Jerusalem — Ordinarily filled with noisy children, last Friday the Nisu’i elementary school in Jerusalem became a makeshift call-up center for reservists who, just hours earlier, had been told they were being sent to the front.
Still in civvies or in wrinkled uniforms they’d pulled out of storage, the men, religious and not, in their 20s and 30s, sat on the ground and watched as a group of teens played soccer in the schoolyard.
Aware they’d be stationed near the Israel-Gaza border within two or three hours — it takes about an hour and a half to drive from Jerusalem — the reservists took the time to reassure their wives and mothers.
Some, like 22-year-old Netael Kakon, a hesder yeshiva student, said they felt physically and mentally prepared to wage battle with Hamas.
“I was born and raised in Kiryat Shmona,” the northern Israeli town pummeled for years by rockets from south Lebanon, Kakon said. “Soldiers risked their lives to make our lives better, and now it’s my turn to do the same for others.”
Others were clearly having a more difficult time.
“It’s a little hard being called up,” admitted a 27-year-old musician/infantryman in loose-fitting clothes who declined to give his name.
“I’m a little torn. I’m serving not so much because I want to but because the law requires me to, and because of my friends in my army unit who shouldn’t have to fight alone.”
This past week Israelis all over the country shared the same grudging realization that if they didn’t stand up for their compatriots in the south (and ultimately the center, as Gush Dan and Tel Aviv learned the hard way), no one would.
A week after Israel first began its air strikes against Gaza rocket launchers and, later, institutions linked to Hamas and other terror groups, the Israeli public signaled its willingness to continue the battle.
Six days into the IDF’s aerial attack on Gaza, 84 percent of Jews and Arabs polled by Haaretz-Dialoge said they support Operation Pillar of Defense. Only 12 percent expressed opposition.
Yet just 30 percent of respondents said they would support a ground operation.
In the same poll, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both saw a 20-percent boost in their approval ratings.
Col. Shaul Shay, former deputy head of the Israel National Security Council, said the public “knows that the Israeli civilian population in the south has been suffering from ongoing attacks since the first year of the [second] intifada, and especially since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
One of these southerners is Adva Klein, a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Azza, located just a couple of miles from the Gaza border.
On Monday, a mere 24 hours before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in Jerusalem to broker a cease-fire, the kibbutz was pummeled once again by rocket fire.
“One was a Katyusha that fell 30 feet from my home,” said, Klein who lives in a small one-bedroom apartment — her bedroom being the bomb shelter. “It broke all my windows. It came without any warning and had I been home at the time, I don’t think I’d be talking to you.”
Klein said the area around her kibbutz had been declared a closed military zone, with entry limited to residents. Most of the kibbutz’s 800 residents, including all its children, have left the rocket zone.
Just moments before the prime minister was set to issue a statement about the cease-fire, Klein said kibbutz members were still hearing booms.
“If there is a cease-fire I really, really hope it’s the right thing, and that it will bring quiet. We don’t want to live in fear anymore,” Klein said wearily.
In Jerusalem, where on Tuesday a second rocket landed a few miles away, in the West Bank, residents agreed that a cease-fire would be worthless unless Gaza terror groups are disarmed once and for all.
Rachel Schwartz, who ran from the mini-bus she was riding in as the sirens wailed, said she could not imagine enduring missile attacks every day, as Israelis in the south do.
“There’s no question that people” in the hard-hit southern cities of “Sderot and Beersheva shouldn’t have to live under the constant threat of death,” Schwartz said a couple of hours after the rocket attack.
“It upsets me that the rest of the world isn’t paying attention to the killing going on in Syria, yet they see Israel as an aggressor. It’s a totally distorted view,” Schwartz said.
With diplomats at the doorstep, David Horvitz, editor of the Times of Israel, wrote that “when Israel’s short-sighted critics insistently refuse to look beyond the numerical asymmetry, the very effectiveness of Iron Dome” — Israel’s very successful anti-missile system — “becomes the latest weapon with which to attack Israel for its purported aggression.”
Rather than look at numbers, Horvitz said, Clinton and others should make it “more difficult for Hamas terror chiefs to operate freely in Gaza, devising and perfecting still more nefarious means to try to kill us for the crime of insisting on living, alongside them, in our historic sovereign homeland.”