Mother of three Tal Benaim from Beersheba didn’t expect to get any sleep on Wednesday night, the first night of the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday night a rocket landed meters away from her apartment in an impoverished neighborhood, where none of the apartment blocks appear to have any bomb shelters or safe rooms to speak of. Benaim said when the Code Red rocket siren went off, she and her kids ran to the building’s concrete stairwell, all of which was open and offered scant protection.
Minutes after the strike, Benaim was one of a group of six mothers gathered with their children, some of them crying and obviously in shock, in the courtyard of the apartment complex.
“Our kids are afraid to stay in the house or to go to sleep. They want to stay here outside where they can at least run to the stairwell or the bomb shelter across the street,” she said.
For a timeline of the escalation in Gaza: click here
Benaim said she expects another restless day hunkering with the kids in the courtyard on Thursday, when school is canceled across the South.
“What we want is safe rooms, bunkers, those pipes and concrete blocks like they have in Sderot, elsewhere,” she said.
As she spoke, families came down to the courtyard with sleeping bags and blankets, preparing to make their way to the bomb shelter to spend the night in safety.
The shelter is a privately funded bunker about a block away. Diab Diab, a native of the Wadi Ara region who has been working in Beersheba for nine years, stood in a stairwell a few meters away from the bunker moments after the strike, and spoke of the fear the rockets have brought to his adopted city.
“The city has changed and the situation is very scary. You sit in the house and just wait for the alarm, and then run to the stairwell and wait to hear the boom,” he said.
Diab said he was considering not going to his night shift at a pharmaceutical factory outside Beersheba, saying he felt safer at home even though there were bomb shelters where he works.
When asked if he has mixed feelings as an Israeli Arab who is hiding from Hamas rockets at the same time the IDF is attacking Arabs in Gaza, he said, “I see myself as a citizen of this country, and while it’s true that those people [in Gaza] speak the same language as me, the rockets don’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs.”
Overhead, IAF fighter jets roared, and a series of loud explosions could be heard.
The capital of the Negev was running at a muted pace on Wednesday night, with hardly any cars on the streets, while the Negev Mall and the “Big” Shopping Center were all but deserted.
Earlier in the evening it appeared to be business as usual in Ashkelon, though at the city’s Barzilai Medical Center, Border Police officers, private security guards and IDF Home Front Command soldiers were at the scene to keep order.
Barzilai spokeswoman Ayelet Kedar said that hospital management had decided to begin moving patients, mainly children, and women in the maternity ward, to underground bunkers at the hospital complex beginning on Thursday morning. They will also begin the early discharge of patients from the emergency room at the same time.
In addition, since school in Ashkelon has been canceled for Thursday, Barzilai is preparing to host children of hospital staff at the complex’s safe rooms.
The hospital’s main emergency room is still not protected against rockets. Often, when there is a major escalation, Barzilai moves mobile patients to improvised underground operation rooms.