- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2008

KIBBUTZ KFAR AZZA, Israel | The brand-new soccer field and swimming pool in this farm collective abutting the Gaza Strip stand empty. Ever since a kibbutz member was killed by a mortar shell in May while gardening, the children here are not allowed to play outside.

Now, as an Israel-Hamas cease-fire takes hold along the border, residents hope it will reassure about 15 families who moved off the kibbutz in the past two months that their children can play outside safely.

The cease-fire held for the fourth day Sunday, and Israel responded by boosting supplies of food and medicines it allowed into the Gaza Strip by about 50 percent.

Israeli officials said they were considering further relaxations of the monthslong embargo of the war-weary enclave.

But in a nearby kibbutz, fear that the cessation of hostilities would soon end remain part of daily life.



See related story: ‘Calm’ holds, but angst rampant

“We want the smallest things: just to go outside,” said Ziva Cohen, a 70-year-old kibbutz member who discussed the cease-fire with neighbors at the community dining hall last week. “This is our quality of life.”

The optimists at Kfar Azza hope the cease-fire will stretch several months, while others say the truce is so fragile that even bullets fired in the West Bank can undermine the Gazan calm.

Kibbutz members who sit at the lunch table with Mrs. Cohen display text-message inboxes jammed with security alerts from the kibbutz secretariat. Others wear T-shirts with an ancient rabbinic quote meant as a barb at the Israeli government: “If I am not for myself who will be for me?”

Since the death of Jimmy Kedoshim in early May, the kibbutz has come under frequent mortar fire. Though the explosives have a much shorter range than the crude Kassam rockets fired into southern Israel, the mortars are deadlier and more precise, and come without warning.

Through eight years of daily violence, two Arabic terms for a cessation in violence have become part of the Israeli lexicon: tahdiyeh, an informal calm and the word used to describe the current agreement, and hudna, a truce or armistice.

“Hudna, shmudna,” said Eli Orgad, a 58-year-old kibbutz member. “Hamas won’t be able to control the other militant organizations.”

Mr. Orgad argues that the timing of the cease-fire reflects the desire of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to boost their image in case of an early election.

“With all due respect to Jimmy, we shouldn’t be so naive to think that it’s only our interests at stake here. Barak and Olmert have primary elections to think about.”

Less than a mile from the border, Kfar Azza residents can clearly see the outskirts of Gaza City on certain kibbutz high points. Ironically, until the death of Mr. Kedoshim, Palestinian militants targeted the kibbutz much less frequently than the shellshocked town of Sderot nearby.

“There was a feeling of security. Then that feeling changed,” said Amos Zifroni, a 78-year-old founding member.

During the deadly May 6 attack, Mr. Zifroni herded his small grandchildren who were visiting the kibbutz into a safe room. They haven’t returned since.

“I hope it will be different with the cease-fire and there will be quiet for some time,” he said. But he is under no illusion that this break will lead to a permanent peace. “I don’t think it’s a good solution. I assume it will collapse when Hamas feels they’re strong enough. Every shot can reignite the violence.”

For Israel, the cease-fire has raised hopes about momentum on negotiations for a prisoner swap, including Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was abducted into the Gaza Strip in 2006. On the Palestinian side, the cease-fire has stirred expectations for a reopening of border crossings, which have been sealed except for humanitarian supplies since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.

For weeks, Karen Tsfira, her husband and three children have been sleeping at a boarding school on another kibbutz out of the range of the mortar fire. But after the cease-fire held for the first day, Mrs. Tsfira said she hoped to move back Sunday or Monday.

“We don’t want to be rich, we don’t be famous. It’s not asking much. I believe [Gazan] children need the quiet, too. Their children didn’t ask for it; they were born into it. It’s the adults that spoiled it.”

The native of northern England said she has lost sleep because of the sense of insecurity on the kibbutz, and even more so because of the displacement.

“If it’s quiet, we’ll go home. It seems to have held, but you never know. It can start over again, within a short time,” she said. “We’re a bit scared, because there’s no trust. But we need to go home.”

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