Jerusalem’s central bus station was crowded with soldiers on Thursday morning as
many of them waited for buses to join their units in the South. In general, the
bus station is a major transit point for people going to and from their bases,
but this time it seemed more serious and busier than usual in light of the
cabinet decision to call up reserves. The early morning bus to Ashkelon included
almost no civilians.
A rocket had hit Kiryat Malachi and killed three
people early in the morning. Later, another Grad rocket was intercepted just
north of the Ashkelon junction. The evidence of the Iron Dome missile defense
system’s successful work could be seen in the small white puffs of smoke that
dotted the sky.
However, life was going on as usual for most of the
people in the South. This was to be a continuing theme throughout the
Despite the war, people still have to go to work, and bus stops were
On the road from Ashkelon to Sderot, where Highway 4 skirts the
border with the northern Gaza Strip, the army had cordoned off all roads leading
to Yad Mordechai and the small communities near the Strip.
In Sderot, the
relative quiet was pierced by the sound of artillery fire and deep thuds of
nearby bombing. However, the southern town has so far remained mostly untouched
by the barrage of Grad rocket fire that have descended on Beersheba and Ashdod
Wednesday night and Thursday morning. This reversed the usual pattern whereby
Sderot bears the brunt of attacks and its citizens often express feelings of
The town gives off its usual depressing exterior, with the
citizens going about their lives with morose determination. Some Ethiopian
children were celebrating a birthday. A car sped by wrapped in large bows,
indicating that it was on its way to a wedding – many of which have had to be
canceled in the South.
Some young people were hitching rides out of town
with full suitcases, going to stay with relatives out of range of the
In general, the people of Sderot have gotten used to the media
circus that descends on them when there is conflict. One elderly woman asked a
colleague and I why we had come.
“You should go home, be
safe. God will save us here. Don’t worry yourselves,” she said.
the police and fire stations, an emergency clinic has been set up by the Sderot
Mental Health center. Hospital cots were packed into the shelter and a couple of
professionals waited around in case people suffering from shock might arrive.
But the only major event seemed to be that one woman had been given a parking
ticket and several police officers and other residents were busy arguing over
whether she was responsible for blocking emergency access.
Katz, who helps run the clinic, noted that this community has been under attack
for more than 12 years now. Even though services could be much better, the
insinuation was that “we’ve been through this before.”
The last time I’d
been in Sderot was in the run-up to Operation Cast Lead. At that time, many of
the bomb shelters were new and some consisted of raw concrete blocks dropped in
a square with a roof and access points at each end. Now all of those shelters
have been decorated with street-art-style graffiti, most of it done with a high
degree of skill.
While admiring the artwork, and taking note of the
plethora of shuttered businesses, an air raid siren sounded. The “Color Red”
siren sent people walking calmly, not running, into the nearest shelter or
building. The actual hit of the Kassam could not be heard but a fire engine was
dispatched. When we arrived on the scene at 4 Egoz Street, the alley had been
cordoned off as police inspected the damage and searched for
Residents came out of their houses to see what had happened.
One man pointed to gas tanks stored outside his brother’s house, which abutted a
small yard where the Kassam had come down, saying, “It is a miracle those
Then the thud, thud, thud of bombing in Gaza was heard and
the police asked the people to go back to their lives with a curt, “This isn’t a
tourist attraction!” We hitched a ride to Ashkelon. Back at the Ashkelon
junction, where I’d been just two hours before, street peddlers were in the
medians trying to beg for money and sell holy books. Was this a daily occurrence
or had they come out hoping that the war might bring out the charitable side in
people? In Ashkelon, sirens wailed again at around two in the afternoon, sending
people eating at a popular shwarma joint on Eli Cohen Street, scrambling to get
indoors. In this case, indoors meant simply crowding close to the hot shwarma,
with the cooks gesturing to the people to pack themselves into the
“There is no point to this. The shop is open from the South,”
noted one of the patrons.
The big glass windows of the restaurant indeed
faced the Strip, providing little protection.
After realizing this fact,
the crowd went back outside to sit in the sunshine.