Middle East

Israeli families scarred by Gaza war

Mourners grieve at funeral of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman (24/08/14) Image copyright AP
Image caption Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was one of the last Israelis killed, just before the ceasefire

While the August ceasefire which ended the 50-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has held, families on both sides of the border continue to suffer the devastating effects. Following our report on Palestinians whose neighbourhood was destroyed by Israeli bombing, here the BBC's Erica Chernofsky looks at the impact of the war on three Israeli families.

This past summer, millions of Israelis - from the small southern city of Sderot to the bustling coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv - lived under regular rocket attacks from the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Attacks surged after Israel launched an offensive to restore quiet to its communities. During the operation, more than 4,500 rockets and mortars were fired indiscriminately at Israel, killing six civilians, wounding scores and sending residents fleeing to shelters. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers were killed and hundreds wounded in battles with Palestinian fighters.

More than 2,100 Palestinians - mostly civilians, according to the UN - were also killed during the conflict. Israel says it killed at least 1,000 militants.

Israel says its missile defence system intercepted 735 rockets, but many of those that got through hit homes, schools and other buildings. Every rocket launched activated a blaring siren, unleashing panic and chaos as many Israelis had just 15 seconds to run for cover.

However this operation uncovered a far sinister threat against Israeli citizens, that which Israel calls the "terror tunnels".

Tunnels fear

These are a vast underground network with numerous shafts, many of which led from inside Gaza to Israeli communities in southern Israel.

A tunnel opening was even found near a kibbutz dining hall and kindergarten. Israelis were shocked by media reports that Hamas had planned on using such tunnels to commit a mass attack on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Palestinian tunnels were built for attacking communities in Israel

Israel said it had destroyed 32 of these tunnels, but Yael Raz-Lachiani from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the Gaza border, is still living in fear.

Like many other residents of southern Israel, Yael left her home during the war because of the incessant rocket fire from Gaza. Up to 40 rockets and mortars hit her kibbutz every day, she says.

Due to their proximity to Gaza, Yael, her husband and three young children only had three seconds' warning to reach a safe room. One of her neighbours, a four-year-old boy named Daniel Tragerman, was killed in one such attack.

Yael's son's kindergarten is completely surrounded by thick concrete barriers because, once the siren goes off, there is not time to get all the children into a shelter. And her children know that if they are outside, they must lie flat on the ground with their hands on their heads.

But the new threat, she says, comes from the tunnels.

"When there's rockets falling I know what to do, it's still scary, but I know what to do. With the tunnels I don't know what to do. We are very afraid that someone will come out on this side of the fence and attack us, attack our kids, and we have no way to protect ourselves."

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Media captionYael Raz-Lachiani: 'I feel guilty for raising my kids like this'

Left without a father

Dror Hanin, 37, was the first Israeli civilian to be killed in this war. A volunteer fireman and medic, he offered his services this summer to bring snacks and drinks to Israeli troops stationed on the border, a popular effort among Israelis who wanted to show support for their soldiers.

But while driving near the Erez Crossing point into Gaza, he was hit by a mortar shell fired by Hamas militants, and died of his injuries. He left behind a wife and three children, including an infant daughter.

He was known to his friends and family as a real altruist who devoted his life to helping others, says his older brother, Yosi.

"One of the most sad things for me is that his kids will not have a chance to enjoy such a father," he laments. "I think we would have a much better society if everybody would try to be a little more like Dror."

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Media captionYosi Hanin recalls his brother Dror

'We will not leave again'

The Wizner family had previously been evacuated from their homes twice - once from the Sinai after the peace agreement with Egypt, and a second time from Nezarim, a Jewish settlement in Gaza, during Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. They now live in Bnei Nezarim in southern Israel.

Two of their family members were killed in attacks by militants inside Gaza before the withdrawal, and they hoped that leaving the territory would bring peace.

"This is still a war for our independence," says Chanan Wizner, a teacher and father of 11, who described the difficulty of uprooting his family from their home.

"We left our settlements, we left our greenhouses, we left our synagogues, our schools, our sand, our land, we left the land we lived in for 30 years, we left everything, and from there they shoot at us," says Mr Wizner. "They don't accept our existence here."

He says that despite the fear during rocket attacks, especially when they wake his children in the middle of the night, the family will not leave their homes again.

"We are here and we will be here forever - accept that. We are willing to make peace, to give peace for peace. But whoever hurts us, we will hit back even harder."

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Media captionChanan Wizner: 'We will be here for eternity'

Video by Alon Farago; produced by Avi Halfon