For years the rocket barrages had become a sort of routine for Sderot resident Amir Ben-Abu, 38, until his three-year-old son started studying at a preschool at Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
“It all changed when we had our son. He won’t grow up here, it’s too hard for him. The second we have an opportunity we’ll leave Sderot,” Ben-Abu said on Sunday.
Only a couple of hours earlier his wife had called him in shock, frozen in her car on the side of the road, moments after shrapnel from a Kassam rocket crashed into the car in front of her, moderately wounding the driver, Moshik Levy, and his wife, Ben-Abu said.
“Things like this ruin your life. Every time my son hears a ‘Code Red’ [rocket siren] it takes years off my life,” he said.
Ben-Abu leaned against the counter of the Tovaleh restaurant, which sat empty on Sunday afternoon, as the rain poured down outside. The rocket from Gaza led a party of 25 tourists to call and cancel their scheduled lunch for Sunday, and a reservation for Monday for a group of Jordanian journalists touring Israel at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry was also canceled, proprietor Jacky Azran said.
“These days everyone takes care of themselves, no one worries about us or each other,” said Azran.
When asked what he is demanding from the government or the military, he suggested that the government could compensate businesses suffering from the rocket strikes, then said the IDF should “deal them a blow so they won’t be able to attack us again,” before finally saying that there is no solution and that after 10 years of suffering, people are desperate.
Sderot did appear rather desperate on Sunday. In the center of town the market was closed following instructions from the IDF Home Front Command, and the streets were largely empty except for patrolling police cruisers and sherut minivan collective taxis, though the inclement weather surely played a role in keeping people off the streets.
The rain and the rockets did not, however, keep Kinneret and Ariel from running their pre-wedding errands in the town, hours before they were scheduled to exchange vows at a ceremony in Mishmar Hanegev. The wedding hall is well within the range of Gazan rockets, but Kinneret said the show would go on, even though “a few people canceled, only a few guests from Tel Aviv, though.”
Hours later, Gaza rockets scored direct hits on a house in Sderot and on one in a community in the Gaza envelope. Neither strike caused injuries, though both houses suffered serious damage.
Minutes away from the center of Sderot, a group of volunteers manned phones at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council situation room, inside a bunker at the council’s headquarters. Home to some 6,000 residents, dozens of rockets have hit the region in the past few days, leading the council to cancel school and go onto a sort of war footing that is familiar to locals.
Oded Plut, the head of the emergency response team for the council, said Sunday was “one of the most intense days we’ve ever had,” but added that “we all have a role to play here and we follow the recommendations of the Home Front Command, with an eye toward maintaining the daily routine as much as possible while also helping keep civilians safe.”
A dry white board was covered with a breakdown of all the reported rocket strikes on Sunday, next to satellite shots of the council’s towns and kibbutzim, and a flat screen TV airing nonstop news reports of the rocket strikes and IDF operations in Gaza. As Plut spoke, the Code Red alarm went off, followed moments later by a distant boom from the horizon. A minute or two later, the news ticker at the bottom of the screen announced another rocket strike in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, and another entry went up on the dry erase board.
When asked what they do for residents who call in to the situation room, Plut said they instruct them about safety guidelines from the IDF and coordinate visits by social workers to people suffering from shock.
In small Israeli towns like Sderot and the communities of Sha’ar Hanegev, those who aren’t directly touched by the fire are usually only one degree of separation from those who are.
Sha’ar Hanegev resident Varda Goldstein described leaving her house for work in the morning when the Code Red alarm went off, and heading back in seconds before a rocket hit outside her neighbor’s home.
“I heard the Code Red and I went back into the safe room and heard the sound of the rocket going overhead and then heard windows exploding and felt the shockwave,” Goldstein said.
As with a similar direct hit on a house on a kibbutz in the Eshkol region during the last round of violence nearly two weeks ago, Goldstein said the rocket seemed much larger and powerful than a garden variety Kassam.
As the other volunteers watched a hospital bed interview with Moshik Levy on the TV, a gym teacher from Kibbutz Ruhama whom they said they all knew, Goldstein offered her solution to stop the endless stream of escalations and ceasefires with the Gaza Strip.
“We need to do two things: Either we launch another [military] operation and then there will be another year or two of quiet, or we create absolute separation from them. We open the [Gaza] Port, but we cut off the electricity and water coming from Israel. They want to be independent from us, then they’ll be independent altogether,” Goldstein said.
“Tell me, what country in the world would be willing to live like this, to let their grandchildren live like this, that their children are born into a reality of war, 12-year-old children who never lived in peacetime, who don’t know any other language?” she asked.