Beersheba residents may be scared, but they're not leaving

"When will it end?" a woman asks as she finally makes it to a shelter, looking strained and worried.

grad damage beersheba classroom 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
grad damage beersheba classroom 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Fear was splashed across the faces of Beersheba residents Thursday afternoon, as the sudden wail of a siren pierced the air and they scrambled into a bomb shelter near the city center. Running through the entrance and down the stairs, young women, elderly men, parents holding their young children and gasping for breath from the sprint to reach the shelter in time - all betrayed a panicked look that revealed the shock and confusion residents of this central Negev town feel now that rockets have begun to rain down on their homes. Since the first Grad rocket landed in Beersheba Tuesday night, residents have had to learn quickly how to react, and many, as was the case on Thursday, are clearly under considerable duress. "When will it end?" a woman asked as she finally made it down the stairs, her face strained and worried. "When will this war be over?" "I slept here last night," another woman said. "I stayed in the shelter because I was afraid I wouldn't hear the alarm while I slept." But even with the sudden sounding of sirens, the hurried race to shelters or other fortified rooms and stairwells, and the daunting booms that are often heard seconds after the sirens stop, Beersheba residents on Thursday overwhelmingly said it would take a lot more than rockets to make them leave town. "I've been here for 60 years," said Yosef, an elderly man who immigrated to Israel from Iran in the 1940s as a teenager. "I like it here, the weather is nice, my friends and family are here. Their rockets won't move me a centimeter - I'm not going anywhere." And Yosef was not alone. While streets were empty, and small convenience stores and lottery stands saw their few patrons glued to the news broadcasts on TV, no one who spoke to The Jerusalem Post said they were thinking about leaving Beersheba. In fact, many said now was the time to stay put. In a situation room set up in the underground shelter at City Hall, the newly elected mayor, Rubik Danilovitz, made it clear that he did not want residents to flee for the country's center or north. "We will stay here," Danilovitz said firmly. "We will not run away. We are going to stay strong and get through this difficult time together." The mayor also spoke about recent offers that had been made to take Beersheba residents to other parts of the country. "While I'm sure those offers were made with the best of intentions, we're going to decline them. I understand that some families might make the private decision to leave, but the municipality will in no way adopt it as a policy, and the residents of Beersheba will stay here." Speaking to the Post moments later, Danilovitz said he admired the strength and resilience of his constituents and that he was impressed with their behavior under an immense amount of pressure. "I've seen nothing but bravery and courage from the residents of Beersheba," Danilovitz said, "and we will continue to offer them the best conditions and services possible to ease this difficult time and help them pass it with ease." Yosef added that it was unclear how many residents had left Beersheba, but that the number was likely low. "Most of the residents are not leaving," he said. "We're holding strong." In other cities coming under rocket fire, similar responses were heard. In Ashkelon, the municipality spokeswoman said that while she didn't know how many residents had left, she imagined the number to be low. In Ashdod, municipality spokesman Eddy Ben Hamu said residents were also remaining defiant in the face of incessant rocket fire. At least five rockets slammed into the seaside town on Thursday, causing little damage but sending a number of residents into shock. "We're not going to run away," Ben Hamu said. "We've prepared for this, we've drilled for this, our shelters are ready, and I think the residents of Ashdod have been handling themselves extremely well under the circumstances." Remarkably it was in Sderot, a town which has suffered Kassam rocket fire for the last eight years, where a reported 20 percent of the residents had left. "I can't tell you why it is," a Sderot spokeswoman told the Post. "I imagine people have just had enough."