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).
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.