Ashdod under fire: Slower, but business as usual

Families spend the day off school watching the Iron Dome anti-rocket system in action.

Iron Dome battery 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Iron Dome battery 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If a state of war had descended on the South since the rocket onslaught from the Gaza Strip began on Friday, it was not apparent next to the “Iron Dome” battery in Ashdod on Sunday.
By midday the site had become a pilgrimage spot of sorts for some workplaces and local families taking advantage of the day off from school to watch the anti-rocket system in action, with smart phones in hand to catch the action on film.
Avichai Vatkin, a 22-year-old local, showed off a video made on his iPhone, and said that the rockets had not caused the city to become a ghost town, with life continuing as usual in many ways.
He gave some credit to the Iron Dome and the sense of security it provides, but added that the residents of the city and other areas of the south had “already become used to this” and are not spending their days hunkered down in bomb shelters and safe rooms, terrified to step into the light of day.
Vatkin, who said the cleaning supplies factory where he is employed was closed Sunday because it lacks sufficient safe areas, did admit when pressed that local children do not sleep at night, and that many residents are actually afraid to leave their houses during the day. He also said he does not believe the Iron Dome provides total security to the civilian population in the line of fire.
While the city does not have anywhere near the amount of bomb shelters as Sderot and other towns in the Gaza envelope, it is far enough away to provide residents with about 45 seconds from the time the “code red” siren is sounded until a rocket lands in the city.
On top of a hill overlooking the battery, Vatkin visited with a friend named Golan, who came to see the Iron Dome with his seven-year-old son – who, like all pupils in towns within seven to 40 km. from the Gaza Strip, had no school Sunday after the IDF Home Front Command and local authorities closed the schools due to the security situation.
Golan said the day off was “like a picnic” for his son, who laughed as he scrambled up the hill to watch the soldiers stationed next to the battery.
Throughout the afternoon, a handful of young families and other curious locals came to visit the site, including a haredi family whose father took a picture of one of his sons standing in a wheat field with the Iron Dome in the background.
Entering Ashdod on Sunday was to pass into an area of heightened security and not-quite-normal life. Only a 30 minute drive from Tel Aviv, F-16s flew overhead almost non-stop as an antirocket battery took aim at the sky. The feeling was not of a war zone, but of a city walking at a slightly-halted pace.
It appears that the Iron Dome provides a sense of security for locals, who have become used to the routine of occasional flare-ups in the region. While death or serious injury is always possible no matter how effective the system, the Iron Dome combined with residents’ experience makes the possibility that the rockets will completely shut down life seem remote at best.
The feeling was apparent at a strip mall in south Ashdod, where David Michashvilli manned an oven at a massive bakery. Though a trickle of customers filed in and out of the store, he said the business was a shell of its normal self on Sunday.
Michaeshvilli said he did not consider closing down on Sunday and that such periods of escalation are just a normal part of life there. He added that while he has access to a bomb shelter a short distance from the bakery, he does not bother running there when the siren goes off.
A few doors down at a women’s clothing store, manager Moshe Naaran repeated similar sentiments, saying that he had seen less customers than usual, but did not feel that the city was in a war stance.
“There are less people than normal, but we’re continuing on as usual, we’re stronger than all of this,” Naaran said.
When asked if he had a shelter to run to when the alarm is sounded, he said he prefers to stand in the store and watch the Iron Dome take on the rockets from Gaza. He did admit that the situation is much more difficult for families with small children, but added, “This is what they [Gaza rocket crews] want though; they want to disrupt our lives. We can’t let that happen.”
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