The anger is palpable in Ashkelon.
The rocket barrages kept coming on Wednesday, dozens have been directed at the coastal city since Operation Protective Edge began, and people are feeling the strain. The city’s some 120,000 residents live 13 km. from Gaza and have 30 seconds to run for cover when the sirens wail.
A familiar refrain is echoed around the city by Ashkelon’s inhabitants. Every day life is impossible, they say, and the government should not tolerate the periodic rounds of violence with Gaza.
Calls for Israel and the IDF to react more forcefully abound and the name of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not held in high esteem, while that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is widely lauded.
Eddy Barzilai, the proprietor of a lottery store downtown, denounced the prime minister and accused him of weakness for accepting Tuesday’s failed cease-fire.
“Bibi is a piece of garbage,” said Barzilai, clearly riled by the situation. “We are letting [the Palestinians] dictate our lives and yet he agrees to this ceasefire, it’s simply weakness.”
Although he said he did not vote in the election, Barzilai praised Liberman for his harder stance and his opposition to the cease-fire proffered by Egypt but rejected by Hamas.
“We need a Putin figure,” he continued in reference to Russia’s uncompromising President Vladimir Putin. “Liberman is not afraid of anyone. He doesn’t talk, he acts.”
Barzilai said he was opposed to a ground offensive, however, arguing that Israel should not risk the lives of its soldiers, advocating instead the continuation of the aerial bombing campaign and saying that the air force should strike hard at Hamas in Gaza.
Michael Atias, a building contractor and friend of Barzilai, disagreed with the lottery store owner, and advocated a more measured response.
“We’re Jews, we can’t behave like this,” he said, and backed what he described as Netanyahu’s “wise and considered” approach to the current round of hostilities.
Atias said that life had been relatively calm in the period between November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense and the beginning of 2014, although he noted that rockets were already flying from Gaza to the South before the recent outbreak of violence.
“I would never leave though, my family is here, my life is here, you don’t leave these things,” he said, although he acknowledged that business was slow and his builders, Palestinians from the West Bank, could not get into Israel to work because of the security situation.
During one of the barrages fired from Gaza at Ashkelon earlier in the afternoon, one Grad rocket out of a volley of five evaded the Iron Dome anti-missile system and scored a direct hit on a home in a residential neighborhood. A young girl who was at home narrowly cheated death, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, by taking cover in the fortified room although the rocket caused extensive damage to the property.
While visiting the house, Liberman was himself forced to find shelter in it as another barrage was fired at Ashkelon. He was greeted by shouts of praise, with neighborhood residents calling out “Liberman, the next prime minister.”
Avi Abukassis, who lives two roads away from the house that was hit, said he supported Liberman’s approach and that the country needed strong characters in the government including MK Danny Danon, who was fired from his position as deputy defense minister on Tuesday for speaking out against Netanyahu.
“We spend billions of shekels on the army, so what is it for other than this kind of operation? We’re completely captive to this situation down here,” he said, advocating a ground incursion into Gaza to destroy the terrorists’ rocket- firing capabilities.
“We must strike them and strike them hard so that they stop firing rockets once and for all,” Abukassis said. “Holding back from it is just weakness.”