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Opposite Gaza, Israelis Demand More from Government
A soldier is shown in southern Israel on August 25 battling a brushfire set off by incendiary balloons sent from the Gaza Strip. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Opposite Gaza, Israelis Demand More from Government

With apparently no end to attacks from enclave, residents of South say they are being neglected

Israeli tanks opened fire on Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, responding to persistent Palestinian attacks on Israeli towns and farms near the border, with no solution in sight.

A seemingly endless stream of incendiary balloons and explosive-laden kites, along with the occasional rocket, has been arriving in southern Israel for weeks, triggering strikes by Israeli fighter jets and tanks in the latest round of a years-long conflict.

“The Israeli government has taken virtually no action aside from expressing its sympathy,” according to Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council just north of the Gaza Strip.

“There have been no new budgets; all the benefits that we received as a conflict zone have been stopped,” Yarkoni told The Media Line, referring to a deadlocked government. “Nobody is listening to us. No one is investing in us. They don’t care.”

Nobody is listening to us. No one is investing in us. They don’t care

Hundreds of fires from Palestinian incendiary devices are estimated to have burned more than a thousand acres in southern Israel, much of it agricultural land. In recent days, the Israeli military has retaliated for nearly every balloon or kite bomb, with jets, helicopters and tanks striking Hamas bases, lookout posts and weapons facilities almost nightly.

Since Israel withdrew from its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, there have been periodic rounds of attacks from the Palestinian side, which generally have resulted in Israeli retaliation.

While Yarkoni admits that recently appointed Defense Minister Benny Gantz has adopted a more aggressive approach, he says that Israel has failed to establish a long-term plan.

The government has to “finally decide what it wants Gaza to look like in 5 to 10 years,” he says.

“The [Palestinians] are not going anywhere, and neither are we,” he noted. “Until we [both] understand we must live side by side, nothing will change, and the residents of southern Israel will continue to be cannon fodder.”

According to Yarkoni, the government has not discussed a long-term solution for years.

“They’re great at talking to us, but now is the time for action,” he said.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University, sees no viable long-term resolution to the conflict in the near future.

“From a macro-national security outlook, the recent skirmishes just aren’t substantial enough,” he told The Media Line.

“Sure, they’re very disruptive to everyday life and the mental health of the residents near the border, but on the national level, it’s not something Israel can fix without a costly, bloody campaign that would essentially entail the recapture of Gaza from Hamas,” he stated.

Sure, they’re very disruptive to everyday life and the mental health of the residents near the border, but on the national level, it’s not something Israel can fix without a costly, bloody campaign that would essentially entail the recapture of Gaza from Hamas

“The [Israeli] government must do something to ease the suffering of its citizens in the South, but it will do everything it can to avoid a major confrontation in Gaza because the consequences will be much more harmful than the current battles,” he explained.

However, a new factor has now introduced itself into the mix.

After managing to escape the reach of the global coronavirus pandemic for several months, health authorities in the Gaza Strip last week diagnosed the first four infections outside quarantine centers. By Friday, there were 26 confirmed cases.

Hamas, the ruler of the coastal enclave, imposed a total lockdown, with health officials and rights organizations warning that the infections, together with the existing poverty and crowded conditions, could quickly lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Michael, who watched Palestinian affairs for both the National Security Council and Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, believes that a health crisis in the Gaza Strip could force the Israeli hand.

“Israel finds itself in a bigger bind now,” he explained. “There is real fear of an outbreak that will reach Israel. Hamas can now feel more confident in demanding economic relief and an easing of Israeli restrictions because nobody wants a humanitarian crisis.”

Hamas can now feel more confident in demanding economic relief and an easing of Israeli restrictions because nobody wants a humanitarian crisis

Jerusalem has consistently rejected Hamas’s demand to lift restrictions and has banned all non-essential supplies from entering the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops firing rockets and begins to negotiate the return of two Israeli civilian captives and the remains of two soldiers.

On Sunday, Qatar’s envoy to the enclave, Muhammad Al-Ahmadi, continued his efforts to broker a cease-fire.

Israel “will probably have to relent first and allow urgent medical assistance to enter the [area]. That might lead to further concessions by both sides, and maybe a temporary resolution,” Michael said.

“But the keyword here is ‘temporary,’” he noted. “There will be a next round.”

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