Battle rages along Syrian border
Fighting in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain is sending residents fleeing across the border to Turkey for shelter and medical care.PT0M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-29b2l 620 349 November 14, 2012
The alert sounds and a voice booms out across the neighbourhood, intoning urgently in Hebrew: "Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom."
The phrase means Colour Red, and it is part of an early warning system established in communities in southern Israel to signal an imminent rocket attack from Gaza.
I do not agree that the only solution is that they bomb us and we bomb them.
When the alarm sounds, "you have 15 seconds to grab the children, get into the hallway, shut all the doors, cover the kids and wait for the boom — we do not ever know where it falls", says Micky Keidar, who lives on Kibbutz Re'im with his wife, Reut Nehushtan, and their two children.
Vicious cycle ... Israelis run for a bomb shelter. Photo: AFP
It is a stomach-churning, terrifying routine familiar to most families living in the towns and kibbutzim along the Gaza border, and many say they are tiring of the constant threat.
"I do not agree that the only solution is that they bomb us and we bomb them," Mr Keidar says. "The government [of Israel] must stop the bombing but they must do it in a peaceful way ... and Hamas must stop throwing bombs and missiles at us."
Ms Nehushtan agrees: "It is crazy for us and crazy for them," she says. "There is no effort on the part of either government to talk – it does not affect their leaders, it does not affect our leaders but it affects the people on both sides."
Micky Keidar, originally from Bondi, and his wife Reut Nehushtan live in Kibbutz Re'im with their two children. Photo: Ruth Pollard
As Mr Keidar walks along the small paths lined with bright pink bougainvillea that connect Kibbutz Re'im's houses to the kindergarten and dining hall, military helicopters and jets fly overhead, interrupting what he describes as – mostly – a very peaceful existence.
We arrive at a house that just two weeks ago sustained a direct hit from a missile fired from Gaza, which is just 4.7 kilometres away. A gaping hole in the external wall reveals a bedroom destroyed — its owner had just got out of bed and run to the hallway at the sound of the alarm, barely escaping serious injury or death, Mr Keidar says.
They are not the only ones questioning the effectiveness of the military's actions against militants in Gaza, whose response — a barrage of rocket fire — disrupts the lives of tens of thousands of Israeli civilians.
A house on Kibbutz Re'im in southern Israel damaged by rocket fire from Gaza. Photo: Ruth Pollard
Five years ago a group of Israelis from villages and townships along the Gaza border formed Other Voice, and they have called on the government to "immediately enter into diplomatic and political contacts with the Hamas government.
"We are sick and tired of being sitting ducks who serve political interests," the group's latest statement to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich reads.
"Rockets from there and bombardments from here do not protect us. We have played around with those games of the use of force and war for long enough.
"And both sides have paid, and are continuing to pay, a high price of loss and suffering," they said.
"The time has to come to endeavour to reach long-term understandings which will enable civilians on both sides of the border to live a normal life."
Julia Chaitin, a resident of Kibbutz Urim and spokeswoman for Other Voice, described the constant bombardment as "a crazy situation".
"There is no military solution to this issue — there must be another way."
Dr Chaitin has maintained constant contact with friends in Gaza and says the situation for them is also untenable.
"I talked with one friend today and he told me the [Israeli] air force was just striking, it seemed to him, indiscriminately all over Gaza — it is an impossible situation."
The overwhelming strength of Israel's defence forces over Gaza's militant groups, even with their newly acquired weapons, exacts a heavy toll, not just on militants but on a civilian population already struggling with an unemployment rate of 45 per cent, severely restricted electricity services and dangerously contaminated water supplies.
Gaza remains subject to severe restrictions on imports, exports and the movement of people, by land, air and sea as a result of Israel's blockade and a significant number of the coastal strip's 1.6 million residents live below the poverty line, the United Nations says.
Security experts have also raised questions about whether the current approach — in which Israel launches air strikes against Gaza militants to prevent what it describes as potential terror attacks — is working.
"It is true that Hamas fires at Israel in response to our actions," Giora Eiland, former director of the National Security Council told the newspaper Maariv recently.
"We need to check whether this policy is good or whether it should be changed ... This is discussed in the security establishment. It's a question that has been asked again and again for many years: what is the policy, when do you initiate military action and what is your threshold."
Eshkol Regional Council chairman Haim Yellin described an equation that is "accepted by everyone", in which Israel targets those who it says are planning terrorist attacks and, in response, militants fire Kassam and Grad rockets into Israel.
"It is clear to me that this is the situation and we have to learn to live with it, so long as there isn't a peace agreement or a large-scale military operation like Operation Cast Lead," he told Maariv.
Alex Fishman, a commentator for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, described Israel's Gaza policy as an "admission of failure".
"Israel now finds itself in a pathetic, if not flat-out stupid situation, in relation to the Gaza Strip. Almost every two weeks, in a recurring cycle, it deals with an additional round of violence.
"This scenario of terror attack-reaction-rocket fire ad infinitum is essentially the Israeli government's admission of the failure of its security policy when dealing with the Gaza Strip."