Walking her dog on the paved road outside her home in Gan Yavne, Hedva Rubin
waits for her new windows and shutters to arrive.
On October 29, a quiet
Shabbat afternoon was shattered when a Grad missile fired from the Gaza Strip
exploded outside Rubin’s home on Rehov Hodaya (Thanksgiving Street), a quiet
cul-de-sac in Gan Yavne’s Neot Maccabim neighborhood.
As the siren warned
of the incoming rocket attack, sending residents scuttling for shelter, the
force of the blast smashed windows and shutters and roof tiles. It tore off
doors, set vehicles on fire, and sent shrapnel flying everywhere. Rubinʼs car
was totaled by the blast, and now she can neither close her front door nor use
the top floor of her two-story home.
At the time of the attack, Rubin, a
mother of three who works at a local elementary school, was visiting her
parents, an hour or so away. Although her neighbor, Haim Elimelech, was injured
in the attack, Rubin believes her car bore the brunt of the explosion and saved
her neighbor’s life.
Waiting for workers to carry out more repairs on her
home, she watches the workmen repairing the roof of her neighborʼs home. “So
much needs to be fixed,” she says.
“They call Gan Yavne the ʽSavion [an
exclusive neighborhood in the center of the country] of the South,ʼ” says a
passerby in her 60s who refuses to give her name. “A few rockets won’t force
people to leave.”
Gan Yavne, located adjacent to the port city of Ashdod
some 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of the Gaza Strip, is a popular choice
among young families seeking a quieter life; real estate prices are high and
business is good, and a high-speed railway, currently under construction, will
conveniently connect the town to Tel Aviv. With a population of 22,000, it is a
quiet, pastoral community.
Over the years, the media has focused on the
larger cities hit by rockets, such as Ashkelon and Ashdod, or those hit more
frequently, such as Sderot. Gan Yavne has suffered four rocket attacks since
2008. Unlike Sderot, where the government installed 120 fortified bus stops and
fortified all the town’s schools against rocket attacks, in Gan Yavne, many of
the schools, kindergartens and other public buildings still have no protection.
Residents of the more affluent neighborhoods live in private homes, where they
have government-mandated security rooms built to withstand rocket attacks, or in
newer apartment buildings with well-built shelters. Protected spaces are not
available to some of the residents in the older neighborhoods.
to the ID F spokesman, the upgraded rockets now in use in Gaza are capable of
reaching any site within a 48 km (30 mile) radius of Gaza, including the cities
of Rehovot and Yavne.
For three days at the end of October, one million
people living within this radius were under threat from the 60 rockets and
mortar shells fired from Gaza, according to the ID F Spokesman’s
While trying to cope with their unwanted reentry into the
line of active fire, residents of Gan Yavne, speaking with The Jerusalem Report
in the days following the attack, insist that they have no intention of selling
their homes or leaving their community.
At 7.30 a.m. on a sunny but cool
day in early November, traffic piles up along the main road as commuters head
for work and Highway 4, the coastal road. Next to the two-story local council
building situated in the middle of a small park surrounded by trees, a female
motorist empties plastic bottles into the recycling container and drives off. A
young man clutching his baby daughter heads towards a health-fund clinic.An
elderly man holds a bag containing a carton of milk he purchased at the nearby
Gingi’s (The Redhead’s) Bakery, located among a small row of
shops opposite the council building, appears to be the most popular venue in
town. Residents park their cars outside and race into the bakery to purchase
fresh pastries and rolls. A short line forms at the counter, as customers jostle
to take advantage of a coffee-and-croissant special.
Taking a brief
respite from the day ahead, Tzvika, the redheaded proprietor who refuses to give
his last name or his age, sits at one of the small tables outside his bakery,
sipping a cup of coffee with a friend.
