Reporter's Notebook: Sirens and silence

Residents of the South seek to go about their lives with morose determination.

POLICE CORDON off Egoz Street in Sderot 370 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
POLICE CORDON off Egoz Street in Sderot 370
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Jerusalem’s central bus station was crowded with soldiers on Thursday morning as many of them waited for buses to join their units in the South. In general, the bus station is a major transit point for people going to and from their bases, but this time it seemed more serious and busier than usual in light of the cabinet decision to call up reserves. The early morning bus to Ashkelon included almost no civilians.
A rocket had hit Kiryat Malachi and killed three people early in the morning. Later, another Grad rocket was intercepted just north of the Ashkelon junction. The evidence of the Iron Dome missile defense system’s successful work could be seen in the small white puffs of smoke that dotted the sky.
However, life was going on as usual for most of the people in the South. This was to be a continuing theme throughout the day.
Despite the war, people still have to go to work, and bus stops were crowded.
On the road from Ashkelon to Sderot, where Highway 4 skirts the border with the northern Gaza Strip, the army had cordoned off all roads leading to Yad Mordechai and the small communities near the Strip.
In Sderot, the relative quiet was pierced by the sound of artillery fire and deep thuds of nearby bombing. However, the southern town has so far remained mostly untouched by the barrage of Grad rocket fire that have descended on Beersheba and Ashdod Wednesday night and Thursday morning. This reversed the usual pattern whereby Sderot bears the brunt of attacks and its citizens often express feelings of abandonment.
The town gives off its usual depressing exterior, with the citizens going about their lives with morose determination. Some Ethiopian children were celebrating a birthday. A car sped by wrapped in large bows, indicating that it was on its way to a wedding – many of which have had to be canceled in the South.
Some young people were hitching rides out of town with full suitcases, going to stay with relatives out of range of the rockets.
In general, the people of Sderot have gotten used to the media circus that descends on them when there is conflict. One elderly woman asked a Jerusalem Post colleague and I why we had come.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
“You should go home, be safe. God will save us here. Don’t worry yourselves,” she said.
Next to the police and fire stations, an emergency clinic has been set up by the Sderot Mental Health center. Hospital cots were packed into the shelter and a couple of professionals waited around in case people suffering from shock might arrive. But the only major event seemed to be that one woman had been given a parking ticket and several police officers and other residents were busy arguing over whether she was responsible for blocking emergency access.
Dr. Adriana Katz, who helps run the clinic, noted that this community has been under attack for more than 12 years now. Even though services could be much better, the insinuation was that “we’ve been through this before.”
The last time I’d been in Sderot was in the run-up to Operation Cast Lead. At that time, many of the bomb shelters were new and some consisted of raw concrete blocks dropped in a square with a roof and access points at each end. Now all of those shelters have been decorated with street-art-style graffiti, most of it done with a high degree of skill.
While admiring the artwork, and taking note of the plethora of shuttered businesses, an air raid siren sounded. The “Color Red” siren sent people walking calmly, not running, into the nearest shelter or building. The actual hit of the Kassam could not be heard but a fire engine was dispatched. When we arrived on the scene at 4 Egoz Street, the alley had been cordoned off as police inspected the damage and searched for casualties.
Residents came out of their houses to see what had happened. One man pointed to gas tanks stored outside his brother’s house, which abutted a small yard where the Kassam had come down, saying, “It is a miracle those weren’t hit.”
Then the thud, thud, thud of bombing in Gaza was heard and the police asked the people to go back to their lives with a curt, “This isn’t a tourist attraction!” We hitched a ride to Ashkelon. Back at the Ashkelon junction, where I’d been just two hours before, street peddlers were in the medians trying to beg for money and sell holy books. Was this a daily occurrence or had they come out hoping that the war might bring out the charitable side in people? In Ashkelon, sirens wailed again at around two in the afternoon, sending people eating at a popular shwarma joint on Eli Cohen Street, scrambling to get indoors. In this case, indoors meant simply crowding close to the hot shwarma, with the cooks gesturing to the people to pack themselves into the joint.
“There is no point to this. The shop is open from the South,” noted one of the patrons.
The big glass windows of the restaurant indeed faced the Strip, providing little protection.
After realizing this fact, the crowd went back outside to sit in the sunshine.