Living under the rocket's roar

Residents of Gan Yavne stand firm after another round of missiles from Gaza.

Rocket damage in house 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Rocket damage in house 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Walking her dog on the paved road outside her home in Gan Yavne, Hedva Rubin waits for her new windows and shutters to arrive.
On October 29, a quiet Shabbat afternoon was shattered when a Grad missile fired from the Gaza Strip exploded outside Rubin’s home on Rehov Hodaya (Thanksgiving Street), a quiet cul-de-sac in Gan Yavne’s Neot Maccabim neighborhood.
As the siren warned of the incoming rocket attack, sending residents scuttling for shelter, the force of the blast smashed windows and shutters and roof tiles. It tore off doors, set vehicles on fire, and sent shrapnel flying everywhere. Rubinʼs car was totaled by the blast, and now she can neither close her front door nor use the top floor of her two-story home.
At the time of the attack, Rubin, a mother of three who works at a local elementary school, was visiting her parents, an hour or so away. Although her neighbor, Haim Elimelech, was injured in the attack, Rubin believes her car bore the brunt of the explosion and saved her neighbor’s life.
Waiting for workers to carry out more repairs on her home, she watches the workmen repairing the roof of her neighborʼs home. “So much needs to be fixed,” she says.
“They call Gan Yavne the ʽSavion [an exclusive neighborhood in the center of the country] of the South,ʼ” says a passerby in her 60s who refuses to give her name. “A few rockets won’t force people to leave.”
Gan Yavne, located adjacent to the port city of Ashdod some 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of the Gaza Strip, is a popular choice among young families seeking a quieter life; real estate prices are high and business is good, and a high-speed railway, currently under construction, will conveniently connect the town to Tel Aviv. With a population of 22,000, it is a quiet, pastoral community.
Over the years, the media has focused on the larger cities hit by rockets, such as Ashkelon and Ashdod, or those hit more frequently, such as Sderot. Gan Yavne has suffered four rocket attacks since 2008. Unlike Sderot, where the government installed 120 fortified bus stops and fortified all the town’s schools against rocket attacks, in Gan Yavne, many of the schools, kindergartens and other public buildings still have no protection. Residents of the more affluent neighborhoods live in private homes, where they have government-mandated security rooms built to withstand rocket attacks, or in newer apartment buildings with well-built shelters. Protected spaces are not available to some of the residents in the older neighborhoods.
According to the ID F spokesman, the upgraded rockets now in use in Gaza are capable of reaching any site within a 48 km (30 mile) radius of Gaza, including the cities of Rehovot and Yavne.
For three days at the end of October, one million people living within this radius were under threat from the 60 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza, according to the ID F Spokesman’s department.
While trying to cope with their unwanted reentry into the line of active fire, residents of Gan Yavne, speaking with The Jerusalem Report in the days following the attack, insist that they have no intention of selling their homes or leaving their community.
At 7.30 a.m. on a sunny but cool day in early November, traffic piles up along the main road as commuters head for work and Highway 4, the coastal road. Next to the two-story local council building situated in the middle of a small park surrounded by trees, a female motorist empties plastic bottles into the recycling container and drives off. A young man clutching his baby daughter heads towards a health-fund clinic.An elderly man holds a bag containing a carton of milk he purchased at the nearby supermarket.
Gingi’s (The Redhead’s) Bakery, located among a small row of shops opposite the council building, appears to be the most popular venue in town. Residents park their cars outside and race into the bakery to purchase fresh pastries and rolls. A short line forms at the counter, as customers jostle to take advantage of a coffee-and-croissant special.
Taking a brief respite from the day ahead, Tzvika, the redheaded proprietor who refuses to give his last name or his age, sits at one of the small tables outside his bakery, sipping a cup of coffee with a friend.
He moved to Gan Yavne in the 90s and built his home here, complete with a security room. Security rooms, based on a 1951 civil defense law that has been revised a number of times, are built in individual apartment units or private homes and consist of reinforced concrete rooms with access to the individual living quarters. In office buildings and some newer apartment buildings, protected areas are also set aside.
