North Africa, West Asia

Day 50 of the war with Hamas

A day in the life of an Israeli citizen living on the border with Gaza.

Efraim Perlmutter
5 September 2014

When I woke up at 5:15 AM, I didn’t know that the war would be over that evening. I began my day with a cup of coffee, a quick check of my emails and then prepared a salad for my wife to take to work. As dawn broke a little after six, I went out to my farm and set the irrigation valves for the first of three sections that would be watered that day, and by 7:30 AM I was back home to see my wife off to work. Today she decided to drive our small car into work, rather than take the bus, because she wanted to attend a Yoga class on the way home.

Aside from our little bright yellow car, I also own a pick-up truck which I mostly use for hauling fertilizer and equipment around the farm. It was overdue for its annual test and I planned to take it in later that morning. The testing facility is in Sderot, about 40 kilometers to the north of my village, and I had promised my wife that I would not take the direct route, which passed by several of the border villages that had come under heavy Hamas mortar and Kassam attacks. Instead I would take the indirect route further inland, which is twenty kilometers longer but out of the direct line of fire. I called the testing facility to confirm that it was operating and set off for Sderot accompanied by a neighbor who wanted to get out for the day.

I really hate taking my vehicles in for their yearly test. The facility, though not large, is quite noisy and I am never sure what the tester is telling me to do. This time my neighbor stood next to my truck and relayed the tester’s instructions; turn on headlamps, high beams, left turn signal, apply brakes, and numerous other commands which I had to follow in order to determine whether my truck was road worthy. The result was that my vehicle needed a small adjustment to the front wheels in order to pass the test. So off we went to find a repair shop that re-aligns wheels.

Normally I have my truck and car serviced at Kibbutz Alumim. This is a border village, subject to a good deal of rocket and mortar fire along the route, which I had promised my wife I wouldn’t take. However, not finding a suitable repair shop in Sderot, out of desperation I drove down to Alumim, ten minutes away, not knowing whether to be more frightened of the Hamas mortar bombs or the consequences of my wife finding out. We arrived safely and the alignment was quickly completed. With the suitable paperwork in hand we started back to Sderot.

During this war, when driving, it is always a good idea to keep the car radio on because when colour red alerts are broadcast, the drill is to stop the vehicle, get out and lay down as flat as you can. It may seem less than dignified but quite a few lives have been saved doing this. About a minute after passing Kibbutz Saad the color red alert was sounded for that village along with Nahal Oz and Alumim. Since we were already about a kilometer away we kept driving. Suddenly we heard three strange knocks on the roof of the truck. As my neighbor and I exchanged questions about the noise, I looked up into the sky and saw the three puffs of smoke from Iron Dome missiles that had exploded about 600 meters almost directly above us. The knocks were caused by the shock waves from the exploding missiles. 

We made it back to Sderot, without further incident, handed in the paperwork and certified the truck. Once home, I had lunch and completed a few more tasks on the farm then prepared for an afternoon/evening patrol with the volunteer Border Police unit in which I serve. While driving to the police station I heard reports that there was talk of a ceasefire being implemented. There was no official confirmation from Israeli government sources but Abu Mazen was going to make a big announcement. Later I called my wife who was on her way home and suggested that she skip yoga and come home via the back route to our village. She was already too far along and decided to head to her Yoga class. The next day she told me that she was very nervous about the rockets but was determined to attend the Yoga class, which she did, along with the instructor and two other Yoga enthusiasts.

At 5:00 PM I arrived at the police station and joined the two other volunteers with whom I would patrol. We received our equipment, a vehicle and were briefed on the situation. Our job was to patrol the area, which is about four to ten kilometers from the border with Gaza. We were to keep an eye out for anyone who might be engaged in agricultural theft (our usual job) and to assist where needed in the event of a Hamas rocket or mortar bomb falling on any of the villages in our patrol area. We were on patrol by about 5:30 PM, just in time for a major barrage of rockets and mortars from across the border. Very soon after we received an order to put on our ceramic bullet proof vests, something that I had done only once before in my 15 years as a volunteer. It is not very comfortable to wear but given the increasing number of rockets and mortars being fired at our area, we all saw the wisdom of enduring the discomfort.

We continued on our patrol and even though some rockets did fall into villages in our patrol area we were not called in to assist. The most serious incident was when a mortar bomb exploded near a group carrying out repair work on an electric line and one person was killed and six more were wounded. At 7:00 PM the IDF ceased firing. At 7:13 PM the last Hamas rockets were fired at Israel. They fell at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom (The Vineyard of Peace) and then all shooting ceased.

We carried on with our patrol for a few more hours. During that time we talked about the war. Part of the conversation was about the one confirmed death from Kibbutz Nirim. We all knew him and so the feeling of personal loss was quite heavy. At 11:00 PM the patrol ended and as I started driving home there were news reports that another casualty from Kibbutz Nirim had died in surgery that evening. This was the last Israeli civilian killed in this outbreak of fighting.

On the drive home the radio reported that the Gazans were celebrating the great military victory they had just achieved over the Israelis. The radio also reported that at least two more Gazans were killed during the celebrations by shots fired in the air by celebrants. For some reason my thoughts turned to the dead Israeli civilian. Hamas had fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, towns and villages and the results were one civilian killed while giving out gifts to the troops, one Thai worker killed while working in a hot house, one Bedouin killed in his home, one four year old child killed at a border kibbutz and two men killed repairing an electric line in the last hour of hostilities. It occurred to me that Hamas had killed more Palestinian civilians than Israeli civilians during this conflict. About 20 Gazans had been shot down during a demonstration against the war; two dozen more had been executed for treason and those are the ones we know about. I suppose that there are important lessons that will be drawn and extensively analyzed, but the only thought that I had at that moment was a profound sense of waste.

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