Despite constant rocket threat, many Israelis remain without adequate access to shelters

Many Israelis near the Gaza Strip lack proper bomb shelters, causing trauma, economic harm, and critique of government measures.

 ASHKELON RESIDENTS wait in a bomb shelter with a pet dog as sirens wail during a rocket attack from Gaza on Wednesday. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
ASHKELON RESIDENTS wait in a bomb shelter with a pet dog as sirens wail during a rocket attack from Gaza on Wednesday.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Tali Medina lives on Kibbutz Urim with her husband and four children. Located 20 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, their kibbutz was last week under continuous rocket barrages launched by Palestinian armed groups.

For more stories from The Media Line go to

Medina, who manages the dairy farm on the kibbutz, cannot leave her job as the rockets whistle and the sirens wail above her. Her husband, Haim, oversees the communications infrastructure on the kibbutz and cannot evacuate either.

In last week’s escalation between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, they stayed with two of their younger children on the kibbutz.

Like many other residential areas in the region often referred to as the “Gaza envelope,” most of the homes do not have bomb shelters. The kindergartens have shelters. Many, including Tali’s children, choose to sleep there during times of escalating violence.

“I take my son with me on my bicycle, so that if a rocket attack comes, at least I know where he is and I can cover him,” she told The Media Line. “When they sleep in the kindergarten shelter, I market it as a camping vacation.”

Israel captured the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Mideast war. Thousands of Israelis then settled in the territory, living amid over 1 million Palestinians. In 2005, the Israeli government decided to unilaterally evacuate Israeli residents from the territory, leaving it to the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Opponents of the evacuation warned that Gaza would become fertile ground for terrorist activity against Israel.

 Israelis with their dog seek safety in a bomb shelter during rocket attacks from Gaza on Ashkelon on August 7 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS) Israelis with their dog seek safety in a bomb shelter during rocket attacks from Gaza on Ashkelon on August 7 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

In 2007, the Hamas terrorist organization violently overthrew the PA and has controlled the territory ever since. Hamas does not recognize Israel and has fought four wars against the Jewish state since then, in addition to several fierce rounds of violence.

Since then, over 10,000 rockets have been fired into Israel. Due to a sophisticated air defense system, the majority of the rockets have not caused casualties, but their toll on the population and the economy is great.

The health impact of living near the Gaza strip

Many people in the adjacent areas to the Gaza Strip are regular recipients of mental health care, traumatized by years of sudden bombardments. The economic fallout from rounds of violence that cripple businesses in the area and force people to be absent from work is estimated at millions of US dollars throughout the years.

According to Yossi Alkobi, the president of the Association of Craft and Industry, the Israeli military’s Home Front Command underestimates the number of small and medium-sized businesses that do not have proper shelter. His estimate puts almost 90% of businesses unfit to be open in times of conflict.

“It is the duty of the state to provide shelter, give budgets and increase industry areas that will be built according to the highest security standards,” Alkobi told The Media Line.

“It’s a matter of time until we find ourselves in a wider conflict. We are surrounded by enemies,” he added.

There are approximately 620,000 small and medium businesses in the country, employing over 2.5 million Israelis. In times of escalation, the Home Front Command instructs workers without adequate shelter to stay at home. The cost of this policy is immense.

“We must demand this of the state, we are the ones who pay the taxes,” said Alkobi.

Access to bomb shelters

While the areas in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza Strip have been given state support to construct bomb shelters, this is not the case for places that are 20 kilometers or more from the volatile border. As the Palestinian armed organizations increased the range of their rockets, more and more Israelis need such shelters.

The shelters do not guarantee complete protection, but throughout years of conflict, they have saved countless lives.

Since the 1990s, all new buildings in Israel are required to be built with individual bomb shelters for each home. But with many existing buildings and houses built before then, there is a large gap to fill.

According to numerous reports by the state comptroller and ombudsman, almost 28% of Israelis do not have a bomb shelter in their immediate vicinity. The Israeli military’s Home Front Command, which instructs citizens on how to behave in times of emergency, has a short list of options for people to choose from under a missile attack. If the home doesn’t have a shelter, in apartment buildings there are usually shared shelters.

But, in places like Kibbutz Urim and others, those options simply do not exist.

“Our homes don’t have shelters and the kibbutz shelters are too far from us,” said Medina. “If I have 30 seconds to find shelter, my house overlooks Gaza … there is nowhere to go! I have no corner to hide in.”

Haim Feiglin is a vice president at the Israeli Contractors and Builders Association. He estimates approximately half of the population in the country, which has doubled in recent decades, is unsheltered. The process of changing this is directly related to urban renewal projects which are necessary for much of the housing in Israel.

“We are talking about very long processes,” he said. “This gap will take at least a decade to bridge.”

As she worries for the safety of her family, Tali Medina is angry at the government.

“They can find the money for this, it’s all politics,” she said. In her disappointment, she suggested the government give credit-free loans to people who want to build their own shelters.

Riddled with endless bureaucracy, urban renewal in Israel is a painstaking, lengthy process. It is being left to the private sector.

“The state does not know how to accelerate these processes. It needs to incentivize the business sector to do so, with subsidies, tax credits, and other means,” Feiglin added.

Last week, an elderly woman was killed in the central Israeli city of Rehovot. A rocket fired from Gaza hit her building. The 80-year-old Inga Avramyan tried to help her disabled husband reached the shared shelter, but they didn’t make it. She was critically wounded and later died. Her husband suffered minor injuries.

In many apartment buildings, shared bomb shelters have been turned into storage spaces, rendering them unfit or unusable to serve as shelters. Data from 2019 shows that approximately 20% of the over 12,600 public shelters in the country are not usable. Of those that are fit, many cannot accommodate a large number of people for a lengthy period of time.

The 2014 war between Gaza and Israel was six weeks long.

“That was when I realized we were screwed, in a lose-lose situation,” said Medina.

Since then, the government devised an evacuation plan for residents of southern Israel. In last week’s round of violence, thousands of residents were taken to areas outside of the rocket range.

On Wednesday, Tali demonstrated against the government at another kibbutz in the area.

“Why do I have to beg for the obvious?” she asked. “The government has to take care of my safety, either by building me shelters or making sure I don’t get shot at.”

The challenge to the home front does not only come from Gaza.

In northern Israel, both on the border with Lebanon and Syria, the armed organization Hizbullah and Iranian forces in Syria are believed to be heavily armed with rockets. Israeli intelligence officers estimate Hizbullah has accumulated around 150,000 rockets, with Iranian assistance. Their range is believed to cover almost all of Israel’s 22,000 square kilometer size.

It is believed that in any future conflict with Hizbullah, Israel will be subject to tens of thousands of rockets fired into its territory daily.

Last month, Israel's Defense Ministry announced it was widening its shelter project on the northern border by adding more villages that are entitled to government-funded shelters.

This will make a small dent in the large nationwide gap that needs to be filled.

“When I am being shot at it—I want a solution,” said Tali Medina. “The country has a duty to keep me safe.”