On Monday, Israel and Hamas began another three-day cease-fire while negotiators in Cairo try to hammer out a more permanent truce. That's after the last three-day cease-fire last week ended in yet another round of rockets from Gaza and airstrikes from Israel.
Throughout the stop-and-start fighting, Kibbutz Nahal Oz has been nearly empty. Many residents of the community near the Gaza border fled the rocket and mortar fire for other parts of the country. And though fighting was on hold on Monday, only a few people came back.
“We just got back after five weeks," says kibbutz resident Maayan Katzav in her front yard. "We’ve been all over Israel with our three children." During the war, she and her husband and the kids crashed with relatives in different parts of the country, hopping around to avoid overstaying their welcomes.
“We feel like they also needed a ceasefire from us, from our three children,” she jokes. “They were wonderful, they took very good care of us. But what was very difficult for us [was] not knowing when we can come back and if we can come back — if it’s safe enough.”
The kibbutz doesn't think so: It told residents who left not to come back home just yet. The kibbutz is wary about the latest cease-fire actually holding. Katzav only came back herself to mow the lawn and then drive to her father’s house further north.
She’s been afraid of Gaza militants sneaking into Israel and carrying out an attack, which happened in the area a number of times over the past month.
“We used to sleep with a very big kitchen knife — all of us in one room, in the safe room over there,” Katzav says. “I know it’s stupid. I can’t defend myself and my children using a knife. But you don’t want to feel like you can’t protect yourself if something happens.”
But will she ever feel safe again living next to Gaza? Why return to the kibbutz at all?
“This is home for me," Katzav says. "And I feel if there is a good arrangement with the Palestinians, I hope it will start now, because there is so much hate. “I think it will take 10 years from today to feel trust again, and look at each other like human beings. It’s going to take time, and we should start now.”
It hasn't quite started yet, though. On the edge of the kibbutz, just a few hundred yards away from the Gaza border, a tank drives by. “It’s a show of strength I imagine. It’s just to be ready, not to be caught unprepared,” said Dov Hartuv, a 77-year-old resident.
Born in South Africa, Hartuv was 21 when he moved to Israel, adopted a Hebrew name and joined the kibbutz when it was still a socialist collective farm. Today, Nahal Oz is privatized, but Hartuv still believes in communal life for the greater good. That sprit keeps him hopeful about peace.
“It’s not a question of bravery or foolhardiness. I look at it as being realistic. There is no other solution,” Hartuv said. “Brute force is not going to achieve anything. In order to get peace, the only solution is that both sides sit down ... and hammer out a solution that will be viable and acceptable to both sides.”
From the edge of the kibbutz, the windows of the buildings just across the border in Gaza are clearly visible. So is the army post just a few hundred yards outside the kibbutz where militants emerged from a tunnel and killed five soldiers two weeks ago.
For many it would be way too close for comfort. For Hartuv, it’s a perch that gives him perspective, and hope. He and his wife stayed put on the kibbutz throughout the entire war.
Then firing erupts nearby, and Katzav’s husband comes down the sidewalk with news there's a possible intrusion taking place. A guard says a few Palestinians had approached the Israeli border, but turned around, and Israeli forces fired in the air — an event that could have broken the cease-fire had it escalated.
“Close by,” Katzav says. “So we leave now.” Her husband throws toys into a plastic bin as she swoops up the kids. Minutes later, they drive away.