NETIV HAASARA, Israel — This is one of those sleepy little Zionist farm towns, filled with Jews who confess they page through seed catalogs as much as the Torah. They live a mile or two from the Gaza border. They joke that they like the quiet life.
There's kiddie toys strewn about their sandy front yards. Trikes. Trampolines. Abused swing sets. But no kids. The children are all gone. The burb is now patrolled by Israeli soldiers. And the soldiers are getting fat from all the coffee and pastries the locals keep dropping off.
Capt. Ronen Fischer, a deputy squad commander of a reserve infantry unit, is in charge of security, meaning it is his job to ensure that no one here is shot or snatched by Gaza militants popping out of tunnels.
He admits there’s not much he or his men can do about mortar or rocket fire. “You have like 10 seconds,” he said. “So there’s not enough time to shoot down the incoming rounds with Iron Dome,” the U.S.-sponsored Israeli air defense system. “Basically," he said, "you run for it.”
Half the town's residents have moved away, but the half who have remained are Fischer’s responsibility. There are a lot of grandparents.
He takes it seriously. It weighs on him, you can tell.
“Our job is to protect the life of this place,” Fischer said.
Fischer is a 35-year-old husband and a father of a toddler, with another on the way, who lives 50 miles to the north in a too-expensive apartment. He is multilingual (he speaks three or four languages), college educated and stressed out. He travels for a living, working as a sales manager for a company that sells global positioning equipment that helps track shipping and deliveries.
“This is not my regular outfit,” he said, sweating and burdened by body armor, helmet, radios and an automatic weapon. He drives a reporter around and cranks up the AC as high as it will go.
“It looks peaceful — that’s the problem,” he said. There are deep creek beds, brushy hills, sandy dunes. “There’s tunnels all over the place,” he said.
He points to a greenhouse, where local agronomists develop seed stock for Israel’s famous cherry tomatoes.
“That’s where the guest worker was killed,” Fischer said.
Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, from Thailand heard an incoming rocket and stood up to take a photograph. He was hit by a following round and bled out on the way to the hospital.
“The people who live here say you get used to the sirens and rockets,” Fischer said. “Nobody can get used to this.”
He was asked: Could you live here? Fischer talked about the affordable villas, the schools the kids walk to, the bucolic life, the friendly vibe. And then he said:
“No. To be honest, no.”