In spite of Iron Dome, residents remain on edge

As 117,000 locals awake to sirens, Ashkelon man says: "We don't want war. But we've been under attack 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’s city center on Wednesday, people walked past stores, occasionally greeting one another, and there was traffic on the roads, but locals said activity was half of what it usually is.
Earlier that morning, the coastal city’s 117,000 residents awoke to air raid sirens and blasts in the skies.
Hamas fired a heavy salvo of deadly Grad rockets at Ashkelon, and the Iron Dome anti-rocket shield intercepted them all.
Despite the protection offered by the Iron Dome, the 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 business owner. “Every interception causes two to three more thuds as the rocket disintegrates.”
The presence of the Iron Dome has made a world of a difference, he said, but added that the reality of living in a city targeted by rockets from Gaza remained surreal and disturbing.
Locals are on alert for the sirens at all times, whether walking down the street, driving, or dropping their children off at school.
“I held my two-month-old baby close when I heard the blasts,” Elad said. “He doesn’t know what the sounds signify, but he can feel the stress in the home.
“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 wounded by a rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping center in 2008, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time an air raid siren goes off, 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 endangering 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 December 2008-January 2009 Gaza conflict, many inhabitants remain emotionally scarred, and sharply recall the continual sirens, blasts and casualties.
Since 2009, cranes have littered the cityscape, as investors buy up and develop property.
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.”