A year ago, Israeli forces entered Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. The purpose of the operation, regarded in Israel as a success, was to bring an end to eight years of brutal terrorism suffered by communities situated next to the Gaza Strip. These difficult years were marked by the firing of more than 8,000 Qassam rockets and thousands of mortar bombs. These missiles levelled the homes of residents in Sderot and the defenceless rural settlements around the Strip and took a bloody toll on their vulnerable citizens.
About 30 years ago, my wife and I established our home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip, and raised our five children. I know what it means to live in the "Gaza envelope" – the communities close to the Gaza Strip that are home to tens of thousands of Israelis. By any measure, the relative calm of the last 12 months does not provide time to heal the wounds of the residents. Some have lost loved ones, others their homes; and many are wounded, often with psychological trauma from which they might never fully recover.
Qassams often hit the ground before the warning sirens sound. When the sirens do work, there remain 15 seconds of grace before a bomb falls, and nobody knows where it will land.
Children born and raised under eight years of terror and uncertainty have learned to pronounce the words of the warning alarm before forming the words "father" and "mother". They can count to 15 before learning to do so at kindergarten or school. This is a generation who will bear the scars of terrorism to the end. It is a generation for whom every knock on the door or backfiring of a passing car returns them briefly to their nightmares.
A year after the operation, the fields around the communities are today being ploughed in a picture of rural calm. Parents taking children to school do not radiate to the casual visitor a sense of threat. But we fear the calm we have enjoyed since Operation Cast Lead is deceptive. We feel as though we are at the foot of a volcano that could erupt again at any moment without warning.
When we read in the papers about repeated attempts by the terrorists to cross from Gaza into Israel, none of the 50,000 residents of the border region is naive enough to think that the current calm is assured. But for now we are satisfied to use this time to try to heal. The Israeli government, after eight years of pressure from the residents, is building more than 10,000 protected security rooms in anticipation of future attacks.
From the beginning it was clear that an Israeli military operation would arouse more feelings of hatred among the residents of Gaza. However, the feeling in Israel is that – despite the fact that this hatred is a huge political asset for Hamas – it was necessary to blunt the military power of the terrorists. We also knew with sorrow that innocent residents of Gaza might be hurt, but we felt there was no other choice for our government but to act in our defence. For Hamas, targeting Israeli civilians has become a legitimate means of striking at the soft underbelly of Israel. Israelis who live close to the Gaza Strip feel that the free world is indifferent and lazy in not bothering to distinguish between attacker and attacked. The same terrorists who targeted innocent Israelis used innocent Palestinians as human shields.
Instead of the world condemning Hamas for firing deadly rockets from backyards, homes, schools and mosques, the world condemned Israel for daring to attack the sources of fire.
Israeli papers have reported the economic improvements in Sderot and the surrounding rural settlements over the last year. Most of the population did not abandon their homes, and those who did have returned. The Sderot college, one of Israel's largest, has expanded its numbers; but even here you will find things you don't expect to see in a university campus. The classrooms are protected by thick walls, and sirens are ready to sound the alert. Scattered round the campus are signs instructing people what to do when they hear the alarm.
Unfortunately while we are trying to return to a normal life, on the other side of the border Hamas is rearming through tunnels and smuggling from the sea. Now they are experimenting with long-range missiles to spread our experience of living under threat to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Israel.
Shai Hermesh, a Kadima member of the Knesset and longtime resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Gaza Strip.