Life On A Kibbutz, In The Shadow Of Gaza

David Gilkey/NPR
Klok and Simona Sa'ar have lived on Kibbutz Gevim, outside the city of Sderot since 1960. i i

Klok and Simona Sa'ar have lived on Kibbutz Gevim, outside the Israeli city of Sderot, since 1960. They've raised their family on the kibbutz and have no intention of leaving, despite the uncertainty of life just two miles from the border with the Gaza Strip. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Klok and Simona Sa'ar have lived on Kibbutz Gevim, outside the city of Sderot since 1960.

Klok and Simona Sa'ar have lived on Kibbutz Gevim, outside the Israeli city of Sderot, since 1960. They've raised their family on the kibbutz and have no intention of leaving, despite the uncertainty of life just two miles from the border with the Gaza Strip.

David Gilkey/NPR
Klok Sa'ar holds a photo of his son, Yuval, who is serving in the Israeli army i i

Klok Sa'ar holds a photo of his son, Yuval, who is serving in the Israeli army and fighting in Gaza. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Klok Sa'ar holds a photo of his son, Yuval, who is serving in the Israeli army

Klok Sa'ar holds a photo of his son, Yuval, who is serving in the Israeli army and fighting in Gaza.

David Gilkey/NPR

Kibbutz Gevim in Israel's Negev desert is just two miles from the border with the Gaza Strip. Founded 48 years ago, it is a modest agricultural community, home to about 400 Israelis.

The Sa'ar family raised five children there. But for the past eight years, they have been living in fear.

A cease-fire may be in the works, but security is increasing at the kibbutz. The gardens and green spaces have been dug up in preparation.

Until recently, the kibbutz only had a few temporary communal shelters. Now, each modest cement house will have its own "safe room."

Klok Sa'ar, 62, is in charge of Gevim's security.

"I hate to say this, but we have built [the safe rooms] to protect against atomic, chemical and biological threats because we don't know what the future will bring us," he says.

Sa'ar says the shelters are long overdue. He complains that the government did little to help protect people at the kibbutz.

As the rocket attacks from Gaza continued, his wife, Simona, says the residents felt abandoned. For the past eight years, they have yearned for something to be done.

"We felt like Israel had forgotten us," she says.

With Israel's attacks on Hamas, they no longer feel that way.

The couple's 21-year-old son is fighting in Gaza. They have two older sons in the reserves.

This is not what they thought life would be like 48 years ago when they moved to the Negev as young pioneers and started their family.

"When my oldest boy was born, my father told us, 'Thank God, he will not go into the army.' Now we are very realistic. I pray but I don't believe that my grandchildren will not be in the army," Simona Sa'ar says.

The couple believes Israel made serious mistakes after the 1967 war by occupying Gaza and the West Bank. They were longtime members of Peace Now — opposing the settlements and pushing for negotiations for a two-state solution.

Klok Sa'ar hoped that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 would be a step toward peace. He says Hamas blew up those hopes.

"Hamas had the opportunity to negotiate with us, and they didn't take advantage of that," he says.

The years of rocket fire from Gaza have taken a physical and psychological toll. Several buildings have been hit. Simona Klok, who works as a high school guidance counselor, says many people there are traumatized. Many young families have moved out.

There are bombs every day, she says, sometimes only five times a day, sometimes 20, 30 or 40 — "and then we have to run. ... It can be in the middle of the night, in the middle of lunch, of love, in the middle of exams."

She hopes the offensive in Gaza will force Hamas to change.

"I want to believe there is not one Hamas way. I want to believe that some are more progressive or more like Fatah. I don't know," she says.

Unlike his wife, Klok Sa'ar has no faith that Hamas can change. He worries that Hamas will remain powerful.

"I want to see this finished to the end. It doesn't make me happy to say this, but I want Hamas gone from here," he says.

Yet despite his disillusionment over Hamas, Klok Sa'ar still hopes that peace talks with other Palestinians can succeed. He does not believe hardliners like Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running for prime minister, would be good for Israel.

"He would not bring us peace. He is dangerous. He believes in a greater Israel," Klok Sa'ar says of Netanyahu. "I don't see a difference between him and Hamas. Both have maximalist ideas."

Israel's growing isolation in the world pains and confuses the Sa'ars, who believe in peace.

"I feel the world doesn't understand us enough, that right now, this is a war for our existence," Klok Sa'ar says.

To critics who say Israel has used unnecessary force, Simona Sa'ar is unapologetic.

"We have to apologize that we have a strong army? I do not have to apologize that we don't have so many dead," she says.

Even with a possible cease-fire, the Sa'ars' future remains uncertain, and they don't expect their fears — or tension — will go away anytime soon.

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