As those who fled Israel’s border villages weigh whether to return, what hangs in the balance?

KIBBUTZ NAHAL OZ, Israel (AP) — Months after Hamas killed 1,200 people in an early-morning assault, Israeli communities ravaged in the attack remain mostly empty. Now the residents who fled these “kibbutzim” along the border with Gaza are wrestling with whether, how and when to return — choices that have implications not just for their families, but also for the country. Here are the key takeaways:

Before Oct. 7, communities shaped by contradiction

Kibbutzim, which for decades have exemplified Israeli resilience, have long been a paradox. Many of those along the border with Gaza were built on or near the sites of former Palestinian villages. Over the years, residents tried to maintain economic relationships with people living in Gaza, the majority of whom are either refugees or their descendants. The residents of kibbutzim cherished life in the communities as almost idyllic. Yet, long before October 7, many were targets of frequent rocket attacks.

Trauma lingers as war stretches on

More than five months after last October’s attack, the trauma inflicted by the killing and kidnapping of family and friends remains raw for residents of the kibbutzim. Israel’s massive invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza, has likely curtailed the threat that such a large-scale assault could be repeated. But frequent artillery fire and the roar of fighter jets are a reminder that the empty border kibbutzim are extensions of the war zone.

Many people long for their homes

Residents have begun weighing whether, when and how to go back. In the hours after the attack, hundreds of kibbutzim residents were evacuated to hotels, dormitories and other locations, some hours away from their schools, jobs and homes. Many pine for the lives they left behind.

Consensus is elusive amid great uncertainty

But they are split on how to proceed, with some determined to go back and others deeply reluctant. With so much uncertainty about future security conditions along the border, many say that for now, it is impossible to make long-term decisions.

Family decisions, but with potential consequences for the country

The choices kibbutz residents make about whether to return are foremost about what is best for their families and close-knit communities. But the outcome is also important for Israel, whose leaders relied on border kibbutz as a way to solidify control of land after the 1948 war against Palestinian fighters and the armies of neighboring Arab countries.

“If the kibbutzim … will not come back, no one will come,” says Shlomo Getz, a researcher who studies the communities. “That means we are losing our country.”

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