“Two years ago we used to not take it so seriously, we’d go out to the windows and watch the Iron Dome shoot down the rockets. After they killed our friends we started to take it more seriously.”
Reuven Elyan, 59, checked the locks on the bomb shelters in a run-down section of Kiryat Malachi, where on the first day of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, a Grad rocket hit a fourth-floor apartment, killing three of his neighbors. Since then, little has changed in the neighborhood, most of the residents still don’t have safe rooms in their homes, and many of the nearby shelters remain locked or strewn with garbage, the only difference being that the threat now seems much more real than it did in the past.
Shlomi Hazan, 33, said that “things went back to normal really quickly” after Operation Pillar of Defense, though, like Elyan, he said that people take things more seriously these days.
“Last night [Monday night/ Tuesday morning] at 3 a.m. there was a [rocket] siren, so we all ran into the stairwells, we didn’t use to do that,” Hazan said, though he admitted that the stairwells are for the most part exposed and provide little protection.
Scenes across the South on Tuesday bore a close resemblance to the last major escalation in November 2012 – dozens of rockets fired from Gaza, rocket sirens blaring on a rolling basis across the region, and in neighborhoods like the one in Kiryat Malachi, people who lacked adequate protection found themselves waiting out the maelstrom, while expressing a desire for the army to “finish the job.”
In the Gimmel neighborhood of Ashdod, the only two public bomb shelters The Jerusalem Post found both housed synagogues and religious schools, which for the past 24 hours have been used to accommodate nonreligious residents without anywhere else to go.
At the Breslov Beit Midrash in one of the bomb shelters, gabbai (caretaker) David Levy said that a few women from the surrounding buildings came to seek shelter in the middle of the night with their children in tow. He said that there would usually be an issue of modesty having young women in tank tops and sweatpants inside the school, but safety took precedent.
“Honestly, I’m not that comfortable here, but I don’t care about them, I only care about my daughter,” said Orit Ben-Eliyahu, a mother of girls aged six and two who was trying, seemingly in vain, to keep her kids occupied inside the stuffy bomb shelter, surrounded by bookshelves full of religious texts.
“We had to come down here, because when the siren goes off I only have time to grab one of the girls and run down and make it to the [other] shelter, I’m not going to have to choose like that,” Ben-Eliyahu said.
She also brought her niece Batel Tzivian and her two young daughters, saying that across the way in the Vav neighborhood there was no adequate shelter either.
“This is not an acceptable situation, but I want you to write this: We are willing to stay here as long as it takes for them [the IDF] to finish the job, to take care of this so it doesn’t happen again. To get rid of Gaza altogether, I don’t care,” Tzivian said, the frustration obvious on her face.
Across the South, cities like Ashkelon and Beersheba were neither vacant nor shut down and if there was a war-footing it could mostly be seen in places like Beersheba’s Dalet neighborhood, where families sat in groups on plastic chairs outside public bomb shelters, killing time until the next Color Red rocket alarm.
The sense of normalcy in spite of it all was summed up by two Ashdod residents sitting at a cafe at the Star Center mini-mall.
“This is a normal day for Ashdod, no big deal to me,” 18-year-old Matan Gozlan said as he picked at his lunch, oblivious perhaps to the fact that on a regular day he is probably not one of only two customers at the cafe and that there are not teams of foreign journalists trying to find shoppers who speak English to interview.
His companion Reut Vaknin put it differently. “It’s normal because it’s all changed for us, it’s been like this now for years. It used to be just in Sderot so we’d watch and not think anything of it, because it wasn’t in our city. We were like Tel Aviv people back then,” Vaknin said.
Hours later, rockets would target the Tel Aviv area, where presumably people are also becoming more used to a changing reality.