Few Israelis Near Gaza Feel War Achieved Much
NIR OZ, Israel — The wheat and potato fields of this kibbutz, or communal farm, in southern Israel stretch right up to the Gaza border fence. In almost surreal proximity on the other side rise the apartment buildings, water towers and minarets of the Palestinian village of Abasan.
Israel’s deadly offensive against Hamas in Gaza ended on Sunday, with each side having unilaterally declared a cease-fire. Yet there was little sense of triumph here in the days after, more a nagging feeling of something missed or incomplete.
Elad Katzir, a potato farmer, was nervous as he drove through the lush fields, agreeing to stop the car only behind clumps of trees or bushes as cover in case of sniper fire. By one thicket, nestled among wildflowers, was a memorial to a soldier who was shot dead here while on patrol seven years ago.
“I do not feel any victory,” Mr. Katzir said. “I still do not feel safe.”
Israel began its three-week campaign on Dec. 27 after border communities like this one had suffered eight years of rocket, mortar and sniper fire, and after Hamas expanded its arsenal with imported rockets that reached major southern cities like Ashkelon and Ashdod.
The Israeli government’s stated war goals were relatively modest: to reduce Hamas’s ability and will to fire rockets and to change the security equation in southern Israel.
Most Israelis are satisfied that action was taken. But with Gaza’s death toll at more than 1,300, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian health officials, and with 13 Israelis, including three civilians, killed, many here were wondering what had been achieved.
“So they changed the security situation for the next six months, bravo,” said another potato farmer, Eyal Barad. He added, “They should have gone on longer and finished the job.”
After such a tremendous show of force, many Israelis were hoping to see a more definitive picture of victory, like a scene of Hamas leaders coming out of their bunkers and raising a white flag. At the very least, several said, Israel should not have left Gaza without Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal who was captured in a cross-border raid and taken into the Palestinian enclave in 2006 and has been held hostage by Hamas ever since.
Residents of the south, in particular, were sober about how long the peace would last. Some spoke in terms of weeks or months. In Sderot, the Israeli border town that has suffered the most from rocket attacks, a supermarket owner, Yaakov Dahan, said this time he was “optimistic that a cease-fire would hold up even more than a year.”
Israel had long been wary of taking on Hamas in Gaza, knowing that a decisive blow against such a broad and popular movement would be elusive at best.
So the campaign focused instead on crushing the military machine of the Islamist group. Even then, as a senior Israeli military official recently said, it was considered a matter of “cutting the grass.”
Israel says it blew up most of the tunnels beneath Egypt’s border with Gaza that were used for smuggling in weapons, and destroyed a significant portion of Hamas’s rocket manufacturing facilities and stockpiles. Its diplomatic efforts are now focused on obtaining an internationally guaranteed mechanism to stop the weapons smuggling across the Egyptian border and to ensure that Hamas cannot rearm.
Many people’s expectations, however, are low. Israel will now be under pressure to open its own border crossings with Gaza for goods. Martin Kramer, of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, argued in a briefing for reporters during the campaign that with the crossings open, Hamas by itself “will find ways to manufacture rockets that have reach.”
Some Israelis express regret over the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. But a broader sentiment heard in the south was that “Hamas deserved everything it got.”
David Moshe, the field crops manager at Nir Oz, said that Hamas had won on one level, by hardening the feelings of Israelis against the suffering of others. Mr. Moshe said that the military operation was “absolutely necessary,” but that it was too long and too much.
But he acknowledged that even in the relatively left-wing environment of the kibbutz, most people “felt it was not enough.”
In an effort to show average Gazans that the war was not aimed against them, Israel on Sunday opened a regional medical clinic for the people of Gaza in the huge new passenger terminal at the Erez border crossing.
By Monday afternoon only three people had shown up for treatment, according to medical officials there, none of them casualties of the war.
There have been efforts to try to make the place cheerful, with colorful plastic jungle gyms for children. But when a group of children passed through on Monday, all cancer patients on their way to a hospital in East Jerusalem, the parents accompanying them had stony expressions on their faces, and the jungle gyms and a table of Israeli candies and snacks were left untouched.
In nearby Sderot, the atmosphere seemed somewhat deflated compared with the near euphoria some residents displayed during the war.
Rachel Uliel, 75, was leaning on the front gate of her house, which was festooned with Israeli flags. “I feel very good now,” she said, “though I do not know what will come next.”
Then, lowering her voice, perhaps not wanting to seem unpatriotic, she added that the Israeli military “almost did not touch” Hamas.
“I do not understand why the army went out now,” she said. “We should have finished them off.”
With Hamas still in control of Gaza, nobody here saw any real end in sight.
Out in the fields abutting the Gaza border fence, Mr. Katzir, the potato grower, predicted that within two years, the Hamas rockets “will get to Tel Aviv.”