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For Israelis along the Lebanon and Gaza borders, even a normal day is plagued with tension

Attacks and reprisals between Israel and its enemies occur regularly, now and then exploding into all-out war. In particular, Israeli security is threatened by militant groups like Hamas in the south and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to the north. Ryan Chilcote reports from two Israeli border communities about how families there are seeking a normal life amid constant fear and uncertainty.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the Middle East and today's targeted killing in Gaza by Israel of a militant leader and the rocket fire that showered Israel in reprisal.

    These attacks and counterattacks between Israel and its enemies come frequently. They have exploded into all-out war in the past. Militant groups in particular present a major challenge to the country's security, Hezbollah, in Lebanon to the north, and Hamas and other groups in Gaza to Israel's south.

    A few months ago we brought you a report about life inside Gaza for many wounded by the Israeli army in protests there.

    To find out what life is like for Israelis on these frontiers, special correspondent Ryan Chilcote recently went to the borderlands, where a normal day can be anything but.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The old adage that good fences make good neighbors might not apply for Levav Weinberg.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    This is a checkpoint of Hezbollah.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Not everybody has a Hezbollah checkpoint outside their back door.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    I get one. Did I get a bonus for that? No.

    But you can see there's action over there.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That action over there is a quarter-mile from Weinberg's yard here in Metula, Israel's northernmost town. And that checkpoint is manned by Hezbollah.

    We can see them, and they surely see us. Hezbollah's goal is to eliminate the state of Israel. Backed by Iran, the Lebanese militia began an on-again/off-again war with its southern neighbor when Israeli troops invaded, then occupied Southern Lebanon in the '80s and 90s. The two last fought a brutal month-long war in the summer of 2006.

    The border is tense, occasionally volatile. And Weinberg, a farmer and an army reservist, always carries a pistol.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    Right now, it's very peaceful and lovely, and we can hear the birds. But we always know that, in a minute, it can be changed. And we need to be ready.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That vigilance doesn't get in the way of the birthday party in the backyard. Ellah is 2 today.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    Most of the stress is on the family, on my kids and on my wife.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Even in their bedroom, Anat Weinberg prefers to sleep on the side of the bed furthest from the window.

    Levav wanted to live here. He can have it. And, by law, every house must have one of these.

  • Anat Weinberg:

    And this is our safe room. It's double doors, because this is the regular door we use.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    While Levav is from here, Anat grew up 25 miles south of the border in the major port city of Haifa. Metula has taken some getting used to.

  • Anat Weinberg:

    A year ago, there was a rocket — they shot a rocket into Israel, into Metula. And it was like 3:00 a.m. in the morning. And Ellah, she was seven months. And I just — I just ran with them here. That's not normal. Like, that's not normal.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Not normal and not to be dismissed.

    Hezbollah attacked an Israeli military here convoy just two months ago. Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus is the top spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

  • Jonathan Conricus:

    Hezbollah poses the most significant military threat along our borders that Israel faces today. It's a threat that we are, of course, capable of dealing with. But we understand that almost all of Hezbollah's arsenal is aimed at Israeli civilians.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Welcome to life in Israel's apple capital, hard by the border, separated here by a seven-mile-long wall that, for all its height, still can't obscure Hezbollah propaganda.

    You're farming here, and yet, over your shoulder, you have got the picture of one of your enemies. How does that make you feel?

  • Levav Weinberg:

    Weird. But, you know, he's behind my back. So it's me that I'm trying not to make him affect my life.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Little did Levav know the real threat could come from right under his feet.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    You see the house on the left. And the tunnel came from that house straight to us into my orchards.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    From Lebanon into Israel?

  • Levav Weinberg:

    From Lebanon to Israel. I didn't have a clue.

    When I finished to pick, the army a few days after that came to us and say, OK, now it's a close military area, and no one go in.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    While Hezbollah can tunnel from Lebanon here into Northern Israel, it sure isn't easy with soil this rocky. Just a few hours to the south, it's a different story.

    Nahal Oz is the closest town in Israel to the Gaza Strip. It's a kibbutz of some 400 Israelis with a suburban feel, at its edge, an imposing iron fence that separates Israel from Gaza. No one moves here without attracting the military's attention. They found us in just minutes.

    On the other side of the fence is Shejaiya, site of the Israeli airstrike earlier today that killed Baha Abu al-Ata, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group Israel blames for much of the recent violence.

