Kerem Shalom is now 'completely full' and has a waiting list

IDF soldier in anti-tunnel unit moves to Gaza border kibbutz, with 28 friends

‘Aleph’ decided to live in Kerem Shalom after seeing that the community was underpopulated and struggling to attract new members due to security threats

Illustrative: Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, December 16, 2016. (Doron Horowitz/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, December 16, 2016. (Doron Horowitz/FLASH90)

An Israeli soldier who specializes in locating Gaza terror tunnels has moved to Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, which borders the Strip, and has brought 28 other young Israelis with him, Channel 13 news reported on Friday.

The soldier, who can only be identified by the first letter of his name — Aleph — serves in the Israel Defense Forces in the area of the kibbutz and decided to move to the community after seeing that the security situation was pushing residents away.

He did not want to make the move alone, and sent out a request for volunteers to join him on the WhatsApp messaging platform. Hundreds responded, and 28 other soldiers eventually made the move.

Aleph grew up in the Gush Etzion bloc in the West Bank and began his army service as a combat soldier in a special unit of the Kfir infantry brigade. Around two years ago, he suffered an eye injury and could not continue to serve in the infantry. He then transferred to a unit specializing in countering the threat from Gaza tunnels.

“There is a moment when the person drilling says ‘we feel something here,’ and you insert the camera, and that’s it, you know you succeeded. You understand that you have saved lives,” Aleph told Channel 13 about his role. “In my job there’s no room for mistakes. If I miss something, maybe in a few months people will come out of a tunnel and kill civilians.”

IDF soldier ‘Aleph’ enters a tunnel in the area of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in a Channel 13 report broadcast on September 13, 2019. (Channel 13 screenshot)

Kerem Shalom is a small community ringed with protective concrete walls that abuts Israel’s border with southern Gaza and is near the border with Egypt. It is threatened by rockets, tunnels, and arson balloons. Palestinian rioters burning tires often cause heavy smoke to drift into the community, and residents hear explosions going off during weekly border protests.

“There are Fridays when you can’t go outside of your apartment because of tear gas,” Aleph said.

As a result, the community was underpopulated and struggling to attract new members.

Aleph served in the area for two years without building any personal connections to residents in the area, he said.

One Saturday, he said, “one of the residents sat next to me and said ‘it’s great to see young life in this place,’ and in that moment something clicked. I decided that I would move to live there,” he said. “It was very clear to me. I’m always working so hard to protect these places, so there’s no way that at the end of the day they won’t be lively places. I put a call out on WhatsApp. I was a sure that it would bring in a few people, then suddenly 70 people signed up.”

The community’s newest residents moved into 10 apartments, with two or three in each unit, and have contributed to their new home by repainting buildings, setting up a youth club and planting grass and trees.

IDF soldier ‘Aleph’ in his apartment in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in a Channel 13 report broadcast on September 13, 2019. (Channel 13 screenshot)

They sleep in bomb shelters in their apartments because they are so close to the Strip that they have little time to react to incoming rockets.

“They brought in a young spirit to the kibbutz,” Roni Kisin, one of the community members, told Channel 13.

“They brought in new energy. At the beginning we didn’t know how to feed them. We thought that they would come and be here for a six months or a year then disappear. But they’re here, and it looks like they’re here to stay. We hope so. Some of them already finished the army and stayed. In the past we were underpopulated, but today we’re completely full and there is a waiting list to move in, which is staggering and moving.”

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