Ashkelon residents remain on edge

"We don't want war. But we've been under rocket attacks for years."

A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
In Ashkelon city center, pedestrians walked past stores, occasionally greeting one another, and traffic was visible on the roads, but locals said the activity was half of what it usually is.
Earlier that morning, the coastal city's 117,000 residents awoke to the sound of air raid sirens and blasts in the skies.
Hamas fired a heavy salvo of deadly Grad rockets at the city, and the Iron Dome anti-rocket shield intercepted them all.
Despite the valuable protection offered by Iron Dome, the city's residents remained on edge throughout the day.
"It's frightening to wake up to seven blasts in the morning," said Elad, a 33-year-old local business owner. "Every interception causes two to three more thuds as the rocket disintegrates," he added. The presence of the Iron Dome has made a world of a difference, he stressed, but the reality of living in a city targeted by rockets from Gaza remained surreal and disturbing, he added.
Locals are on guard against the sirens at all times, whether walking down the street, driving, or dropping their children off at school.
"I held my two-month baby close when I heard the blasts. He doesn't know what the sounds signify, but he can feel the stress in the home," Elad said. "When you're not at home, you think about your family when a siren goes off and wonder, is everyone okay?"
Elad's mother was injured in a 2008 rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping center, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time an air raid siren goes off in the city, she suffers a bout of anxiety, he said.
"What would people in London or Paris do if a siren went off and they heard explosions? How are we supposed to react to years of this?" Elad asked.
"We don't want war. I don't hate Arabs. But we've been under rocket attacks for years. I can't see a political solution to this, unfortunately. No one wants to see anyone go into battle and endanger themselves, but it looks like only a military solution might help" he added.
While Ashkelon has physically and economically recovered from the hammering it took in the 2009 Gaza conflict, many inhabitants remain emotionally scarred, and sharply recall the continuous sirens, blasts, and casualties.
Since 2009, cranes have littered the city scape, as investors buy up property and develop it.
A renewed all-out conflict would endanger that growth, Elad said.
"I wouldn't bring my workers into the city in that situation. Nor would I come to work myself," he said. "It's a tough reality."