Israelis Say 'It's About Time' for Gaza Incursion

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Kerem Shalom, Israel ( - It is a pity that an Israeli soldier had to be kidnapped in order for the Israeli army to carry out a military operation in the Gaza Strip, Israeli residents living in communities bordering the Strip said on Thursday.

Israel turned up the heat on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority on Thursday arresting dozens of Hamas officials, including government ministers and lawmakers and preparing to broaden its military operation into the northern Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces entered the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday in an attempt to pressure Palestinian terror groups to release Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, kidnapped on Sunday in an assault on an Israeli army outpost along the Israeli-Gaza border.

(The military incursion has widespread support across the Israeli political spectrum. The U.S. has backed Israel's right to defend itself and condemned the kidnapping.)

The outpost was 300 meters from the small agricultural community of Kerem Shalom situated near the Israeli-Egyptian border at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

Merav Fertzig, 35, is a three-year resident of Kerem Shalom, where they grow peanuts, carrots, potatoes, garlic and flowers. She said that with all the rocket fire on Sderot and Israeli communities north of the Gaza Strip it is about time that Israeli forces returned to Gaza.

"I'm always in favor of diplomatic negotiations and not using our forces," said Fertzig, a mother of two.

"On the other hand, with everything that has happened in Sderot - not exactly with us - there is a [need] for the army to enter there. They should have already done it a long time ago," she said.

Before last year's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the 55 residents (including 25 children) of Kerem Shalom looked out of their community on the Palestinian city of Rafiah. Now they look at a concrete wall put up for security reasons. A second fence has been added to protect the perimeter of the community, said Fertzig.

Nevertheless, Fertzig said, she is not afraid. "We knew what we were coming to when we came," said Fertzig, who came to Kerem Shalom because she was a farmer and wanted to live in a small community she could help build. "As long as I see that it doesn't have a bad effect on [my children] I'm not worried."

Two new families are moving into the community, said Avraham Hochman, who helped to found the agricultural community five years ago. If someone is afraid, he doesn't come to live in Kerem Shalom. They know it won't be the quietest place in the world, said Hochman. "Day to day, it's quiet enough," he said.

Tanks ready and waiting

At Givat Nizmit, at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, tanks and armored vehicles were lined up on Thursday ready and waiting for orders to enter the northern Gaza Strip. Their mission is to stop the Kassam rocket fire that has been raining down on Israeli communities.

The Israeli Air Force dropped fliers inside the northern Gaza Strip overnight warning Palestinian residents in the area to leave their homes to avoid being injured by the impending Israeli military incursion. Palestinian militants have been preparing for days, laying mines and piling up dirt to prevent an Israeli incursion.

Despite the heavy troop presence, it was hard to imagine that war could be on the horizon. In the distance, the buildings of Beit Lahiya in Gaza gleamed in the hot, sunny day. The relative quiet was punctuated occasionally by the distant sound of Israeli artillery fire.

Sderot and other Israeli communities surrounding the northern Gaza Strip stand to gain the most from this military action. Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip have launched more than 100 Kassam rockets at them this month alone.

"We feel a little more secure," said Yossi Cohen, spokesman for Sderot. For the last six weeks there hasn't been any military activity and now it has returned only after the kidnap of a soldier, Cohen said by telephone. "It's not nice for us."

Despite the impending Israeli incursion into the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired a Kassam rocket that landed in Sderot on Thursday, causing no injuries but sending two people into shock.

That was just one rocket, said Cohen. "We're used to 10 a day."

Television journalists preparing for live coverage of the next phase of the Israeli military operation dubbed "Summer Rains" also gathered on Thursday at Givat Nizmit.

One Arab journalist for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel, who was broadcasting live from the scene, said that news of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and subsequent Israeli incursion continues to top the news on his network's broadcasts. "They [the Arab world] are watching it minute by minute," he said.

According to the journalist, the average man on the Arab street probably thinks it was a good idea for Hamas to kidnap the soldier and thinks of it as an "arrest" - retribution for Israeli air strikes on militants that went awry and killed a number of Palestinian civilians earlier this month.

But most people think enough is enough, he said. They think Hamas and the other groups have proved their point and should probably now return the soldier to prevent a further Israeli incursion, said the journalist.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.