KIBBUTZ NAHAL OZ – A veteran kibbutz founder slammed on Thursday Jewish settlers and hardline rightists who have called to resist Israel's Gaza pullout and said he himself would have no problem giving up his own home for the sake of peace with the Palestinians.
“If they told me tomorrow, take your wife with you and evacuate Nahal Oz, because we need your home to solve the problem with the Palestinians, I will pick up and go. I have no problem relinquishing what we have built for 52 years to bring peace,” said Abraham “Leibush” Levy, 71.
A flock of birds swooped overhead and chirped loudly as the sun beat down on the dusty Kibbutz Nahal Oz while Levy and his wife Rachel, an accountant, ate lunch indoors. A few dozen feet from the Gaza border, residents of the kibbutz, or "Kibbutzniks," can view Gaza City from their backyard.
A few miles to the north lies Jabalya refugee camp – a terrorist stronghold from which terrorists had months ago fired dozens of mortar bombs and rockets towards the kibbutz and various Israeli towns and army bases across the border in addition to their almost daily attacks on Jewish settlements.
“Just last week a (mortar) bomb fell here and tore through an electricity cable,” Levy said. “We are used to such firings. The anxiety of us veterans, who have been through a lot, has dropped.”
Such violence has decreased since most terrorist groups, including Hamas, agreed by persuasion of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to abide by a de facto truce in March.
‘Just like Hamas and Hizbullah’
Levy blasted staunch right-wingers and settlers who continually protest against Israel’s upcoming pullout from all 21 settlements in Gaza and have called to resist the evacuation, calling their actions “provocations” reminiscent to those of Islamic terrorist groups.
“We both have extremists – we have the staunch right-wingers and they have Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he said. “I think the provocations of our Right are just like those of Hamas and Hizbullah."
“If we let them control our lives, the situation will worsen. But if we know how to locate their moderate leadership and nurture it, there will be quiet, even after the pullout,” he said.
Security sources have said terrorists are likely to renew their attacks after the pullout, but Levy said he believed the opposite would occur. Israel, he said, could help tone down the violence by cooperating with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel says must rein in terrorists if peace talks were to be renewed.
“I believe the Palestinians in Gaza are different from the other Arabs,” he said. “They are on a higher level. If they have economic capabilities and would be able to make an honorable living, they will calm down. I believe in a new Middle East. That is why I continue to live in Nahal Oz.”
Caught in the crossfire
Levy helped found Kibbutz Nahal Oz, one of Israel's oldest communal fams, in 1953, where several Israeli Knesset members have resided in the past.
Egypt was at war with the Jewish state at the time and controlled the Gaza Strip until Israel captured it in the 1967 Six-Day War and the Egyptians pulled out of the territory.
Levy said he remembers how tensions flared along the border in the 1950s, with Nahal Oz caught in the crossfire. Egyptian troops killed three of his friends in 1956, while two more died in 1969 after stepping on a land mine, he said.
“We in the kibbutz are no strangers to wars and battles,” Levy said. “The first years after we came here were very tough, enormously stressful. There were ambushes every night. Every time we would patrol the border the Egyptians would bomb the farm.”