A Dream To See Green
I moved to Israel in 1975. I’m originally from New York, but after high school I came to Israel for a year via Young Judea Year Course (something that is sort of the equivalent to today’s Masa’s Israel Journey). A month after I returned to New York, the Yom Kippur War began, and I thought to myself, “What am I doing here, when I am needed in Israel?” So I came back to Israel to live.
Growing up in New York my dream was always to be able to open my door and see green, and this is what I got when I moved to Kibbutz Nirim.
It’s a beautiful place, and it’s peaceful most of the time. There is no crime rate, so I leave my door unlocked.
We didn’t have rockets in this region until 2005. Until then it was really quiet. The rockets began around 1999 but further north, only around Sderot. When the Jewish settlements in Gaza were taken out, the Jewish settlers told us, “You’ll see. Once we are out, they’ll begin shooting at you.” There was truth to this, because now there are no Israeli settlers to stop it [as a buffer zone]. Not that I feel it was a mistake to withdraw from the Gaza Strip – I just think we did it the wrong way.
Last summer I slept in the safe room, not in my bedroom. Prior to this, when I would go to sleep in my bedroom, I would always think about when the next red alert would be. During the war, it just didn't make sense not to sleep in my safe room, which was both safer and buffered the noise of the deafening artillery and tank fire that went on 24/7 – at least during the ground invasion.
Every time I had to walk the dogs (because they have to be walked), I would think about where to hide, should there be a red alert. I would also turn on my phone’s video camera and leave it running, so that it could film in case of red alerts. I used it for blogging to try to help people understand what it is like to live here.
If I’m in the shower, and there is a red alert, I can’t make it to the safe room. I know this, because I tried once. But I will still run, because the shower is not a good place to be. So, before the shower I leave one towel on the sink and one on the floor, so that I can cover myself quickly and run without slipping.
On the last day of the war [last summer], a mortar hit the ground three meters away from my bedroom. The walls, outside and in, were punctured by ensuing shrapnel. If I had been in the bedroom, I probably wouldn’t be here today, but fortunately, I had been in the safe room.
We have ten seconds, or even less. During about the third week of the war, in July, someone in the kibbutz was hit by a rocket. He was carrying eggs and was therefore slower than usual in order not to drop any of the eggs. The rockets landed too quickly, and the man with the eggs was hit by shrapnel, as the rocket detonated when hitting a tree next to him. When we heard the red alert for that rocket we also didn’t make it to the safe room in time.
Ever since my daughter was nine years old, she has been scared of infiltration, although back then it wasn’t a realistic threat. Her fear came on one Passover, when her grandfather came to the “seder” [Passover feast] with a gun, as it was his turn to be on guard.
She was sure that the infiltrators would come to her window.
When she announced that she would come back to the kibbutz two years ago, I was thrilled for me; however, I am not sure if it was good for her. But her husband, who was also born and raised here, didn't want to live anyplace but Nirim. She, on the other hand, wanted to live anyplace, but Nirim.
Last year a tunnel was found near our kibbutz, just a five-minute jog away. However, My daughter wasn’t here during the war.
These safe rooms that we have are built to protect against rockets, not against infiltration. You can’t lock them from the inside, because if you lock yourself in and something happens to you, security teams can’t get to you. My daughter had her husband put a lock on. I also bought shades for my windows so that when she is here in the evening, she feels less exposed.
The safe rooms were built in 2011 by the government. Back in 2008/2009, during the first war, we didn’t have safe rooms, so each house had to find the safest places to be during a red alert. Ours was in a corridor, but I didn’t stay in the kibbutz during the war. I was abroad on the first day it broke out, and when I returned to Nirim, I did not feel capable, emotionally, of remaining under those circumstances, with no place to run for safety during the frequent alarms.
During all of these escalations, the children of the kibbutz are transferred to a kibbutz in the center of the country, Mishmar Ha’emek, where they had opened their doors for anyone who wanted to be away from Kibbutz Nirim. After last summer’s war, every community on a border was paired with a “twin community” as part of an evacuation plan. Usually the children and only one of the parents are sent away during an escalation. Someone still has to go to work.
PTS / Staying
Everybody who lives here has some kind of post-traumatic-stress disorder.
Yesterday I was in Yafo with my friends, and I heard the call to prayer. Just hearing the small crackles of the loudspeakers before the prayers began made me think that it was the beginning of the red alert.
But I’m still here, because it’s my home, and where else can I go? There are rockets in Ashkelon and Ashdod, and there have been suicide bombings in Tel Aviv. And just look at what is happening in Jerusalem, our capital, now. I have lived here since my twenties, so leaving this place isn't an option. My children were all born and raised here, my parents were buried here, as was my husband. I will not be driven away from my home by fear.
Two families have left the community, but a lot of new people have moved here, as invested members. If I were the parent of young children, however, I don’t know if I would stay here in this security atmosphere.
Kibbutz Nirim’s main income is agriculture, but most people work in sectors outside of the kibbutz (teachers, nurses, business people, psychologists, and many other professions). Still, the community’s financial base is agriculture, so people have to feed and milk the cows—they can’t just abandon them when there is escalation and war. People also need to stay behind to guard the community.
A lot of the elderly people chose to stay here during last summer's war, because if they went away, they wouldn’t know for how long it would be. They found it harder to be away and preferred to take their chances by staying in Nirim, which is scary, because someone with a walker, for example, can’t get to the safe room in their house quickly enough, and leaving their houses to go outside to see other people was even riskier.
Because of what has happened in the area, people from this region founded the organization, “The Future of the Western Negev”, during the war. I joined them around last October. The movement's main aim is to attempt to keep the issues of what goes on here on the government's agenda and in the public's conscience—to try to convince our political leaders that they need to have a plan for finding a long term political solution for our area. The clock is ticking, and we really have no time to waste.