Sha'ar HaNegev Update from Mayor Alon Schuster

Dear Friends, Brothers, and Sisters,           


On Tuesday 5 August 2014 at 07:55, five minutes before the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas entered into force, a Katyusha was fired at Kibbutz Kfar Azza - the same kind of 356 missiles that exploded in Sha'ar Hanegev over the previous 29 days.


The house of Yisrael and Orly was hit, and the home of Shir - an IDF soldier - as well as six other houses were damaged by shrapnel and blast.


In Kfar Azza, as in Nahal Oz, Nir Am and other communities, homes were also destroyed as good as public buildings, schools, nursery schools, and infrastructure. In Nahal Oz, a direct missile hit injured Yelena Yakimovsky, a kibbutz resident who was asleep in her room and didn't hear the siren. She was evacuated in a moderate condition to hospital.


On the morning of Friday 8 August, Dr Nachmi Paz, CEO of Sapir College, was injured by splinters from a mortar shell that exploded a few yards from him. Nachmi was on his way from the college to his home in Kfar Azza, when he heard the siren and the Color Red alert. He stopped his car on the side of the road, as we are supposed to do, and his life was saved by a miracle. He will be released from hospital in good condition in the next few days.


Snapshots of the war raging here on the battle-lines facing Gaza are screened on your TVs around the clock. What is not shown is the reality in the kibbutzim which are located over the openings of the terrorist tunnels, that were discovered in their full horror just a few weeks ago.


Fourteen years of rocket and mortar fire, that has been the "birthright" on which an entire generation of kids has been raised, didn't prepare us for this appalling reality. In the depth of the night next to Nir Am, murderous terrorists crawled out of the earth on their way to attack soldiers or civilians. Two days later terrorists infiltrated through a tunnel into a field next to Nahal Oz. In both cases, IDF soldiers fought courageously and killed the terrorists, though tragically, officers and soldiers were killed in the fight.


When the Protective Edge operation began, we launched an orderly evacuation of hundreds of children and parents from the battlefields to a safe haven. Between mortars and missiles, the older residents who remained in the kibbutzim are engaged in the huge effort of maintaining and caring for the communities, in the midst of hostilities, displaying immense bravery.


Under the instructions of the IDF, all the agricultural areas have been abandoned, harvest and equipment included, and the areas are now staging areas for the military. Everything has been trampled under the tank tracks. Rehabilitating our fields will be a long process.


Nahal Oz, Kfar Azza, Mefalsim, Nir AM and Erez are all located opposite Gaza and were under mortar and rocket fire even before the operation, and of course in fact with far greater intensity once it began.


Since the ceasefire was declared, the government has called on evacuated residents to return home. Though they long for their homes, they feel insecure personally in terms of their future daily life in the kibbutz. And while we rely on the IDF and the Israeli government, we are well aware that attacks will continue and new tunnels will be built in future. People are tired, confused, and worried.


Today the State of Israel is facing circumstances that require enormous resources to cover the expenses incurred by the war and the damage. Every day of the operation I've been in touch with top echelons of the government, and I have presented the basic demands for our continued life here on the border - in terms of security and of course in significant areas like psychological help, compensation to thousands of people whose livelihood has been grievously damaged, economic assistance, and so on.


This week, other mayors from the region and I met with the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Chief of Staff - who told us that we are entering a new reality that includes massive preparedness of soldiers, and other means to defend our communities.


Ahead of us is a difficult and long period of efforts to restore our citizens' trust and rebuild their damaged sense of personal security. At the end of the long and exhausting battle our task is to bring home most of the members and their children, to ensure the stable livelihood and community life they knew until recently. We need to act as quickly as possible to rehabilitate the physical damage and shore up the psychological aspect that has been so jolted over the past month.


Our civilian response to the war waged by Hamas is to continue building and strengthening the regional communities of Sha'ar Hanegev. The challenges ahead of us are many, and our continued existence in the strategic location opposite Gaza has national significance. We are proud of the years in which we grew and developed so successfully. The long rehabilitation process calls for monetary efforts, which in turn requires combining the forces of good friends. Major help is needed.


Your support of us, friends, is even more important than ever. The knowledge that we're important to you, that you're thinking about us, that our struggle is yours, encourage us and give us strong hopes for better days.


With love and affection,


Alon Schuster

Mayor, Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council


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