NIR AM, Israel — Micha Ben-Hillel is a former high school teacher who has lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood in southern Israel for 50 years, about a mile from the Gaza border. But lately, he and his wife Pnina spend most of their time indoors.
The Nir Am Kibbutza communal living development is normally home to about 400 people. With summer vacation in full swing, the pool should be full of kids. But all of the children are gone. At the playground, you only see Israeli Defense Forces soldiers taking a break between shifts on the front lines.
Living here now is stressful. Rockets are lobbed over from Gaza almost every day. Everyone here knows the IDF will try to stop rockets that are headed for heavily populated areas. But a deserted kibbutz is another story. At least two rockets have landed here in the past week. One wiped out a pond and small pens that used to hold farm animals.
Fighting has been going on for more than two weeks, as Israel has launched daily airstrikes against Hamas militants in Gaza and has sent in soldiers to eradicate tunnels into Israel used by Hamas. A 12-hour cease-fire that began Saturday was later pushed back, although Hamas said it was rejecting the extension.
Early last Monday, a group of five Hamas militants made it through a tunnel into Israel, about a mile from here. They headed toward Nir Am Kibbutz where they encountered IDF forces and started shooting.
“We heard a lot of gunfire. We heard bombs. We woke up and we were asked to stay at our homes and lock the door,” Ben-Hillel told NBC News.
Ben-Hillel said he knew that if the Hamas fighters had made it into his neighborhood they would have killed anyone they saw.
“If Israel didn't deal right now with destroying the tunnels, and destroying the threat, we would wake up to a reality where these tunnels would help terrorists to go under the border and reach the kibbutz,” he said.
Ben-Hillel said he is alright with this first stage and that he does not think Israel will gain anything from letting the war continue much longer.
“That is how I feel. Enough is enough,” Ben-Hillel said.