Israeli settlement sits right at the edge of war |

Israeli settlement sits right at the edge of war

David C. Henley
Appeal News Service

KIBBUTZ GADOT, Israel — At first glance, this sprawling rural settlement on the banks of the Jordan River in northeastern Israel provides the first-time visitor an aura of peace and tranquility.

Located in a semi-desert area north of the Sea of Galilee, Gadot is primarily an agricultural kibbutz, and on its 1,250 acres are found income-producing field crops, avocado orchards, citrus groves and herds of cows and goats.

Gadot also operates a large plant named Plasgad that manufactures plastic products for export such as boxes, storage containers and garbage pails.

About 450 people live here, including 150 children 18 and younger who attend the kibbutz’s schools.

Gadot also maintains a library, general store, market, community center, medical clinic and dining hall that serves its members, some of whom are Christians, three cafeteria-style meals a day.

But despite its appearance of calm and serenity, Kibbutz Gadot is just a stone’s throw from Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. “We now on high alert … a wartime footing,” said Victor Freedman, 76, a former Reno resident who has lived here for 55 years.

Gadot could become “ground zero” for any future war, continued Freedman, who attended Reno High School and whose family operated a clothing store and tourist shop on South Virginia Street.

Located in Israel’s explosive Golan Heights, Gadot has been caught up in the escalating wave of sectarian and political strife that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, Freedman said.

Its residents have filled sandbags to be placed in front of their windows in case of emergency, have installed concrete and steel-reinforced “safe rooms” in their homes and are prepared at any moment to escape to 20 underground bunkers and bomb shelters that are stocked with electric generators, beds, food and water should warfare reach here, Freedman said.

He served three years as an infantryman in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and, following his active duty, a month annually as a military reservist until he turned 45.

The rising tensions at Gadot and throughout Israel are caused by the widening Syrian civil war that is spilling over into Israel and neighboring Lebanon, Freedman said.

“We often hear guns firing in next-door Syria, the result of the civil war fighting there,” Freedman said.

The civil war, which is being fought by the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assar and his terrorist Hezbollah allies against the rebel Free Syrian Army, has spread into northern Israel, the Golan Heights and Lebanon where car bombings, rocket attacks and assassinations have become almost daily occurrences, Freedman said.

This week, more than 40 people were killed and about 400 were injured when truck bombs leveled a city block in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, which is a 45-minute drive west from here.

Freedman, who serves as Kibbutz Gadot’s historian and head groundskeeper, says that despite the fear and insecurity here, “I will never leave this beautiful place … I am here to stay.”

Pointing to the lush green grass and plantings surrounding his tiny house, Freedman admitted, “Sometimes I think of the great life I also led in Reno. We had a beautiful house on Reno Avenue and my friends and I would play ball in Wingfield, Riverside and Idlewild parks. On weekends we would drive to Lake Tahoe and ski and camp out at Meeks Bay and Zephyr Cove.

“But I’ve been an Israeli since I was 21. My life is here and I will die here. Israel has been threatened by its Arab neighbors before we became a nation in 1948, but we’ve never been conquered,” he said.

Gesturing toward an IDF troop and tank encampment not far from the main entrance to Kibbutz Gadot, Freedman said, “Israel is braced for war. We will never give in.”