Even half a world away from the conflict in Gaza, in an area code as safe as Khan Younis is deadly, I still feel the weight of helpless despair as I comb through the news—on Twitter, via Facebook, dominating the nightly news and newspaper headlines—broken only by fits of outrage as I want to argue (and sometimes do) with one person or another on the Internet for posting a status update or a link that I find blindingly one-sided, naive or outright hateful. As if my words—or theirs—could have any meaningful effect on the outcome of the endless violence an ocean away. As if anything we say could take away the pain and suffering already inflicted and sure to come on all sides.

Then I turn back to my own life here in Canada. And try to finish a book about the kibbutz movement.

So I was intrigued to read this story, on the front page of Ha’Aretz—which I stumbled upon first, of course, in my Facebook feed—about the Jewish-Israeli border communities, most of them kibbutzim like Nir Am, that dot the frontier with the Gaza Strip. 

Yes, the situation and carnage are far worse in Gaza itself. But reading the account of kibbutz residents fleeing—many for the first time, despite years of threats—struck home, as I’ve visited many similar communities on the northern border and a few (like Urim and Kfar Aza) close to Gaza. Destroying the so-called “terror tunnels” built by Hamas terrorists to infiltrate these communities, or to carry out a kidnapping like that of Gilad Shalit, was one of the purported reasons Israel launched its attack on Israel. (Of course, there are plenty of competing theories about the “real” reason for the conflict—from destroying Hamas to securing natural gas—that range from the plausible to the downright loony.)

This quote—about border kibbutzim turned into ghost towns—stood out:

One Israeli security official with long experience of operations in Gaza refers to the phenomenon as “the biggest success of Hamas that nobody is talking about.” 

The voices in this story echoed many of the kibbutzniks I’ve spoken to on my visits to Israel: the nostalgia for a time when Israelis once visited and shopped—and even had Palestinian friends—in the West Bank and Gaza. And how that seems like a dream time lost to the shadows.

The story also highlights the stark difference in reactions between the secular kibbutzim, from which many members have evacuated around the so-called “Gaza Envelope”, and the one religious kibbutz of Alumim—still communal, still sticking out the dangers together. That same trend has played out in the larger kibbutz movement. 

It’s also a reminder that religious nationalism, not secular socialist Zionism, is what motivates the “new pioneers” in Israel — like the always controversial settler movement in the West Bank (and once in Gaza) that pose one of the biggest political challenges to resolving the Conflict.