Victory under fire

The rocket that shattered Pinchas Cohen's yellow hatchback narrowly missed his wife and son.

Sderot damage 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sderot damage 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The rocket that shattered the front windshield of Pinchas Cohen's bright yellow hatchback close to 5 p.m. Wednesday narrowly missed his wife and son. So as he stood with his arms folded in front of him in the dark parking lot outside the Victory supermarket in Sderot on Wednesday evening, Cohen thanked God for saving his family. He turned his eyes in the direction of the sky. "Who else but God could have saved them?" he asked. This was the second time his family had been spared. Only last year, he said, a rocket fell meters from his Sderot home while he, his wife and their three children were vacationing in Jerusalem. On Wednesday, he said, his wife and son had just gotten out of the car when they heard a warning siren. They raced into the supermarket ahead of the rocket, which fell in the lot close to where they had stood. The small rocket damaged a dozen cars in the lot and shattered the glass doors of the supermarket, as well as the glass windows in two stores across the street. Three people were lightly wounded from the blast and taken to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital. Nine others were treated for shock in Sderot. Plastic bottles of iced tea which had been stacked near the market's entrance hit the floor, as did glass bottles of wine that had lined the shelves inside. Shoppers who had been busy filling their carts only seconds before either fell to the ground or raced to the back of the store. "I was standing next to the vegetables. Suddenly I heard someone yelling, 'Kassam!'" recalled Tamar Givgi, as she stood, still shaking slightly, near the sticky floor littered with broken wine bottles. Bobbi Anne Dorvee said she had been shopping for lemons when a man yelled out that he heard a warning siren. But she didn't really comprehend what was going on until she heard the explosion outside and saw smoke flood the store. "Only then did I run to the back," she said. As the shoppers, still in shock, stood near the store's broken doors, emergency crews that included firefighters and police taped off the area and pushed everyone out into the parking lot. "But my groceries are still in the store," said one woman who tried to evade them and reenter. Daniella Buchbut, who had filled her cart with food for Shabbat, said she had no problem leaving it behind. She left the second it was safe to check on her son Asher's clothing store across the street. It had lost some of its windows, but her son had managed to hide in the back of the store. Sderot's new mayor, David Bouskila, had not expected the damage to be so minimal when he was first informed that a rocket had fallen in the busy shopping area. Earlier in the evening, as the sun set, he had sat outside Kadima's voting station in the back area of the parking lot near City Hall. He was proud to note that, in spite of the rockets that had fallen harmlessly in the area earlier in the day, by 5 p.m. 50 percent of the party members who lived in the city had voted. With less than 24 hours to go until the end of the six-month-old cease-fire with Hamas, Bouskila said he did not think that much would change in the coming days. "That's because the cease-fire is already broken, and has been for the last month," he said, as he watched party volunteers go over voting lists. "Rockets fell today, rockets fell yesterday." His words were broken by a warning siren that sent him, the voters and the volunteers scurrying inside for safety. Within seconds the ground shook, followed by the sound of a blast. "It's close by," commented one resident as Bouskila's phone rang. He listened for a moment, closed the phone and said to one of his aides, "It hit the parking lot by Victory. Let's go." The two men quickly walked to a nearby car and headed to the supermarket. On the way, fearing the worst, he called home to make sure his family was safe. Then he prayed that such a hit at this time of day had not led to fatalities. The relief he felt upon hearing that the city had been spared a tragedy did not reduce his anger toward the government, which, he said, had come to believe that this was an acceptable situation. To the reporters who crowded around him in the parking lot, as a crane dropped sand onto the puddles of gas that had leaked from the pockmarked cars, Bouskila called on the government to fulfill its basic responsibility to protect its citizens. The government, Bouskila said, could not afford to be wracked by indecision and must act now to stop the rockets rather than waiting for a fatality to occur. However, he stopped short of urging military action. It was up to the government to choose how to stop the rockets, said Bouskila. His role was simply to tell officials that his city could not continue to endure this kind of attack. If politicians try to enter the city the day after someone is killed there to say they are sorry, "I'm not going to let them in," he said. As he stood at the scene, he shook hands and hugged some of the survivors of the attack, including the owners of the Victory supermarket. "It's important to return to business as usual," Bouskila told them. "We're opening tomorrow," one of the owners responded. Upon leaving the scene, Bouskila headed to a small Sderot infirmary that treats shock victims. "Be strong," he told them, as he shook the hands of the small number of people who had remained there waiting to feel safe enough to leave. Among the them was Hava Krissbell, who lay on a gurney, wrapped in a blanket. She had just left her car in the lot and entered a nearby store to buy a present when the warning siren rang out. She hid in the back of the store until it was safe to leave. Krissbell then walked back to the lot and saw the small hole the rocket had made in the pavement when it landed. Only then did she notice her car, which was dented and pockmarked, with its windows shattered. "That's when I understood that I almost died," she said. "It was just a matter of minutes that made a difference. If I had arrived at the lot only a few moments later, I would have been there when the rocket hit." Just the thought made her whole body shake, she said. "Then I fainted from shock," she added.