Wednesday night’s ceasefire left many residents of Israel’s south feeling “disappointed and let down,” and they were not reluctant to condemn those they held responsible — the politicians who called an end to Operation Pillar of Defense.
The government “should have finished what it started,” Liat Strikowski, a resident of a kibbutz in the Eshkol region, which abuts the Gaza border, told The Times of Israel. While IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz “showed he was ready [for a more forceful operation], and visited us in the south,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “didn’t really do so,” she said.
“Minutes after [Hamas commander] Ahmed Jabari was killed by the IDF there was a barrage of rockets on my house,” Strikowski recounted. She said she was in favor of the IDF sending ground forces into Gaza, even though friends of hers serving in the army could get hurt. “It’s the army’s job to defend the citizens,” she declared, “even if, unfortunately, people are injured.”
Two days after the operation was launched she and her family left their home, as the area was declared a closed military zone and used as a temporary army base. “Even now, after the ceasefire, we’re not allowed back,” she said. The kibbutz suffered dozens of direct hits, including a mortar shell that killed a soldier on Tuesday. She sent “a special thanks” to Gonen and Mahanaim, two kibbutzim in the north of Israel, which “provided us with everything. Food, rooms, activities for the kids and laundry services. There are good people living in this country.”
Not only residents of front-line kibbutzim were disappointed and critical. People all over the south are “devastated and broken,” Leah Reback-Kalman, who’s studying to be a paramedic in Beersheba, told The Times of Israel.
“I don’t think it’s a ceasefire, and I doubt it’ll stay quiet,” Reback-Kalman said. Though she was unable to say whether a ground invasion would have been the right step, she lamented the way the operation ended.
How can Israel say it achieved its goals when Palestinians were celebrating in Gaza, the 23-year-old asked. The government didn’t finish what it started, she said. “We should have continued a little bit more.”
Reback-Kalman said she was disappointed in the decision-makers, and speculated that Netanyahu had either made “the dumbest decision of his career” or was “playing a smart game we don’t know about.” She said she was now unsure if she’d vote for him in the January elections.
Avi Buskila, an Ashdod resident and reserve combat soldier (who wasn’t called up this time), described life in the southern port city. “I served in Lebanon, but this stress was different,” he said of the past week.
After one of the rocket volleys, he got a phone call from his six-months-pregnant wife who said she was experiencing abdominal pain. No one can work or live under such conditions, he said. Solving the Hamas rocket threat is important, and “if it means our soldiers will be hurt, it still needs to be done. That’s the army’s job.”
But Buskila wasn’t ready to condemn the politicians for their decisions just yet.
He noted that the full results of the operation were not yet known. “If the ceasefire provides quiet, the rest doesn’t matter,” Buskila said. The test will lie in “how Israel reacts if Hamas fires at us again — the first time they do so,” he said.