Tired of hiding from rockets

Sderot residents say 'enough is enough'

Herzl Yitzhaki, 70, is tired of hiding from rockets. So he was not among the Sderot residents who raced for cover when the warning siren rang out across the city Monday morning. "I'm done," the gray-haired merchant said as he stood behind the counter of his small shop in a commercial area of town. He wore a brown cap and an olive sweater to ward off the cold. In response to the heightened rocket fire that has resulted from Israel's Gaza operation, all the stores in the square to his right were closed. In contrast, the shops to his left continued to operate as if Palestinians in Gaza were not launching rockets. Bent on keeping to a normal routine, Yitzhaki came to work as usual on Monday morning. In contrast, he said, his wife has refused to leave their house, even though it lacks a safe room. At one time, Yitzhaki said, he was among those who at the sound of the siren "ran for safety as if my soul was in my hand." In the past, two rockets landed near his store. One fell right outside the back door. "I have pictures," he said, as he brought out snapshots of the pockmarks the rocket shards made on the wall. He adjusted his glasses to look at the photos. "All the merchandise in back was destroyed," said Yitzhaki, who sells everything from perfume to toys. A native of Iran who came to Sderot at age 15, he and his wife have run the store for the last 35 years. Each time there was a siren, "I would go from here to there," he said as he pointed to the back of the store, "I would hide under a table or cower by a wall." Now, he has a new strategy. "I'm trying to get over the fear," he said. So Monday morning he sat behind the counter and he stayed there, even as the rocket fell a short distance away in an empty open-air market. He knew from the large explosion and the smell of smoke that the impact was close. But he did not go out to investigate. "I know it sounds crazy," he said, "because who wants to die? But how many times can one run?" he asked. He is hopeful that with Israel's entry into Gaza, the rocket threat he has endured for seven years has come to an end. Here in Sderot, he added, "we have lived with miracles." It is hard, he confided, to watch the news and see reports of civilian losses in Gaza. He said that he feels for his Palestinian neighbors. "I wouldn't call them my enemies. They are my friends," said Yitzhaki, who voted for Labor in the last election. But it is impossible to continue to live with the rockets, so at the same time, he believes Israel had no choice but to attack Hamas infrastructure in Gaza. Around the corner, David Amar stood among the clothing racks he had set up outside, just a short distance away from where the rocket had landed earlier. "If there is a siren, I can duck inside the store," he said. He walked up the block to show how the rocket that had fallen nearby earlier in the day hit the pavement and destroyed an awning that stretched over the open-air market. As he looked at the blown-out roof, a warning siren sent him racing to the small concrete safe room that had recently been set up on the sidewalk by the main road. Even inside the room, he could hear the rocket explode as it fell in an empty area in the city. He waited a few more minutes before he returned to his store. "Rockets have fallen all around here," he said, as he pointed out various landing sites within view. His narrative was interrupted by his wife, who called him on his cell phone to make sure that he was all right, even though she knew the rocket hadn't landed near him. "Come home quickly," she told him. He reassured her that he was fine and added that he intended to remain in the shop for awhile. Across the road from his shop, a number of Bretslev hasidim danced and sang on top of the van they had driven down from Beit Shemesh to show their support for the city residents. Down the street people stopped to watch coverage of the war on the television David Cohen had set up in his store, where he sells chocolates, wine and nuts. When the rocket landed, he ran briefly to the back but within minutes returned to the stool behind the counter. "Here in Sderot we're already professionals when it comes to rockets," he said. Still, he said, "enough is enough." So he is glad that the IDF is now in Gaza to end the rocket threat once and for all. "Had they done this after the first 30 or 40 rockets, this would not be happening now," he said.