Iron Dome battery 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If a state of war had descended on the South since the rocket onslaught from the
Gaza Strip began on Friday, it was not apparent next to the “Iron Dome” battery
in Ashdod on Sunday.
By midday the site had become a pilgrimage spot of
sorts for some workplaces and local families taking advantage of the day off
from school to watch the anti-rocket system in action, with smart phones in hand
to catch the action on film.
Avichai Vatkin, a 22-year-old local, showed
off a video made on his iPhone, and said that the rockets had not caused the
city to become a ghost town, with life continuing as usual in many
He gave some credit to the Iron Dome and the sense of security it
provides, but added that the residents of the city and other areas of the south
had “already become used to this” and are not spending their days hunkered down
in bomb shelters and safe rooms, terrified to step into the light of
Vatkin, who said the cleaning supplies factory where he is employed
was closed Sunday because it lacks sufficient safe areas, did admit when pressed
that local children do not sleep at night, and that many residents are actually
afraid to leave their houses during the day. He also said he does not believe
the Iron Dome provides total security to the civilian population in the line of
While the city does not have anywhere near the amount of bomb
shelters as Sderot and other towns in the Gaza envelope, it is far enough away
to provide residents with about 45 seconds from the time the “code red” siren is
sounded until a rocket lands in the city.
On top of a hill overlooking
the battery, Vatkin visited with a friend named Golan, who came to see the Iron
Dome with his seven-year-old son – who, like all pupils in towns within seven to
40 km. from the Gaza Strip, had no school Sunday after the IDF Home Front
Command and local authorities closed the schools due to the security
Golan said the day off was “like a picnic” for his son, who
laughed as he scrambled up the hill to watch the soldiers stationed next to the
Throughout the afternoon, a handful of young families and other
curious locals came to visit the site, including a haredi family whose father
took a picture of one of his sons standing in a wheat field with the Iron Dome
in the background.
Entering Ashdod on Sunday was to pass into an area of
heightened security and not-quite-normal life. Only a 30 minute drive from Tel
Aviv, F-16s flew overhead almost non-stop as an antirocket battery took aim at
the sky. The feeling was not of a war zone, but of a city walking at a
It appears that the Iron Dome provides a sense of
security for locals, who have become used to the routine of occasional flare-ups
in the region. While death or serious injury is always possible no matter how
effective the system, the Iron Dome combined with residents’ experience makes
the possibility that the rockets will completely shut down life seem remote at
The feeling was apparent at a strip mall in south Ashdod, where
David Michashvilli manned an oven at a massive bakery. Though a trickle of
customers filed in and out of the store, he said the business was a shell of its
normal self on Sunday.
Michaeshvilli said he did not consider closing
down on Sunday and that such periods of escalation are just a normal part of
life there. He added that while he has access to a bomb shelter a short distance
from the bakery, he does not bother running there when the siren goes
A few doors down at a women’s clothing store, manager Moshe Naaran
repeated similar sentiments, saying that he had seen less customers than usual,
but did not feel that the city was in a war stance.
“There are less
people than normal, but we’re continuing on as usual, we’re stronger than all of
this,” Naaran said.
When asked if he had a shelter to run to when the
alarm is sounded, he said he prefers to stand in the store and watch the Iron
Dome take on the rockets from Gaza. He did admit that the situation is much more
difficult for families with small children, but added, “This is what they [Gaza
rocket crews] want though; they want to disrupt our lives. We can’t let that