Shock and fear returns to Beersheba

Grad rocket strikes near Silvan Shalom’s boyhood home.

silvan shalom 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
silvan shalom 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Residents of Beersheba’s Heh neighborhood were still coping with shock on Wednesday morning, hours after a Grad rocket crashed into one of the neighborhood’s streets, scattering shrapnel in all directions and leaving one man wounded.
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich cancelled school for the city’s pupils following the early-morning strike for safety reasons.
“We have 40,000 students going to school in the morning and we don’t know if there will be another strike.
The situation is too dangerous to take a risk,” Danilovich said Wednesday.
The mayor added that the city’s residents are “dealing with the situation, which is terror being directed at Beersheba and the South with the goal of harming innocent civilians. We can’t let ourselves get into some sort of routine where this happens every few weeks.”
Danilovich said he hopes “the government takes a stand and puts a stop to this,” but added that “we don’t want a war, we want there to be quiet for the residents of the South and for the residents of Gaza.”
People gathered near the site of the rocket strike, examining the damage done to the Saani home located only meters away from where the missile landed in the middle of the street. Several schoolchildren, let out of school for the day, walked around collecting ball bearings and other shrapnel that had been packed into the rocket to maximize its destructive power.
At the end of the block is an apartment building where one resident was lightly wounded by a piece of shrapnel that flew hundreds of meters, through his apartment blinds and into his third-floor apartment.
The roof and exterior gate of Mordechai Saani’s house was pockmarked with holes, and there was shattered glass all over. Ball bearings were still lodged in the interior cement walls in each of the house’s four rooms. In the kitchen, support beams had been placed to hold up the ceiling, which he said was now in danger of collapsing.
“We heard the alarm and grabbed the kids from their beds and took them to an interior room only moments before the missile struck and sprayed large rocks all over their beds. It was a miracle,” Saani said.
That a miracle had occurred was a common sentiment among residents of the neighborhood, the boyhood home of Vice Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud), whose childhood home is only a few dozen meters from where the missile struck.
The shockwaves from the strike blew out several windows of the Shimon Shalom Synagogue built by Shalom in honor of his late father, but the shattered glass was mostly cleared up by the afternoon.
Shimon Tsiboni, 33, said he was with a group of around 30 men who had started the morning service at the synagogue when the sirens went off and the worshipers began to scramble for cover.
“It was a serious miracle, look at where it struck, literally between two houses,” Tsiboni said. “Only a few meters this way or that and it would have killed everyone inside those houses.”
The houses on this stretch of the street date back to the late 1950s, and are mainly single-level structures lacking fortified concrete roofs or exterior walls. The walls seem to be made mostly of cinderblocks and wood, and there appears to be a paucity of bomb shelters.
Ilan Sheli played with his daughter Sapir two doors down from the Saani house, and said that the stress of the strike is having an effect on his children, who, he said, were playing within eyesight of the bomb shelter all day in case the sirens went off again.
“It’s hard on adults, of course it’s hard on children.
It brings back a huge fear for all of us,” Sheli said.
Ilan’s brother Amos expressed the same fear, saying that “when it lands only 20 meters from you it causes you great fear. I hope there will be a second Cast Lead, because they [Gaza rocket and missile squads] just won’t stop. We need to get back the peace and quiet we had.”
Shortly before sunset, opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) arrived in the neighborhood and visited the Shimon Shalom Synagogue, where she received a phone call from Silvan Shalom and ducked into a corner for privacy.
Livni said she believes that the recent rocket attacks on the South are a sign that armed groups in Gaza are trying to exploit the recent instability in the Middle East “to stick out their necks and weaken the State of Israel.”
She added that Israel must work to maintain the balance of power in the region.
“The State of Israel is a strong country and we must use power, like we did in the past, against Hamas and other extremist groups that don’t accept our existence here and with whom we have no chance to reach an agreement,” Livni said.
Livni also said that Israel must take steps to protect its deterrent power, but that a decision whether or not to launch another Gaza military operation is up to Netanyahu’s government.
Earlier in the day, Shalom visited the neighborhood and synagogue and said, “for me this is very difficult, a missile striking a synagogue named after my late father only a few meters from the house I grew up in.”
Shalom also said that Israel would launch a Cast Lead II if needed, saying “we don’t want to launch a mission that would cost lives, but we must protect the security and the lives of our citizens. If we have no choice we will work to bring down the Hamas government.”
The rocket strike came only two days after Shalom, who also serves as Negev and Galilee development minister, pledged NIS 1 million for protective gear and fortification of passages for farmers in the Eshkol region near the border with the Gaza Strip.