Nowhere to run: Ashdod, Ashkelon grapple with rockets

“We need to go back to Gaza, fight this problem from the ground up," urge rattled but resilient citizens, "But this time finish the job."

Ashdod rocket site 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Ashdod rocket site 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
“This is the scariest time so far for me. Back in Cast Lead, anytime there were sirens me and my wife were always home with our son, but today he was home alone when the siren went off,” Ashdod resident Gabi Tatarov, a 53-year-old native of Georgia, described rushing home to his nine-year-old son Sharon on Thursday, after he was kept home from school when classes were canceled for the second day in a row as a means of keeping kids home and safe from the rockets which have in the past week returned to batter the communities of the south.
In the afternoon on Thursday, an open area of sand dunes north of town was struck by a Grad rocket, sending Tatarov rushing home to his son.
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“In the morning, I told him what to do if there is an attack because with school out and me and my wife at work, we knew he’d be home alone. I rushed home and found him hiding in the stairwell. We have a safe room in the house, but there were other people in the stairwell so he felt safe there.”
Tatarov’s experience was shared by many residents of Ashdod and Ashkelon who on Thursday described the renewed Grad strikes on their cities as predominantly a cause of concern for their children's welfare, who had been out of school since Wednesday.
At the Ashkelon mall on Thursday, a number of mothers kept a watchful eye on their children, playing at the food court on the mall’s upper level.
In May 2008, 15 people were wounded when a grad missile crashed through the mall’s ceiling.
The ceiling remains unfortified today, mainly covered by large glass panels. The food court where the children were playing was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling thin glass windows at least 15 feet tall, sure to scatter in all directions in case of a rocket strike.
“We don’t feel safe here at all; we’re all completely stressed.
You look around here and there is a glass ceiling, nowhere to run and no signs to tell you where you can run anyway,” said Sarit Halavia, who took her three children to the mall on Thursday because she works there and said she had nowhere to send them.
Halavia said her three children are well-trained to respond to an attack, saying that “they know what to do when there’s a siren, they know better than we do even.”
Charlie Adrian, the owner of a barber shop of the same name in north Ashdod, said that the city “is going back to the routine of dealing with these rocket strikes. People continue to go to work because they have no choice; people have to continue with their routine.”
A customer, Tamir, disagreed with the assessment, saying “no one’s outside, everyone is staying inside their homes.”
“It feels like it’s starting again, like before Cast Lead. But not just here, everywhere in Israel. Look at Rishon,” Tamir added, mentioning what turned out to be false reports that a Grad rocket had landed minutes earlier in Rishon Lezion.
One thing that both could agree on, and which was a popular sentiment in both cities on Thursday, is that the Israel Defense Forces must reenter the Gaza Strip like during Cast Lead.
“But this time they need to stay until they finish the job, not like last time,” Adrian said.
Ashdod resident Danny Dayan, 35, went to the sand dunes to view the site of the rocket strike Thursday, and admitted that the experience was for him a new one.
“I wasn’t here during Cast Lead. Me, my wife, and my three kids lived in Paris for the last six years and we weren’t here then. I’m not used to it at all; I have no idea what it’s like to be here during this.”
Shaking his head at the ball bearings scattered in the dunes by the explosion, Dayan added that he still hadn’t really explained the situation to his children, and was mainly worried about how it will affect them.
Nonetheless, he expressed a common sentiment when asked about the solution to the renewed strikes.
“We need to go back to Gaza and fight this problem from the ground up.”