ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Several Gaza border communities refuse to send reps to meeting with Netanyahu

PM meets regional council heads, but some kibbutzim decry short notice for meeting, claim lack of interest, as government under fire for poor response to Oct. 7 victims

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, lays the foundation stone for a new community, Ofir, as he meets with municipal leaders of communities close to the Gaza Strip, November 29, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, lays the foundation stone for a new community, Ofir, as he meets with municipal leaders of communities close to the Gaza Strip, November 29, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Representatives of several Gaza border communities refused Wednesday to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and regional council heads, amid criticism of the premier and government over their treatment of victims of the devastating October 7 onslaught by Hamas-led terrorists.

Netanyahu met with the local leaders of southern towns four kilometers from the frontier, but some kibbutzim, including Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Nir Oz, Nahal Oz, Re’im, Or Haner, Ein Hashlosha, and Kerem Shalom, said they weren’t sending representatives, either due to scheduling issues or lack of interest.

Communities that did send representatives included Carmia, Mefalsim, Netiv Ha’asara, Yad Mordechai and Zikim.

The meeting was held as Netanyahu laid the foundation stone for a new community in the area to be named “Ofir,” after Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, who was killed during fighting with Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7. Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf also attended.

“We will restore the communities, expand them, and add more communities,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “You have gone through very difficult days here. It is simply unbelievable what happened here.”

The prime minister said that Israelis “held on to their land with their fingernails, repelled the murderers, the monsters.” He vowed that the military campaign to destroy Hamas, launched in response to the attack, “will continue until the end.”

In a video recording from the event, Netanyahu was heard saying that “the price of agreeing to end the fighting is that you leave Hamas there, that [Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar emerges from the rubble and flashes a “V” sign. I won’t agree to that.”

A participant was heard telling the prime minister the October 7 attacks were “the worst breach [of faith] we’ve ever had, including with the [national] leadership.”

“We screamed about it all,” the woman said in reference to Hamas’s overt preparations for the onslaught. “And we were always told, ‘Hamas is deterred.’ We believed it. We believed you. How is security and the sense of security to be restored?”

Alon Davidi, mayor of the largest city in the four-kilometer border zone, Sderot, urged Netanyahu to finish off Hamas.

“I have a clear demand for the entire government — to topple the rule of Hamas!” he implored, saying border community residents have been left living in uncertainty. He called on Netanyahu to release state funds to help affected communities.

In response to criticism of the prime minister for not meeting with survivors of the October 7 massacre earlier, those close to Netanyahu have said that he had been busy managing the war. The government has also been criticized for what many call lackluster support for those forced from southern communities, with civil society groups forced to pick up the slack.

The heads of the regional councils set to meet with the prime minister said in a statement that the timing of the meeting didn’t work for two or three of the kibbutzim, and that “nobody said officially that they were boycotting the meeting.”

“Everyone should do what is right for them. We don’t boycott anyone. We, as heads of the councils, will go to the meeting of course,” they said.

US billionaire Elon Musk, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, take a tour of Kfar Aza, November 27, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Kibbutz Be’eri also said it was not boycotting the sit-down, adding: “If and when the prime minister wants to come to Kibbutz Be’eri, see the atrocities committed on October 7 and have a conversation about the efforts to restore Be’eri, we are always happy to host him with prior arrangement and without media teams.”

Nir Oz’s administration said in a statement that Netanyahu should meet with all members of the kibbutz and that the planned meeting on Wednesday was not acceptable to them.

“Not just representatives of the communities need answers, but all of us. Not just me, but everyone deserved to know why a quarter of our kibbutz was abducted or murdered,” the statement read.

According to Haaretz, there have been several failed attempts to organize meetings with community leaders.

A source involved in the talks said that officials tried to put forward preconditions, such as selecting specific families for the prime minister to meet.

“Every day a certain minister or senior official tells us today we are coming to you, and people aren’t able to stand by every time,” an unnamed resident of a southern community was quoted as saying.

Dozens of communities were forced to evacuate due to the war, which began on October 7 when hordes of Hamas terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel, massacring some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and abducting at least 240 men, women, and children, many of whom are still being held captive in Gaza.

The attack came under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli population centers. Israel has responded with a military campaign and vowed to eradicate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007. An ongoing truce deal has led to the release of dozens of hostages.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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