News of soldier’s capture near Gaza border hardens Israeli resolve

Apparent seizure of soldier foments anger and fear across community

Israeli soldiers inspect their weapons near the Israeli-Gaza border yesterday. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/The New York Times

Israeli soldiers inspect their weapons near the Israeli-Gaza border yesterday. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/The New York Times

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Inside the military cordon around the Gaza border, rows of withered, unharvested sunflowers lie between fields of tanks, their tracks churning up vast clouds of dust which block visibility on the roads.

Few people are permitted beyond army-manned roadblocks, aside from military personnel and the few residents of small kibbutzim along the border that have not relocated to safer communities further north.

Most road traffic consists of dust-encrusted tanks and transporters, armoured personnel carriers and army Jeeps, many jammed with soldiers snatching brief moments of sleep between engagements.

Nearly all the children in these agricultural villages have been evacuated. Those who remain live in constant vigilance, awaiting the next alert warning of imminent rocket fire or, worse, a cross-border attack by Gaza militants emerging from the ground via tunnels dug deep beneath the surface.

Yesterday, the deepest fear of many was realised with the apparent capture of a soldier, thought to have been dragged back to Gaza through an underground tunnel to be used as a human bargaining chip in the worsening war between Israel and Hamas.

Visceral horror

It is impossible to overstate the visceral horror with which Israeli Jewish families view such an event. Nearly all have a connection with the military: their teenage sons and daughters are required to serve in the army; many adults remain on reserve lists for decades. A war such as this is everyone’s business.

Public opinion, already overwhelmingly in support of the military offensive in Gaza, can now be expected to harden even as anxiety about further losses increases.

“This will increase hatred,” says Adele Raemer, a long-time resident of Kibbutz Nirim, whose son has been called up for the duration of the war.

She longs for an end to this conflict, and in the longer term hopes for a future of peaceful coexistence with her near-neighbours in Gaza, just 2km away. “But I can’t see people now saying, okay, enough. It will increase the numbers saying we have to crush Hamas and retake Gaza.”

In a cafe close to Erez, the main border crossing between Israel and Gaza, off-duty soldiers anxiously watch live television broadcasts and express shock at the capture of a comrade.

“Of course, the war must now go on,” said one, who declined to be named as soldiers are forbidden from speaking to the media.

“He’s one of us, we can’t let this go.” Soldiers, he said, were constantly fearful of capture, remembering the fate of Gilad Shalit.

A defining forerunner to yesterday’s capture of Hadar Goldin, 19-year-old Shalit was seized by militants on the Israeli side of the border in 2005 and hauled through a tunnel to Gaza where he spent five years, mostly incarcerated underground.

Prisoner swap

He was finally freed in a controversial prisoner swap, in which more than 1,000 Palestinian militants were released from Israeli jails.

“Of course people will be angry,” said the soldier, who was waiting to return to the fighting after a two-day respite. “Think about all the mothers who will see their sons in his place.”

Another ventured that capture was possibly worse than death.

“I don’t even want to think about the hell he is now going through. In the end, we will have to pay a big price to get him back. And this will just go on and on.”

Shahar Yehudai-Locker, a 24-year-old server at a nearby restaurant who has completed her army service, said this war was already worse than previous conflicts in Gaza in the past few years.

“We have already paid a big price – on both sides. I don’t think our lives are worth more than their lives; all of us have the same value. I really hope for peace.”

– (Guardian service)