Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
An Israeli woman takes cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern town of Ofakim November 18. Many Israeli residents only reluctantly express support for the expansion of the conflict.

Israelis question too, 'Who wants this war?'

Residents of southern Israel only reluctantly express support for a potential expansion of the conflict in Gaza and express sympathy for the suffering on the other side of the border.

Just days after Adi Pito married a woman from the town of Kiryat Malachi, he heard that a rocket from Gaza had struck an apartment building there, killing three residents.

“I was worried about my wife,” says Mr. Pito, who was in a nearby city at the time. “If you ask me, I think we have to destroy Gaza. I think they are animals, not people,” he says, pulling at his new wedding ring as he stood outside the damaged apartment yesterday. “It’s the right thing to do.”

But in towns across southern Israel that have been hit by rockets, other residents only reluctantly express support for a potential expansion of Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation and express sympathy for the suffering on the other side of the border, where at least 53 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured since the operation began five days ago.

“When people say, ‘Let’s kill them,’ I don’t think they really mean to do it,” says Yehudit Bar Hay, a trauma expert at the Israel Center for Victims of Terror and War, known as NATAL. “It is an angry feeling but … we don’t want to kill the people of Gaza. We see the mothers and the children, we are sorry for them.”

Even those who are “very, very injured” from the trauma of living under rocket fire say they don’t want to hurt anybody, adds Ms. Bar Hay, who lives less than a mile from the Gaza border. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that Israel’s military “is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations,” even as at least 16,000 reservists have been called up for a potential ground invasion. The Defense Ministry has authorized the calling up of as many as 75,000 reservists – more than six times as many as participated in the 2008-09 Gaza war.

But while some Israelis say war is necessary or inevitable, few are happy about it. 

“Who wants this war? Nobody in Israel,” says Ashdod resident Bebert Avitan, his pink-rimmed glasses hanging from his neck.

Part of the reason for a lack of public pressure may be the effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome system, which has kept casualties very low despite a barrage of rockets from Gaza. See today's Monitor story on the Iron Dome system

Hamas apparently has much greater capability than it had in the last war on Gaza,” says Galia Golan, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, but notes that there hasn’t been a parallel uptick in Israeli casualties. “Because Iron Dome has been relatively successful, there has been less pressure on the government or within the government to launch a ground attack.”

Only three Israelis, all from one building in Kiryat Malachi, have been killed in the recent escalation.

As the evening news shows a picture of a bombed out building, lifelong resident Masodi Sugaker says, “It’s so sad to see this. To [have to] make everything new after this? Why? Because of Hamas.”

“Hamas exploits their own people, the Palestinians,” says she adds.

Her sister, Hanna Shukrun, adds, “We don’t want [war],” because there are kids [in Gaza].

But she says, “Israel can’t just sit here and do nothing…. Our army doesn’t need to wait until they have many weapons.”

(This story was edited after posting to correct the name of Galia Golan from IDC Herzliya. We apologize for the error).

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