    Al-Ata's wife was killed. Their four children were also reportedly injured in the attack. Shejaiya is also one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in what is already one of the most crowded strips of land in the world.

    In 2014, the area was almost completely destroyed when the Israeli army and Hamas militants, who control Gaza, fought door-to-door in its streets, part of a month-long war.

    More than 150 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the killing, including this one, captured by a traffic camera,

  • Dani Rahamim:

    A few years ago, different days. We used to go to Gaza freely.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Dani Rahamim raised a family here and used to have friends there.

  • Dani Rahamim:

    I had friends in Gaza, Palestinians. I got married in 1983. I invited five Palestinians to my wedding, and they came to my wedding.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That was long before Israel started building this 37-mile-long wall in 1994. But it's Hamas' tunnels that worry Dani the most. The group has used them in the past to launch surprise attacks inside Israel with armed squads of militants.

  • Dani Rahamim:

    When there is rockets, you have the siren. But when they build a tunnel, and the Hamas can go out, and it can be a big disaster. But we insist to stay here, to grow our crops here, because this is our home.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Through clouds of dust, the rumble of trucks are a clue this is no normal home. Israel is expanding its wall underground, pouring concrete up to a reported 200 feet deep in places to prevent tunneling.

    It must be a little bit sad that you have to have a fence and a deep wall with your neighbor.

  • Dani Rahamim:

    I'm sure that, one day, we will live with them in peace, because I believe that most of the people in Gaza Strip would want to live a normal life, like us.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Rahamim got therapy to deal with the stress of the rocket attacks. Now he says he's fine.

    More painfully for a parent, though, has the stress of living here affected any of your kids?

  • Dani Rahamim:

    Yes. My little daughter, she's in post-trauma.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    PTSD.

  • Dani Rahamim:

    When there is a siren, she has all her body shaking for a long time. Even after the siren finished, she is still shaking. It can be one hour, two hours.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Gadi Yarkoni knows better than many Israelis the price of war between Israel and Hamas. He's the mayor here, and he shows me a brand-new rocket-proof school and takes me to the place that forever changed his life.

    He was out trying to restore his town's power. It was less than an hour before a cease-fire would take hold bringing the 2014 Hamas-Israel war to a close. The rocket took the lives of two friends and his two legs.

  • Gadi Yarkoni (through translator):

    The rocket came from there. It came from there and fell between my legs. And I think that was my luck.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Months of rehab followed, prosthetics, learning how to walk again for the first time. Even after this, Gadi had something to say.

  • Gadi Yarkoni:

    If you want to have a good life, they should have that too. They should also have something worth living for. I am not talking about peace today. I am talking about living one alongside the other.

    I think that this is the important message to come out of here, from this specific point where I am now standing, the point where I lost two friends and two legs. The most important is that our children have a future.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Whatever happens in the future hinges on Israel's frontier.

  • Amos Yadlin:

    All the active fronts, not zones with peace, are very explosive, can erupt tomorrow, Gaza, Hezbollah.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Retired General Amos Yadlin once headed military intelligence in Israel. He now runs Israel's leading national security think tank.

  • Amos Yadlin:

    Each side knows that the other side doesn't want to go to war. So there is a leeway for some activities that they hope will not reach the point of escalation.

    But this is a basis for miscalculation. And miscalculation would lead us to another clash between Hamas and Israel, no doubt about it.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Back up north, Levav's mother has a heavily fortified underground shelter for when her son's safe room won't suffice. It's spartan, two cots, no bathroom. Rockets have rained down on the Weinbergs for two generations.

    During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, she once spent two months in this bunker with Levav and his brother. Now, though, she worries more than she used to. Grandmothers do.

    You have lived here for 40 years. You were a mother here. Now you're a grandmother here.

    It's different a lot.

    Orna Weinberg Maybe I will have five for six…

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    … grandchildren.

  • Orna Weinberg:

    … grandchildren I they need to take care of here, because I spend with them a lot of time during the week. I don't know how to start, what to do. It's frightening.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Just a 10-minute walk away, Levav laments the loss of hundreds of apple trees, bulldozed by the army to close up the Hezbollah tunnel.

  • Levav Weinberg:

    But it's nothing compared to the damage it was able to happen. My mom house is just behind you.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Levav told us there was a time when he exchanged pleasantries with his neighbors in Lebanon across the wall. Not anymore. It's too tall.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ryan Chilcote in Metula, Israel.

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