Living on the Edge – Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah

Sunday, Feb. 28

Written by Rabbi Joel Nickerson

After our tour of Sderot, we headed Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah, right on the northern border of Gaza.  We met with Raz Shmilovich, a member of the Moshav (and he also happened to be my tour guide partner when I led a Birthright trip some years ago with Penn Hillel).  We sat in his backyard for a bit as he explained the many challenges and fears of living on the border.  He admitted to his own PTSD and discussed the fact that his children (three young ones around the same age as my own children) had therapists and received resources provided by the moshav and the government.  He recently renovated his parent’s home (the home in which he spent most of his childhood) and which is now his own home (his parents moved into a house next door).  Like all houses in this area, it has a safe room and he has no windows facing southward.  All his windows face east or north, away from Gaza. He also installed an alarm system around his home, the first to do so in the moshav (but he may be a trend-setter, he said).

Ray shows us an aerial view of the moshav and explains daily life living on the border with Gaza.

Despite all the challenges they are facing, 70 new families are moving to the moshav in the next year and will raise its population to 270 families.  When asked why he thinks people are moving here, given its location, he said that he thinks people are searching for places where they can find community – where they can connect with people in a way they can’t find in larger towns or cities.  It’s also more reasonably priced and he also thinks that these families represent a new form of Zionism – one in which people show their pride for the country by making a clear statement to other Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world, that they won’t be intimidated and they won’t leave.  “They need to realize that I’m here to stay, that’s all,” he said.

The moshav used to worry about rocket attacks.  While everyone within 6 miles of the Gaza border is told that they have 15 seconds to reach shelter once a siren is sounded, for this moshav, it’s more like 3-7 seconds.  Ray jokingly said, “In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, they have 1 minute and 45 seconds to get to a shelter.  In that amount of time, I could take a shower and still get to shelter without a problem.”  But the reality is, in 3-7 seconds, you can’t really get anywhere.  But the new threat is the threat of Gazans entering the moshav through underground tunnels and taking Israelis hostage.  The night we were visiting, the army was doing a yearly drill on the moshav with all the families and Raz was pretty sure it was going to be a hostage-based drill.  He is one of a few elite civilians in the moshav who were specially trained by the army as first responders in the case of an infiltration.  He has a complete military set-up in his home, including a machine gun, bulletproof vest, and other gear.  He also has keys to a specialized vehicle in the moshav that is bulletproof, has night vision, and radio communication with the military.  The moshav is surrounded by a fence with electronic sensors on it so that anything that touches it will alert central command.

A pretty design on the shelter next to the bus stop in the middle of the moshav – a place where students wait for their bus to go to school each day.
Hamas has been amassing a border presence by building bunkers and outposts right across the border.  Ray pointed out that the bunker on the hill wasn’t there two weeks ago.  Just on the other side of the wall that runs along the border, Hamas has set up a training camp with close to 600 terrorists.  In addition, tunnels have been built, and are maintained, that run under the ground.  They are 100 feet underground and over a mile long, stretching deep into Gaza and the Israelis have no idea how far they go into Israel or where they actually are located.  This is why there is a constant fear that terrorists could pop up from the ground anywhere and at any time and attack.
The fence (with sensors) that surrounds the moshav, with the border wall in the background.
On both sides of this picture, you can see Hamas outposts – one on the hill to the right and a cylinder-shaped building towards the left of the picture.
A remote-controlled heavy machine gun mounted on the border with Gaza – it serves as the ‘eyes and ears’ so that Israel can know what’s happening on the other side.
A beautiful mosaic created by a local artist to bring a sense of peace and hope to the border.
Because of the current situation, no gatherings of more than 50 people are allowed and the outdoor playground is off limits and fenced-off.  The moshav had to tear down half of its playground to build a bigger shelter to house more people for gatherings.  And because of the 3-7 second response time, shelters and safe rooms are found in every direction.  When we stood in the center of the moshav, Raz pointed out six shelters within 50 feet of us in all directions.
The following picture shows three important elements of life on this moshav.  The building on the right (with the curved wall) is a new Orthodox synagogue that has been built here, even though this is a secular community.  The low building next to the playground is the new, large shelter that was built on the site of the old playground.  It is a shelter large enough to house many people.  And finally, the playground is fenced off, reiterating the point that outdoor play is off limits and too dangerous at this time.
These people live a life that I can’t imagine.  I admire their strength, their resilience, and their motivation, but at the same time, it’s such a sad reality that the 200+ children who grow up here have to live like this.

One thought on “Living on the Edge – Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah

  1. Joel, you write so emphatically…and I should hope to gather strength, but the situation makes me cry; no people should have to live in such fear and on constant edge. My heart goes to the children who will carry this forever, and to their parents who shelter them. … and my tears to Israel. Be safe, be cautious….prayers for the people….my loving wonderful family,too, who live on moshav and a kibbutz in the north, western galilee…and to all.


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