Acknowledging that the rocket attacks are frightening, Tzvika says that he would not even consider moving away. “Gan Yavne is a great place to live despite the threat,” he insists to The Report. “There is great community spirit, [this is] a place where everyone knows each other.” Picking up a call on his cell phone, he waves to a passing car and turns to greet a woman accompanying her toddler son into the bakery. “You can't keep him away. Bring him every day!” he tells the woman, and resumes his telephone conversation.
Eli Cohen, sitting next to him, moved to Gan Yavne 15 years ago, also seeking a better life for his family. Cohen says that during the recent rocket attacks, some families with young children temporarily left to stay with relatives elsewhere in the country, returning only when events calmed down. “The streets were empty, it was like a ghost town. It was a bit scary, but it is all part of life,” he says, as he sips his coffee.
Back on Rehov Hodaya, Rubin points to the window of the reinforced security room blown open from the force of the blast and to the front door that was ripped from its hinges. The metal container for the garbage bin at the entrance to her garden is embedded with metal balls.
The exterior walls of the row of two-story single-family homes are pitted with holes from flying shrapnel.
Rubin, who assists children with behavioral disabilities at a local elementary school, has not returned to work since the rocket attack. “I can’t leave the house the way it is, so many things needing to be fixed,” she tells The Report. And she adds, “Since the attack I have found it hard to concentrate. I just want to finish with repairs and return to normal.”
Petite and articulate, Rubin is the mother of a 20-year-old son serving in an ID F combat unit and 17-year-old twins, a girl and boy. She has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years. Despite the rockets, she insists she is staying put. “The damage is nothing, it can be fixed. The main thing is that we are all healthy and the children are OK,” she insists. Then she adds, “This is my home. The last thing anyone should do is reward them [the Palestinians in Gaza]by moving. There are plenty of Arab countries the Palestinians can go to, but I have only one home.”
Dror Aharon, the 50-year-old elected head of the local council authority, says he expects the government to assist in providing fortified security rooms in kindergartens and schools, especially those built many years ago.
“Once the siren sounds, warning of an incoming rocket, you have 45 seconds to seek shelter. It takes some pupils approximately one and a half minutes to race to the bomb shelter,” he explains to The Report. “The classrooms are not fortified and the existing buildings offer little protection.
Aharon is also pushing for the government to grant financial assistance to those without shelters or security rooms in their homes, so they can build them.
“Twenty percent of our residents who live in the community’s older neighborhoods have no security rooms,” he says.
Roi Flyshman, spokesperson for Matan Vilnai, Minister for the Home Front, from the Atzmaut party (formed last year as a breakaway from the Labor Party by Defense Minister Ehud Barak), tells The Report that providing protection for homes in older neighborhoods that have no security rooms or shelters is the responsibility of the citizens.
With regard to educational institutions, Flyshman says, “The minister hopes that by 2013 all schools and learning institutions within a 15-kilometer radius will be fortified,” he says.
Currently all educational facilities within a seven-kilometer radius of Gaza have been fully fortified and the cabinet has approved a plan to fortify communities located within a seven to 15-kilometer radius, he says. The plan is expected to cost some 80 million shekels ($23 million), and implementation will begin in January 2012.
Gan Yavne, however, is not included in the second category, Flyshman says, but adds that plans have already been drawn up to include all areas within a 40-kilometer radius. These have yet to receive government approval.
Aharon is not satisfied. “When our children are confronted with such events, they are frightened and don’t want to sleep in their beds but only in fortified security rooms, or they wet their beds or refuse to return to school because they are scared of rockets,” he contends.
During the latest attack, he notes, some municipal heads, himself included, kept schools and kindergartens closed, despite instructions issued by the Home Front Command calling for the reopening of educational institutions after the first day of rocket attacks. “I decided to initiate the move to shut down the schools [for three days] because I am not willing to accept or live under an ‘emergency routine’ situation,” he says. “It is a dangerous precedent.”
