Dozens of residents of the south protested in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday, urging the government to come up with an immediate, long-term plan to thwart rocket attacks by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. Over the weekend, several demonstrators camped out in a protest tent outside the residence.
On Saturday night, Michal Koren, head of the organizing group, the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, said the residents needed the government to take a decision, “on way or another,” that would put an end to the rocket fire. At present, the government seemed to move back and forth between “quiet will be met with quiet” and talk of a more major military offensive.
The protesters, who were joined by some Jerusalemites in a show of solidarity, said theirs was not a demonstration of left or right, but simply a call for clear government decision-making and action.
“We demand that the prime minister explain to us how he plans to solve the security problem we have been suffering from over the past 14 years,” a resident of the Eshkol Region who took part in the Friday protests told Walla reporters.
“We hope that, contrary to what we see now, he does have a strategy and a vision.”
Other residents of the south, however, criticized the protests, asserting that there was no room to make any demands of the government while the IDF was engaged in an offensive across the Gaza border.
“Now is the time to strengthen the government and the IDF, who work night and day to protect the citizens of Israel,” Merhavim Regional Council mayor Haim Hajaj said, according to Walla.
“Throughout the operation, the political establishment was discreet and responsible and the IDF has had an impressive record, [such as] destroying [terror] tunnels and rockets launchers, and dealing a fatal blow to Hamas,” he added.
As more and more families in southern communities and in towns near the Gaza Strip border choose to depart from the area for fear of rocket attacks, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated Saturday that the IDF will provide assistance to fleeing civilians in order to ease their move up north
Speaking during a visit to towns in the south, Ya’alon said that although authorities did not specifically recommend that residents in the vicinity of the Palestinian enclave evacuate their homes, a decision to leave the area would be met with support and understanding on the government’s part.
Ya’alon added that the ongoing IDF operation in the Gaza Strip was, at this point, aimed at forcing Hamas to accept a ceasefire on Israel’s terms.
“The goal of the [Israeli] decision makers is to bring Hamas to the negotiation table in Cairo under terms that Israel decides, and to achieve a ceasefire deal as demanded by Jerusalem,” he said.
Ya’alon was set to make an appearance at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed on Friday by a mortar shell, but the visit was nixed because of the heavy rocket fire throughout the day Saturday, prompting the ire of the residents.
The kibbutz dining hall was hit by a mortar shell Saturday morning.
Nahal Oz residents interviewed by Channel 10 expressed their frustration with the cancelation, asking why the government and the military told them it was safe to return to their homes earlier this month when it was much too dangerous even for the defense minister.
Channel 10 reported that Ya’alon’s security detail forbade the visit following the barrages fired from Gaza into the communities bordering the Palestinian enclave all afternoon Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, the few families who stayed behind in the kibbutz, just two kilometers from the Gaza border, throughout Operation Protective Edge backed up their bags and left.
Of the nearly 360 members of Nahal Oz, only about 90 people, almost all of them kibbutz employees, remained in the community after Saturday afternoon, Ynet reported. In nearby Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, families with young children and the elderly have all left as well. Temporary departures have been registered at other Gaza-border kibbutzim and moshavim.
The army on Saturday revealed that Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz was visiting Kibbutz Nahal Oz Friday afternoon when the mortar fire from Gaza hit the kibbutz and killed Tragerman.
The kibbutz dining hall was also hit by mortar fire, Army Radio reported.
In a briefing to reporters on August 6, Gantz had urged the residents of the Gaza border towns and kibbutzim to return home. “I am convinced the residents can return to their houses, till their fields, live well here, just as it was before,” he said.
“Just as there was peace here before, it will be even quieter after [the operation],” Gantz asserted. “The IDF is not going anywhere. It remains to protect, to make breakthroughs, to seek the next challenges, and together with the citizens we will continue to enhance the security in this area.”
The IDF chief went on to assure the citizens of the south that better days were ahead of them. “Indeed, there was a hot summer here,” Gantz said, referring to the tumultuous experiences of many in the south. “[But] autumn will come after. Rain will wash away the dust upon the tanks. The fields will turn green, and the south will redden, red in the positive sense of the word, anemones, flowers and stability will be here, and they will be here for very many years to come.”