In Beersheba, rockets bring Arab, Jewish neighbors together

"What do I care about Hamas?" one of the Arab men asked, visibly angry. "This is my home right here."

shelter 224.88 (photo credit: )
shelter 224.88
(photo credit: )
Beersheba looked like a ghost town Wednesday afternoon, as the sporadic wail of sirens and rattling booms of Grad rockets prompted many to stay within the relative safety of their homes, glued to their TVs and radios. But in the city's Gimmel neighborhood - a heavily-Sephardi, working class bloc near the city center - people stood outside the entrance to a bomb shelter, passing the time with jokes and gossip while waiting anxiously for the next siren or boom. "We didn't hear it this morning," Riki Yitzhak said. "The siren hasn't been working in this part of town at all, so we left our houses and came to the shelter. I'd rather stay here all day than go home." Yitzhak explained that she and the others were crowded around the shelter's entrance and had just stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air. "There are many more people downstairs," said a man who stood with the small crowd, his Hebrew peppered with an Arabic twang. "I'd say there are at least 50 people down there." Down the flight of stairs and into the shelter's main room, it became apparent he had left out at least one unusual detail. Sitting around the room, Jewish women pored over books of Psalms and other religious texts, while Arab women, dressed in traditional head coverings and long, modest dresses, sat next to them, knitting scarfs and caps for their young children who waited nearby. "Look at this," Yitzhak said as she followed the crowd back down the stairs. "This is a mixed neighborhood - Jews and Arabs live here together, and we're all suffering from the rockets together. These women are scared just like we are, and they're our neighbors - we decided that we should all stay down here together." Indeed, the Arab families, mostly Beduin, said they were happy to be with their Jewish neighbors in the shelter, and that they abhorred the rocket fire coming in from Gaza. "What do I care about Hamas?" one of the Arab men asked, his anger visible. "This is my home right here, and they're firing rockets at it. Do you think they would stop if they knew there were Arabs living here?" Others expressed their satisfaction with life in the neighborhood, until it was disrupted by the rocket fire. "I've been living in this neighborhood for over 10 years," said Daoud Khaled, whose kids hung onto his pant legs as he spoke. "I love it here, I want to keep living here forever. I have fantastic neighbors, and I'll tell you, in the Gimmel neighborhood, we're all in this together. There's no Arab and Jew here, we're all like one." Miriam, who was standing nearby, chimed in: "We're like one big family, we get along," Then, switching to Arabic, she asked the woman sitting next to her, "How long have you been here? Eight years?" The woman nodded, "Yes, eight years in the neighborhood." "You see," Miriam continued, "we all get along just fine." But aside from their stories of coexistence, nearly everyone in the shelter said they were scared, tired, and anxious to get back to their regular lives. "Have you heard anything about when this is going to be over?" asked Muriel, a younger girl who said she had been in the shelter all day. "It's stuffy down here, and we want to go back up. But, how can we leave if more rockets are going to come down?" Others tried to keep the mood light. "Listen," one of the Arab men, Hamed, said. "We don't have to go to work today, the kids aren't in school, so we'll just enjoy each others' company. My wife just went to the house to bring candy; everything is going to be just fine."