He moved to Gan Yavne in the 90s
and built his home here, complete with a security room. Security rooms, based on
a 1951 civil defense law that has been revised a number of times, are built in
individual apartment units or private homes and consist of reinforced concrete
rooms with access to the individual living quarters. In office buildings and
some newer apartment buildings, protected areas are also set
Acknowledging that the rocket attacks are frightening, Tzvika says
that he would not even consider moving away. “Gan Yavne is a great place to live
despite the threat,” he insists to The Report
. “There is great community spirit,
[this is] a place where everyone knows each other.” Picking up a call on his
cell phone, he waves to a passing car and turns to greet a woman accompanying
her toddler son into the bakery. “You can't keep him away. Bring him every day!”
he tells the woman, and resumes his telephone conversation.
sitting next to him, moved to Gan Yavne 15 years ago, also seeking a better life
for his family. Cohen says that during the recent rocket attacks, some families
with young children temporarily left to stay with relatives elsewhere in the
country, returning only when events calmed down. “The streets were empty, it was
like a ghost town. It was a bit scary, but it is all part of life,” he says, as
he sips his coffee.
Back on Rehov Hodaya, Rubin points to the window of
the reinforced security room blown open from the force of the blast and to the
front door that was ripped from its hinges. The metal container for the garbage
bin at the entrance to her garden is embedded with metal balls.
exterior walls of the row of two-story single-family homes are pitted with holes
from flying shrapnel.
Rubin, who assists children with behavioral
disabilities at a local elementary school, has not returned to work since the
rocket attack. “I can’t leave the house the way it is, so many things needing to
be fixed,” she tells The Report
. And she adds, “Since the attack I have found it
hard to concentrate. I just want to finish with repairs and return to
Petite and articulate, Rubin is the mother of a 20-year-old son
serving in an ID F combat unit and 17-year-old twins, a girl and boy. She has
lived in the neighborhood for 15 years. Despite the rockets, she insists she is
staying put. “The damage is nothing, it can be fixed. The main thing is that
we are all healthy and the children are OK,” she insists. Then she adds, “This is
my home. The last thing anyone should do is reward them [the Palestinians in
Gaza]by moving. There are plenty of Arab countries the Palestinians can go to,
but I have only one home.”
Dror Aharon, the 50-year-old elected head of
the local council authority, says he expects the government to assist in
providing fortified security rooms in kindergartens and schools, especially
those built many years ago.
“Once the siren sounds, warning of an
incoming rocket, you have 45 seconds to seek shelter. It takes some pupils
approximately one and a half minutes to race to the bomb shelter,” he explains
to The Report
. “The classrooms are not fortified and the existing buildings
offer little protection.
Aharon is also pushing for the government to
grant financial assistance to those without shelters or security rooms in their
homes, so they can build them.
“Twenty percent of our residents who live
in the community’s older neighborhoods have no security rooms,” he
Roi Flyshman, spokesperson for Matan Vilnai, Minister for the Home
Front, from the Atzmaut party (formed last year as a breakaway from the Labor
Party by Defense Minister Ehud Barak), tells The Report
protection for homes in older neighborhoods that have no security rooms or
shelters is the responsibility of the citizens.
With regard to
educational institutions, Flyshman says, “The minister hopes that by 2013 all
schools and learning institutions within a 15-kilometer radius will be
fortified,” he says.
Currently all educational facilities within a
seven-kilometer radius of Gaza have been fully fortified and the cabinet has
approved a plan to fortify communities located within a seven to 15-kilometer
radius, he says. The plan is expected to cost some 80 million shekels ($23
million), and implementation will begin in January 2012.
however, is not included in the second category, Flyshman says, but adds that
plans have already been drawn up to include all areas within a 40-kilometer
radius. These have yet to receive government approval.
Aharon is not
satisfied. “When our children are confronted with such events, they are
frightened and don’t want to sleep in their beds but only in fortified security
rooms, or they wet their beds or refuse to return to school because they are
scared of rockets,” he contends.
During the latest attack, he notes, some
municipal heads, himself included, kept schools and kindergartens closed,
despite instructions issued by the Home Front Command calling for the reopening
of educational institutions after the first day of rocket attacks. “I decided to
initiate the move to shut down the schools [for three days] because I am not
willing to accept or live under an ‘emergency routine’ situation,” he says. “It
is a dangerous precedent.”
