By D. Bender
In a dramatic policy shift, Israel’s Home Front Command will recommend that residents in dozens of communities near the border with Gaza be evacuated in the event of any new sustained clash between the IDF and terrorist rocket and mortar fire, Israel Defense said Monday.
Towns and kibbutzim within seven kilometers of the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave suffered the bulk of over 4,000 rockets and mortars fired by terrorists during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge.
The much heralded Iron Dome anti-missile system, while capable of knocking mid-range (roughly 7 to 80 kilometers) rockets like Qassams and longer-range Grads out of the sky, is far less able to lock on to and hit smaller, short-range mortar shells.
The issue of mortars made the lives of border-area residents almost impossible, due to the fact that there was often no more than five seconds’ warning before the munition hit, limiting the ability of even fast-moving residents to take shelter in protected spaces.
During the fighting, several civilians and soldiers were killed by the incessant mortar fire into Israeli areas adjacent to the border, among them the tragic death of 4-year-old Daniel Tregerman, who was killed by mortar shell shrapnel near his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Aug. 22.
In the wake of the attack, and similar mortar salvos, many residents opted to temporarily move out of immediate rocket range, staying with relatives and friends, and in other host communities for the duration of the 51-day conflict.
“Only 80 out of 360 residents of the kibbutz remained after the lethal attack,” according to Nahal Oz spokeswoman Yanina Barnea. “There was a brief respite, but the fighting has resumed, and we can’t let this continue,” Barnea said.
At a Defense Ministry meeting during the operation, discussions arose to implement a program dubbed “Hotel Guest,” which the National Emergency Authority (NEA), developed in the wake of the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
In that month-long conflict, about a million Israelis were either in shelters or evacuated to areas beyond the range of some 4,000 Katyusha rockets fired at Haifa and the coast, the whole of the Galilee, and the Tiberias area.
The basic idea of a ‘haven’ is the evacuation of vulnerable populations, especially children and the elderly, and in some cases entire families, from areas that are under serious threat from rockets and mortars.
Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak paid for recreation centers and camps for rocket-battered northern residents, until the ministry organized its own facility – on the last day of the war.
At the beginning of the Gaza fighting, it was decided not to run the guest hotel program. However, an urgent evacuation of residents near the Gaza Strip to guest houses eventually took place on August 23, during the last two days of the operation, and only after Tregerman’s death.
Photos of the hasty departures and distrust by Gaza-border residents of both the IDF and security establishment’s ability to end the rocket fire was seized upon by Hamas as a major psychological coup.
On Friday, two girls out for a walk at Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, near Gaza, used a “selfie stick” to film themselves as they strolled along. Suddenly, a Red Alert incoming rocket siren began to wail. As they fled for shelter, they left the camera’s video running, filming their terrified race for shelter and safety. Watch the video HERE.