everybody was scared.”

Some Gaza residents used to work at Kizim and had become friends of the residents. “These were made by a friend from Gaza,” says Markovitch, pointing at some handsome metal dining chairs.

She says that she has phoned some of them to find out how they are. But, she says, they are worried that Hamas will punish them for knowing Israelis.

Kibbutz secretary, Ilil Burde(Photo: Tony Cross/RFI)

Kibbutz secretary, Ilil Burde
(Photo: Tony Cross/RFI)

The UN calcaulates that at least a quarter of those killed during the offensive have been civilians. Kibbutz secretary Ilil Burde regrets the civilian deaths and injuries during the offensive but, like many Israelis, believes that Hamas is primarily to blame.

“In war there’s casualties,” she says. “And Hamas uses civilians as human shields.”

Burde also blames Hamas for undermining the peace camp in Israel. Most of the kibbutz members supported the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005, she says, but now they feel betrayed by the breakdown of the truce.

“We are very, very deeply disappointed because we feel instead of going forwards, things are just going backwards,” she says. “What happens here, with all the rockets that we suffer for years and years, we the more left-wing in Israel can’t convince the more right-wing in Israel that we have to go on with the peace process because we get the answer, ‘See what happens, we draw out of the occupied territories in Gaza and they shoot rockets on us'.”

Although she is at pains to speak as a representative of the kibbutz, Burde admits to concern for two of her four sons, who may be called up to fight.

“When you reach this point, I don’t think any mother in the world is a rational person. You get only emotional,” she says, adding, “If  only mothers ran the world, there wouldn’t  be any war and we’d all be happy.

A house owned by an Arab family falls into disrepair(Photo: Tony Cross/RFI)

A house owned by an Arab family falls into disrepair
(Photo: Tony Cross/RFI)

At the highest point of the kibbutz, with a perfect view of Gaza on one side and the impeccable houses and communal buildings on the other, stands an empty half-ruined house.

It belonged to an Arab family which fled in 1948, after the state of Israel was founded.

The family came to visit not long ago, says Marlène Markovitch.

“We invited them and they ate here and it was very nice. They are angry because we are getting their place but it’s the eternal problem between Palestinian and Israeli – who owns what?

“But they have the right to be here, too,” she concludes with a laugh, which has perhaps just a trace of embarrassment.