Rocket strike highlights lack of shelter at kibbutz

Eshkol region is too close to the Strip for Iron Dome protection, but too far to receive home reinforcement from the government.

Eshkol region kibbutz home damaged by rocket 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Eshkol region kibbutz home damaged by rocket 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Adam Youz has dedicated many hours as a youth counselor, helping children on a moshav in the western Negev deal with the trauma and shock of year after year of rocket and mortar barrages.
On Wednesday, standing in his mother’s battered house on this bucolic kibbutz in the Eshkol region, Youz said the trauma he had helped children deal with for so long had hit closer to home than ever.
“My mom’s bed was right against this wall, right where the rocket hit. If she hadn’t heard the siren and run to stand underneath the crawl space, she wouldn’t be here any longer,” the 28-year-old Youz said.
The rocket that struck Zilpa Youz’s house left a crater more than a foot deep in the yard and blew off almost an entire wall of her bedroom. The bedframe, armoire and bedside table were all crushed and lying in a pile flush against the far wall of the room, where they were thrust by the shockwaves of the blast.
Cleaning the house and vacuuming the furniture with some friends from the kibbutz on Wednesday, Adam pointed to the spot underneath the wall space where his mother stood, one of the only spots in the apartment that is reinforced.
Like almost all of the rest of the houses on the kibbutz, the roof is made of wood and in places a thin layer of rock, while the exterior walls of the house appear to be a mix of rock and asbestos. The fragile make-up of the kibbutz houses only adds to a feeling of vulnerability for the residents, Youz said.
“Every kibbutz or moshav within 4.5 km. of Gaza gets fortifications built by the government, but since we’re 4.75 km. from Gaza we miss out, all because of 250 meters.”
The geography of the kibbutz has left it caught in a sort of devil’s arithmetic – too close to the Gaza Strip for the Iron Dome to shoot down projectiles in time, but not close enough to receive assistance from the government in reinforcing houses. Also, the proximity means that when the Code Red alarm goes off, residents have only a few seconds to get to one of the handful of bomb shelters on the kibbutz, which include the kibbutz synagogue and pub.
Meters away from her bedroom, Zilpa sat at a table arrayed with coffee and snacks on the porch of her neighbors, the Schiledkroits, which had turned into a makeshift press room as photographers and reporters filed into the kibbutz over the course of the day.
Wearing clothes she had borrowed from her neighbors, Zilpa said that “there are some benefits of living on a kibbutz, if I was just a single person in the city, no one would have come to help me.”
Indeed, despite the constant threat of rockets and mortars, the kibbutz is remarkably green and well-manicured, and full of young children riding bikes and milling around in the afternoon.
Zilpa, a Tel Aviv native who moved to the kibbutz 37 years ago, said that she was awakened by explosions from mortars and shells that blew up near her house around 4 a.m., and was lying in bed awake when she heard the Code Red alarm go off. She then scurried to the spot underneath the crawl space, which has an extra layer of stone, and waited until moments later a rocket landed only meters away, blowing apart her bedroom and somehow leaving her unscathed.
Zilpa said her children “always make fun of me for sleeping with the [home front command] beeper next to the bed, but they’re not laughing today.”
The damage caused by the rocket appears to suggest that it was significantly larger than the typical Kassam, and residents said the explosion was louder than any they had heard in recent years.
Orit Schiledkroit, who moved with her husband Asaf to the kibbutz 35 years ago as part of the IDF settlement group Garin Nahal, described the first two decades of life on the kibbutz as “a paradise where all the kids grew up in an amazing environment.”
She said everything changed once the rockets began falling on the western Negev in April 2001. It only became worse after the Gaza disengagement in the summer of 2005, she said, when armed groups in the Strip, lacking targets there, began to increasingly direct their attacks at the Eshkol district.
A special education teacher at a school in the Eshkol region, she said she sees the effect of the trauma on her students, especially on the day after heavy rocket fire forces the closure of school.
“They’ll all be talking about it, but it gives them an opportunity to get it out of their system and talk about what they’re going through,” she said.
As she spoke, kibbutz residents continued to file through the porch, joking about wanting to shake the hand of the “now-famous Zilpa Youz” who had given a battery of interviews to the press that day, and deriding the residents of central Israel who don’t understand what they’re going through – a common refrain whenever a flare-up brings the rockets down in earnest.
On Wednesday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he supports efforts to fortify the kibbutzim and moshavim of the western Negev that currently lack adequate protection.
He did not provide specifics, but said such a plan will take a year-and-a-half, and will resume after the upcoming elections.