“The fact that large cities and towns and villages in sovereign Israel are threatened is inconceivable and insufferable,” Brig- Gen (res.) Ephraim Lapid, a former ID F spokesman and senior intelligence officer, tells The Report in a telephone interview.
But, he says, the situation is bleak. “The army has been unsuccessful in forcing the other side to surrender militarily. This leaves hundreds of thousands of civilians living in the south open to the rocket threat.
Protecting the civilian population is expensive,” he continues. “It is too costly to provide protection for the entire population.”
Since October 2000, the southern town of Sderot, located one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, has been consistently hit by Qassam rocket fire from Gaza, causing fatalities, injuries and extensive damage to property.
But the list of communities living under the threat of rocket attacks keeps growing longer – from the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza border, the Eshkol regional council, Kibbutz Ze’elim, Beersheba, Ofakim, Netivot, Kiryat Gat, Sderot, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malakhi, Gedera, Ashdod, Gan Yavne, Yavne and Rehovot.
Initially, the rockets were crude and short-range. By 2006, after the coastal city of Ashkelon was hit, it became apparent that the groups had more sophisticated rockets with long-range capabilities in their arsenal.
Lapid explains that there are two kinds of rocket systems. “The first is primitively made and incapable of accurately hitting a specific target. The other includes guided missiles that requires electronic technology to guide them accurately to their target, such as those fired from aircraft. None of the latter currently exist in Gaza, Lapid says.
However, reports that anti-aircraft rockets have been smuggled into Gaza do concern him, although he intimates that he doubts that the Gazans currently have the technology to fire them.
While efforts are made by Egypt and Israel to prevent rockets from being smuggled overland into the Gaza Strip, the region cannot be sealed off hermetically, Lapid says.
Israel has deployed three iron dome missile defense systems in the south capable of intercepting rockets from up to 70 kilometers away in all weather conditions.
They were declared operational in March this year and, in April, a battery deployed near Beersheba intercepted a grad rocket.
a second battery was deployed shortly after, and the system succeeded in intercepting several rockets over Ashkelon. however, iron dome was unsuccessful in an October 29 attack on Ashkelon during which a local man was killed.
In May 2011, Maj. gen. (res.) Udi Shani, director general of the defense Ministry, was extensively quoted in the media in May as saying that Israel plans to invest nearly $1 billion in the coming years on developing and producing 10 to 15 additional batteries, in addition to the $205 million authorized by the US government.
Israel has the capability to launch a large-scale military offensive in Gaza to wipe out the rocket-launching capabilities of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lapid continues, warning that “Israel will be forced to destroy the hostile infrastructure if future rocket attacks cause major casualties.”
Still, he believes a political solution is the only way to solve the ongoing violence. “It was the Oslo accords that succeeded in ending the first intifada, not the army,” he says.
Now in his eighth year as council head, Aharon refuses to remain silent over what he describes as the government’s failure to protect its citizens.
“On December 28, 2008, the first rocket, a Grad missile fired from Gaza, exploded in an open area in Gan Yavne,” he says.
“Following the attack, the IDF launched operation cast lead. Since then, we have suffered four salvos of rockets of different strengths, including the most recent.
“You cannot test the patience of local residents every three to four months because someone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed in Gaza and decides to fire rockets at a population of one million.
“I don’t know of any place in the modern world, any country who would agree to this.
Would France allow rockets to be fired at Marseilles or Versailles? Would Germany permit rockets to be fired at Bonn? Or would the US allow rockets to be fired on any of its cities? it is simply an unacceptable reality.
“Solutions to the problem must come from above. The next war will target the home front, and the situation won’t be simple. We must start preparing for all eventualities, and that includes ensuring that citizens are protected. We cannot allow the issue to fall by the wayside because of the high cost involved.”
If the issues are ignored, he concludes, the next generation and the country’s future leaders are being raised in fear. “I am not willing to allow that to happen.”