For members of the Israel Defense Forces’ Kometz unit, nights are spent tending to the northern half of the Gaza border fence, re-stringing torn strands of barbed wire and repairing the electrical damages done by winter rain and lightning — it’s work that is unremittingly dangerous, laborious, and absolutely crucial:
The 60 kilometers of fence separating Israel from Gaza, first built with the onset of the Oslo Accords in 1994 and bolstered physically and technologically since then, can be, at times, a ticket to relative safety for some Gaza residents.
In recent months, from September to January, 84 Palestinians from Gaza have been arrested for crossing the border fence, The New York Times reported this week. The rise, up from a reported 13 per month average before the summer’s war, is seen as an expression of desperation. Compared with Gaza, “the prison in Israel is like a five-star hotel,” Youssef Abbas, a former fence-crosser, told the paper.
For the army, though, and for the majority of Israelis, the fence is the frontline against terror infiltration. And the men tasked with its upkeep are prime targets in an area that is seldom visited by patrolling troops on account of the dangers of sniper fire and IED ambushes, sprung by luring the troops to the fence.
“It’s like being a duck on a firing range,” said Sgt. Maj. Ran Shlomo, the Kometz unit commander, who has been tending to Israel’s many border fences in and around the Gaza Strip since he joined the army in 1990.
Shlomo, who began his service with Kometz along the Philadelphi Corridor, which separated Gaza from Egypt, said in an interview that he has seen the threats against the Kometz soldiers evolve from gravel to fist-sized stones, to small arms fire, to mines, to short-range anti-tank missiles, to more complex guided missiles.
Speaking of improvised mine fields, a terror tunnel packed with so much explosives that it blew an empty jeep high into the air, and an RPG anti-tank missile that exploded a few dozen feet from him, he said, “There were things that only a miracle from above saved us from.