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At night, we can hear Hamas tunnelling

Letter from: Kibbutz Nir Am

    The approach to Kibbutz Nir Am
    The approach to Kibbutz Nir Am

    On Kibbutz Nir Am, Liron Carmi sleeps with a commando knife under her bed.

    "I went to sleep one night and suddenly heard the sound of massive drilling, something serious," the kibbutz native told Israel's Channel 10. She then played a thudding noise recorded on her smart-phone at around 2am one night last month. She feared that it was the sound of Hamas tunnelling beneath her feet.

    Israeli communities near the Gaza border are on edge. Hamas is ramping up its psychological warfare with announcements that it is making progress in reconstructing its vast underground network, and many fear that a tunnel attack on Israel's communities near the border is imminent.

    During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, around 10 armed men emerged from a tunnel near Kibbutz Nir Am and fired an anti-tank shell at Israeli soldiers, killing four.

    "This conflict has got to a point that you're fighting not another army but, rather, terrorism, which by its nature changes its shape all the time, and also makes all public spaces into a battlefied," said Betty Gavri, an insurance worker at the kibbutz. Like many of her neighbours, for years she has kept a gun in her home in case of attack.

    Ofer Lieberman
    Ofer Lieberman

    Since 2005, Israel and Hamas have participated in a deadly game of underground hide-and-seek, with Israel's sophisticated technology largely unable to detect this low-tech threat.

    Israel has sporadically launched casualty-heavy ground operations to destroy the tunnels, but military officials say that the terrorists resume building at the first opportunity.

    "Hamas started digging from the moment the war was over, with the understanding that, by waging underground warfare, they have the advantage of bringing the battle to the other side," wrote Yossi Yehoshua in Yediot Ahronot.

    "At least with the rockets, we have sirens that help us, at least psychologically, to feel that we can protect ourselves, and of course there's Iron Dome," said Ofer Lieberman, the agricultural manager of Kibbutz Nir Am.

    During the 2014 war, the IDF discovered 32 tunnels, 14 of which crossed into Israel, and several of which opened into the wheat fields just over 1km from the kibbutz's border fence.

    But residents are hopeful that anti-tunnel technology reported to be under development could mean an end to that relentless cycle of threats.

    Earlier this month, Israel's Defence Ministry announced that it had secured $120m in funding from the US to develop an underground defence system that would enable the IDF to spot and destroy Hamas's tunnels.

    "We have little to do in the meantime but live our normal lives," said Mr Lieberman, who said that the small kibbutz of around 300 residents is continuing to expand.

    "We live in a horrible area on one hand, but on the other, it's the Garden of Eden," he said, pointing to the herds of grazing sheep, groups of hikers, and the flat stretch of northern Gaza just beyond.

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