As of this writing on May 6, the people of Ashkelon have been confined to their homes for over 48 hours. Streets are empty, people are tired and frustrated, and Hamas threatens that this rocket barrage is just the beginning.
The quiet of a beautiful, sunny spring Saturday on the morning of May 4 was shattered by the wailing of a siren, announcing an incoming rocket. Nothing new, it’s happened before; but none of us ever anticipated that this would be the opening note of what is, as of this writing, over 34 hours of running in and out of our safe rooms, death, destruction and everything else that accompanies it.
I live downstairs in a two-story house; my son, daughter-in-law and their two sons, eight and six, live upstairs. I have a fortified room, and so they’ve moved down here for the duration, playing in the backyard, front yard and other places in the house where they can get to safety within the allotted 30 seconds.
In Ashkelon, each neighborhood has its own set of sirens, so that if a missile is headed into a different area, you don’t get an alert. However, you do hear the “thuds” of the Iron Dome intercepts, a specific sound different from a direct hit of a missile “boom.” Sometimes you hear the air force bombing Gaza, and sometimes, you just hear the birds singing.
On that Saturday, we spent a good part of the day in the safe room, listening for the “booms” and waiting a few minutes before opening the safe room door. It started at around 10:15 a.m., and I worried about people who were in synagogue for Shabbat services. The sirens continued throughout the day, but although we had been in this situation before and knew the drill, this was getting to be a bit too much.
We stayed in the safe room for the required time and would sometimes go to the garden and marvel at the picture in the sky left by the Iron Dome intercept, and quietly thank whoever invented this literal lifesaver again and again.
Then came the phone rings and WhatsApp pings with messages asking if we were okay. Since media coverage outside the country has been scarce, even nonexistent till very late last night, I felt it my duty to post on Facebook ongoing coverage of what was happening here in the South. The response was incredulous: “Why don’t we hear/read anything here?” Maybe we’re not important enough.
Since I live near the beach and marina, Saturdays are busy days for foot and vehicle traffic, but today it was, excuse the expression, “dead.” The only sounds I heard were lifeguards at the beach screaming at people to leave and go to a fortified area immediately.
Evening fell, with the sounds of booms in the background, and with that, time to get ready for bed. We all showered wearing our bathing suits, a system we began during Operation Protective Edge. It was good that we did, because a siren caught eight-year-old Itamar in the shower.
It was pretty quiet, with the sounds of thuds in the distance but not any in-your-face siren signaling “incoming.” The TV was turned on to the news, and we were astounded at the ever-growing list of areas being threatened by rockets. I needed a break, and put on a really stupid but really funny Sacha Baron Cohen film, The Dictator, perfect for now.
The kids went to sleep easily enough; the rest of us were exhausted. We fiddled around with our computers and phone messages and, one by one, went to bed, joking that we’d probably see each other before dawn. Ari and Ronit were handling it pretty well, but never knowing when a siren would go off and running in and out of the fortified room were getting to me.
“Come on Hamas, sleep break!”
But it was not to be. Sirens, sirens, sirens. Till around 3:30 in the morning, there were sirens all the time. In bed, out of bed, in bed, out of bed. Ronit decided just to sleep in the fortified room with the kids, not the most comfortable place in the world (a sofa bed), but surely better than jumping in and out of bed. After each “all clear,” I went back to bed and waited for whatever would come first: sleep or siren. While waiting, I heard the cacophony of thuds and booms, some in the distance and some a bit too close for comfort.
It was a bit unnerving and, tired as I was, it was impossible to sleep, because the sirens just kept coming at intervals long enough to make you think that that was all and you could finally relax. My friends and I were all WhatsApping between ourselves to see how we were doing, which in itself was surreal. Someone mentioned a house in the city had been hit, but since none of us had heard any service vehicles (a sign of proximity), we knew it wasn’t around here.
It finally stopped at around 3:30 a.m., the last time I looked at my clock radio. The next thing I knew, the birds were singing and the sun was pouring into my room (you have to sleep with the windows open in order to hear the sirens). A chirping bird sounded like “tzeva adom,” the code words warning of incoming rockets. It was 8:16 a.m. Five hours of bliss.
THE FIRST thing I did was check to see if any missiles had been shot at Tel Aviv and then catch up on the overnight news. A man had been killed here in Ashkelon, and I soon discovered it was the uncle of Itamar’s best friend. He was to be, as of this writing, the first of four fatalities.
There were dozens of messages from friends in the US asking what was going on and how we all were. No patience to answer them all, so I put a quick message on Facebook.
Ari had to go out at 8:30 a.m. and said he was the only one on the road. Ronit went to work at 9 a.m. She, too, had the streets to herself and drove like the wind.
We’ve been getting invitations from friends and family all over the country to stay with them (and even bring our three dogs), but we’d rather not be on the roads and feel safe here, if you can call it that.
I am fortunate enough to have a safe room, but I have friends who don’t. Some run into the stairwell of their apartment building, others press themselves close to an internal wall, and two have no place to go; the public shelter isn’t accessible within 30 seconds, so they sit in their living room with cooking pots on their heads.
When you look at it this way, we’re pretty lucky, but we’d be luckier, much luckier, if the powers that be could figure out a way to stop these attacks once and for all. After 20 years, enough is enough.
The writer had to stop twice for incoming rockets while composing this article – one a barrage of 12 rockets, the other “only” four.
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