Middle east

Illusive Tranquility: How Protected Do Israelis Feel and Will Security Matter on Election Day?

The feeling of security differs between residents of northern and southern Israel. While the former say they are protected from Hezbollah and other regional rivals, the latter feel vulnerable in the face of the Hamas threat, with their pleas for stability largely falling on deaf ears.

For many Israelis, the upcoming polls on 23 March are all about COVID-19 and the economic crisis that it unlocked.

For many others, it is a matter of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will retain his seat or will finally be replaced by a new leader. 

Illusive Quiet

But for some, the election that will kick off in less than a week is also about security. Tali Dayan, a lawyer who specialises in the representation of victims of acts of hostilities and a resident of Sderot located only one kilometre from the Gaza Strip, says that the current quiet on the border is largely “illusive”.

Israel’s southern communities have been facing the threat of Gazan militants since 2001, when the first mortars and rockets were launched towards them from the Gaza Strip, which is now controlled by Islamic movement Hamas.

Over the years, Israel has registered thousands of such launches and although 2020 has been touted by the IDF as one of the safest years in the past decade, with “only” 176 attacks, Dayan is certain it’s only a matter of time until the situation gets out of hand once again.

“In 2020, Hamas was busy with the coronavirus pandemic but once we go back to a normal life, attacks on the south will resume”.

It is hard to tell when life will return to normal in the Gaza Strip that as of Wednesday registered nearly 3,000 coronavirus patients. Over 500 Gazans have succumbed to the virus so far. But whenever normalcy does return, Dayan is certain that whoever wins the Israeli election will need to give the residents of the south a much-awaited solution.

A general view shows an Israeli village in the foreground and part of the Gaza Strip, as it is seen from the Israeli side of the Israel- Gaza border, 6 February 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

So far, the solutions put forward by Israel’s governments, past and present, have been regarded as a band-aid rather than a permanent and solid fix.

In 2011, Israel started using its Iron Dome missile defence system that intercepts rockets and mortars emanating from the Strip. A year later, Israeli authorities gave a green light to construct nearly 2,000 new bomb shelters in the communities bordering the enclave. 

They have poured millions of dollars into the compensation of families hurt from the ongoing instability or into offering incentives to those who would be willing to take the risk and reside in the area. 

Those efforts, however, were insufficient, over the past several years the Israeli media has registered a number of instances where entire families decides to leave the area known for its turbulence and instability.

Dayan, who previously lived next to the fence separating Israel and the Gaza border, is also one of those who decided to relocate after she realised that she was unable to provide her three children with the security she was hoping for. 

But she says she and her family are still sticking around the area, simply because they “feel connected” and she urges authorities, from the left and the right, to take action to make sure the residents of the south get the stability they are longing for.

“So far, politicians make promises but they haven’t kep their word. A solution is possible but they need to want to achieve it. Right now, it seems that the pleas of the area’s residents remain unanswered. It seems that for them, we are transparent”.

Protected and Secured

The feeling of insecurity is not shared by some residents of northern Israel, an area that has gone through two full-fledged wars with the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah and that has witnessed multiple flare ups throughout the years. 

Inbal Mor, from Kela Alon, a community in the Golan Heights, says that she does have a sense of security despite the proximity to the borders of Lebanon and Syria.

“Right now it is quiet but even when there were escalations, we felt protected. We are surrounded by military bases and that contributes to our feelings of security”.

Israel, and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, takes the threat emanating from the north more seriously than it does from the militants of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to his Likud party MKs (members of Knesset), at the Likud centre in the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020.

Hezbollah, with its 45,000 combatants, up to 150,000 mortars, rockets, and missiles as well as other advanced technologies is one of Israel’s biggest rivals along with its ally Iran, who reportedly funds and supports the organisation politically and militarily.

It is because of this threat coupled with Israel’s bitter memories of the two wars and a long array of disputes that the Jewish state puts great emphasis on the security of the northern border.

Just as is in the south, the Iron Dome system is deployed in the north, and military bases are scattered around, but the number of those bases and the weapons they possess are much more progressive and serious. 

This is the reason why residents of the north do not feel vulnerable, says Mor. But she also believes that the feeling of security is due to the “year of COVID-19” and not necessarily the deeds of the Israeli government.

Given that security is not a major issue for her, Mor will be casting her vote based on other priorities as well as her willingness to give other candidates, not Israel’s longest-serving PM, a chance, hoping that if they do get elected, they will be able to maintain what has been achieved so far – quiet in the north.

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