Adele Raemer is staying put. The latest attacks on Hamas began three weeks ago. Most of the residents of the Nirim Kibbutz, where she lives, have left, and Israeli hoteliers have offered her a free room. Her home is now in a military zone. But Ms. Raemer is not moving.
She is a slight woman, 59 years old. In peacetime, she works as a hospital clown. As she walked around, her eyes darted around, constantly seeking the next wall, the next doorway. If she heard the kibbutz alarm – a female voice that repeats three times Tseva adom, Red Alert – she would have 10 seconds to get to safety.
The border with Gaza is just 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) away, so the Nirim Kibbutz is vulnerable to attack from rockets and grenades. The Iron Dome is an air defense system that has repelled around 90 percent of Hamas rockets. In the last few days it has become part of Israeli pop culture, with “I love Iron Dome” printed on T-shirts and hastily-produced YouTube clips popping up.
But the rockets have to fly at a certain height to be blocked by the Iron Dome. The Nirim Kibbutz is not within its shield.
“If we don’t win this war, we will all be slaughtered.”
The conflict is growing more brutal. On both sides.
On the way to Ms. Raemer, we saw Bedouin tents on the roadside. The Bedouins have no air raid shelters. It is too expensive to build bunkers in the desert, said an Israeli spokesman. Three civilians were killed in this latest rocket attack; a Bedouin, a Thai fieldworker and an Israeli who was bringing sweets for the soldiers.
Our Arab driver has a quiet, peaceful home. He wants us to see where the last rockets landed. They had blown a hole in his bathroom. The ground outside is riddled with bullet holes.
Ms. Raemer came to Israel from New York, when she was 18. The Kibbutz Nirim was founded in 1975, in what was then a quiet neighborhood. Every Friday Ms. Raemer went to the market and to the beach at Gaza.
When Israel had attacked Hamas before, she was more left wing. But she has changed. “For the first time I think that war is just,” she said. “I can’t live with the fear anymore of terrorists digging tunnels under me.”
Over the last few years, her neighbors have heard noises under their houses. It was the sound of Hamas digging a tunnel. The Israeli military has discovered over 30 tunnels going from Gaza into Israel, reinforced with concrete and well ventilated. One ended just below her kibbutz. The tunnels were the official reason the Israeli military sent ground troops into Gaza.
Ms. Raemer had heard that Hamas planned to wipe out Israel. The plans may just have been a rumor spread by the military, she said, but even so it went like this: at the next Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Hamas terrorists would come through the tunnels while Jews are celebrating to kill first all those living on the kibbutz and then everyone else. “If we don’t win this war, we will all be slaughtered.” This is what she believes. So does virtually everyone in Israel.
Ms. Raemer’s worst hour was not when she heard the Red Alert alarm wailing through her loudspeakers. Nor was it the moment the military alarm in her house warned her of an imminent rocket attack or when the rocket app on her mobile phone beeped. The worst hour came when she got an order via WhatsApp from the army. It read: “Otser.”
It meant: The enemy is in the tunnel. Act now.
Ms. Raemer had to spend two hours in in the dark, alone, hardly daring to breath. Two days after our visit more Hamas fighters climbed up through a tunnel near the Nahal Kibbutz. Five Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack.
“Why are they bombing us? They can get Hamas another way.”
The war against Hamas has escalated continuously since three Israeli youth were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. In the hills above Sderot, Israelis bring canvas chairs and popcorn to watch the assault on Gaza.
To hear from the other side, we speak to Mohammed Musallam, a lecturer in performing arts in Gaza. He tells us on the phone that he had smelled burning human flesh the night before. Outside his window, a car came under attack and crashed. He could see the passengers on fire. “I couldn’t help them,” he said. It was too dangerous to go out onto the street.
Mohammed Mussafa is an artist, but he can no longer draw. Now all he is trying to do is stay alive. The photos he takes to record these days are of the once cared-for houses that now lie abandoned in northern Gaza.
While we are speaking to him, we hear two explosions, glass shattering, people screaming. There are no sirens and no apps to warn him. There are no air raid shelters. Once he got his breath back, Mr. Mussafa asked: “Why are they bombing us? They can get Hamas another way.” Many say the same: the war is being fought not against the Hamas terrorists but against families.
We stop in the coastal town of Ashdod, which lies between Tel Aviv and the Gaza strip. Joanna, a 26 year old make-up artist, can see the Israeli assault on Gaza from her balcony. She said anti-semitism in her native France was so strong, she could see no future for Jews there. She is afraid for her one-year-old son, but wants him to become a soldier.
In Israel there is a second front line. It runs between the left and the right. The war has brought Israeli society closer together than ever. But who should govern?
In Tel Aviv, the left organized an anti-war demonstration that attracted a few hundred people, though optimistic left wing blogs wrote the next day of 5,000 people. The demonstrators chanted: “In Gaza and in Sderot, children want to live,”
Right wingers heckled them. “Go to Gaza then,” and “Death to all Arabs.”
Most Israelis are a million light years away from these right-wing positions. But the war has crushed the Israeli left and the liberal base. The country seeks to protect itself. And those like Adele and Joanna support it all the way.