NAHAL OZ, Israel – Israel Defense Forces stopped stationing troops as a security measure at 22 communities along its northern and southern borders this week.
Army officials say the decision was based on efficiency, as opposed to budget concerns. It took close to 100 soldiers to guard nine communities in the north and 13 on the border with Gaza and Egypt in shifts. The army says they can deploy more efficient security measures – like lookout points and patrols.
But members of communities like Nahal Oz, a communal farm and community (or what’s commonly called a “kibbutz” in Hebrew), which sits just a mile from the Gaza border, are scared and feel like they have been “abandoned” by Israel.
"We’re afraid and worried,” said Daniel Rahamim, a farmer who has been living and working in the settlement community of about 350 people for 38 years.
“Having the soldiers physically here gave us a sense of security,” Rahamim said. “Now 60-year-old men and women need to start guarding the kibbutz. And obviously they can’t do the job of a 20-year-old soldier.”
The army’s former security post in the village now sits empty — with just a collection of empty chairs.
Ahuva Avraham, who runs the community’s grocery store and has lived in the community for 36 years, is nervous.
“I feel me and my family have been abandoned by the state of Israel,” said Avraham. “I’m losing sleep over this. I have family here and we’re all scared of a terror attack.”
The IDF stands by the decision, citing the 430-mile-long West Bank barrier wall and other security improvements.
“The operational concept regarding Gaza has changed in the last six years and the old guards have become irrelevant,” said IDF spokesman Maj. Peter Lerner. “Now the fence is much more substantial, we have substantial forces and visual intelligence that provides warning.”
Some of the local’s fears may stem from the IDF’s discovery in mid-October of what they called a Palestinian “terror tunnel” running from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which the army said was dug by the militant group Hamas.
The tunnels are one of Israel’s worst nightmares – the army is in a race against time to locate and destroy them before they are used. The last time Hamas used a tunnel for a terror attack was in June 2006 when they kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years until he was exchanged for 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Others in the community, like Yanina Barne, believe that the Army leaving its positions is not such a bad move.
“We need to live a normal life,” Barne said. “We need to find new ways to keep our security.”
The move has forced the settlement to look for new solutions – like replacing the soldiers with an automotive robotic vehicle called an “AMSTAF.” The vehicle is remote controlled and can patrol the kibbutz fence 24/7, no sleep and no complaints.
“This is a good solution for first response,” said Amos Goren, who created the system. “On this vehicle we installed night vision cameras, a powerful light projector and a loudspeaker which will replace a lot of manpower and save money.”
The AMSTAF is now on a test trial and is seen by settlement members as only a partial solution.
“We are a strong community and we will manage,” said Rahami. “But I can only hope that right now, as we speak, a terrorist is not digging a tunnel underneath us and will pop up in the middle of the kibbutz and start shooting.”
Looking towards Gaza City from the Nahal Oz, you can hear the rumble of a huge drill at work. It is an Army drill hitting the ground and searching for more tunnels.