KIBBUTZ NAHAL OZ, SOUTHERN ISRAEL —
A temporary three-day cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza has brought a few days of peace to southern Israel but many residents have yet to return home. They say that in addition to the threat of rockets from above, the latest conflict brought a new fear: from under the ground.
An uneasy quiet has settled over Nahal Oz. Eighty of the community’s residents stayed during the recent conflict. They keep in close touch, but mostly stay indoors.
The community’s 300 cows survived the shells that fell here for one month. They still provide the dairy products the kibbutz is known for.
But the fields outside the perimeter go largely unattended. And most of the 400 residents who evacuated at the start of the conflict have yet to return.
This 60-year-old farming community lies 800 meters from the Gaza Strip. Even in quieter times, it is hit regularly by rockets and mortars from across the border.
Dov Hartuv, the kibbutz archivist, has lived here for more than 50 years. He says the conflict was different this time.
“The tunnels. It was always something that was known but never taken seriously. And now, in this war, suddenly 33 tunnels were destroyed," he said. "And one tunnel was destroyed opposite Nahal Oz.”
Some tunnels, in fact, were used by Gaza militants during the recent hostilities to cross into Israel. Israeli officials say there may be other tunnels still out there. But that, says Hartuv, is not the only difference.
“There’s also a generation change. The mood of the country has changed. It’s acceptable to be in doubt,” he said.
This is because many young families are debating whether to stay. One father brought his children back during the cease-fire, but just for a visit, he says. They were homesick.
Hartuv says the uncertainty places many strains on a family.
“I think it’s a whole gambit of emotions. It’s personal. It’s in the marriage. It’s with the children," he said. "It’s in relation to living on a kibbutz or moving to the city. All these questions arise now, and sometimes all at one time.”
Haruyv’s oldest son moved away two years ago, the last of his four children to leave. Hartuv, however, says he will stay.