“The fact that large cities and towns and
villages in sovereign Israel are threatened is inconceivable and insufferable,”
Brig- Gen (res.) Ephraim Lapid, a former ID F spokesman and senior intelligence
officer, tells The Report
in a telephone interview.
But, he says, the
situation is bleak. “The army has been unsuccessful in forcing the other side to
surrender militarily. This leaves hundreds of thousands of civilians living in
the south open to the rocket threat.
Protecting the civilian population
is expensive,” he continues. “It is too costly to provide protection for the
Since October 2000, the southern town of Sderot,
located one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, has been consistently hit by Qassam
rocket fire from Gaza, causing fatalities, injuries and extensive damage to
But the list of communities living under the threat of rocket
attacks keeps growing longer – from the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza
border, the Eshkol regional council, Kibbutz Ze’elim, Beersheba, Ofakim,
Netivot, Kiryat Gat, Sderot, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malakhi, Gedera, Ashdod, Gan
Yavne, Yavne and Rehovot.
Initially, the rockets were crude and
short-range. By 2006, after the coastal city of Ashkelon was hit, it became
apparent that the groups had more sophisticated rockets with long-range
capabilities in their arsenal.
Lapid explains that there are two kinds of
rocket systems. “The first is primitively made and incapable of accurately
hitting a specific target. The other includes guided missiles that requires
electronic technology to guide them accurately to their target, such as those
fired from aircraft. None of the latter currently exist in Gaza, Lapid
However, reports that anti-aircraft rockets have been smuggled into
Gaza do concern him, although he intimates that he doubts that the Gazans
currently have the technology to fire them.
While efforts are made by Egypt and Israel to prevent
rockets from being smuggled overland into the Gaza Strip, the region cannot be
sealed off hermetically, Lapid says.
Israel has deployed three iron dome
missile defense systems in the south capable of intercepting rockets from up to
70 kilometers away in all weather conditions.
They were declared
operational in March this year and, in April, a battery deployed near Beersheba
intercepted a grad rocket.
a second battery was deployed shortly after,
and the system succeeded in intercepting several rockets over Ashkelon. however,
iron dome was unsuccessful in an October 29 attack on Ashkelon during which a
local man was killed.
In May 2011, Maj. gen. (res.) Udi Shani, director
general of the defense Ministry, was extensively quoted in the media in May as
saying that Israel plans to invest nearly $1 billion in the coming years on
developing and producing 10 to 15 additional batteries, in addition to the $205
million authorized by the US government.
Israel has the capability to
launch a large-scale military offensive in Gaza to wipe out the rocket-launching
capabilities of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lapid continues, warning
that “Israel will be forced to destroy the hostile infrastructure if future
rocket attacks cause major casualties.”
Still, he believes a political
solution is the only way to solve the ongoing violence. “It was the Oslo accords
that succeeded in ending the first intifada, not the army,” he says.
in his eighth year as council head, Aharon refuses to remain silent over what he
describes as the government’s failure to protect its citizens.
December 28, 2008, the first rocket, a Grad missile fired from Gaza, exploded in
an open area in Gan Yavne,” he says.
“Following the attack, the IDF
launched operation cast lead. Since then, we have suffered four salvos of
rockets of different strengths, including the most recent.
test the patience of local residents every three to four months because someone
wakes up on the wrong side of the bed in Gaza and decides to fire rockets at a
population of one million.
“I don’t know of any place in the modern
world, any country who would agree to this.
Would France allow rockets to
be fired at Marseilles or Versailles? Would Germany permit rockets to be
at Bonn? Or would the US allow rockets to be fired on any of its cities?
simply an unacceptable reality.
“Solutions to the problem must come from
above. The next war will target the home front, and the situation won’t
simple. We must start preparing for all eventualities, and that includes
ensuring that citizens are protected. We cannot allow the issue to fall
wayside because of the high cost involved.”
If the issues are ignored, he
concludes, the next generation and the country’s future leaders are
in fear. “I am not willing to allow that to happen.”