Guest Columnist: How Ashdod is surviving Gaza’s Grads

Ashdod was the target of massive Grad rocket attacks from Gaza, along with close to a million civilians living across the south.

Ashdod blast site_370 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Ashdod blast site_370
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Earlier this week a rocket war raged in the south of Israel, as more than 300 rockets were fired at urban areas since last Friday afternoon, following Israel’s killing of the leader of the Popular Resistance Committee, the terrorist group behind the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit.
Ashdod was the target of massive Grad rocket attacks from Gaza, along with close to a million civilians living across the south.
As I entered the city around five in the evening, the wail of the siren suddenly sounded and the bus I was traveling on from Jerusalem suddenly stopped. The driver, an elderly man, halted to let the passengers off according to safety protocol. Residents of Ashdod have 45 seconds to find shelter once a rocket has been fired from Gaza.
Some of us lay on the ground with hands over our heads, while others took cover near a cement wall. It’s strange how quickly you find yourself adapting to survival mode. A few seconds later we heard a boom. And then the discussion began: “Did the rocket actually land in the city? Or was it the sound of the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket midair?” We got our answer a couple of seconds later, as we saw a puff of gray smoke in the sky and heard a much louder explosion in midair. The Iron Dome worked wonders during this escalation of rocket attacks against civilians.
According to military officials, the Iron Dome had a 75 percent success rate on Monday, as the system was able to stop 23 of 31 rockets fired at urban areas. And it worked again.
The passengers made their way back to the bus, some slightly hysterical and others more calm. The bus driver checked twice to make sure that everyone was back on. And then the phone calls began.
“It’s been the eighth time today that the siren has gone off!” one woman exclaimed on the phone. Another passenger called her kids to tell them she was on her way home.
The white-haired bus driver told me that there was nothing to be scared of, that this was just another day on the job.
However, a few hours earlier, at around 2:30 p.m., a Grad rocket that the Iron Dome was unable to intercept landed in a residential shopping area, causing extensive damage to businesses, property and vehicles.
Two people were injured, including an elderly woman, who was evacuated to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot after being struck by flying glass shards, along with another person. Eight people were treated for shock.
Business owners still looked shocked from the attack a few hours later, as people milled around broken glass and debris that covered the sidewalk. Clothing mannequins lay on the floor in one store, with clothes strewn everywhere and the glass entry doors no longer intact.
Yaniv Araha, part-owner of the Michel Mercier hair salon, showed me a hairspray can pierced by pieces of shrapnel. “We were very lucky,” he said. “One of the stylists had to be hospitalized for injuries, but the rest of us – including our clients who were with us at the time – are fine.”
Araha showed me a protruding wall inside the hair salon where he took cover. “The shrapnel was able to reach all the way to the back kitchen,” he said, “but the wall protected us.”
Across the street, an apartment building was covered in shrapnel holes, close to the crater-like hole in the sidewalk that the Grad rocket left behind.
One resident held in his hand tiny metal balls that had been packed in the rocket, which now lay harmlessly outside the apartment building. “If one of these had struck someone, God forbid…” he said and shook his head. “We experienced a miracle here today. The outcome could have been much worse.”
ADI BEN-HAMU, the spokesman for Ashdod’s municipality, explained that the municipality had worked very hard since the last rocket escalation against Ashdod, during Operation Cast Lead, to prepare residents for the next barrage of Gaza missiles.
“The first time Ashdod residents were targeted by rockets three years ago, we were not prepared,” Ben-Hamu said. “There was a lot of hysteria – almost 800 people experienced shock and had to be treated.”
“This time, not only do residents know how to act and follow safety procedures, but we also have the Iron Dome, which has stopped many of the rockets and has helped boost morale,” he said. “Residents must still enter a protected area in any case, because shrapnel from the rockets can still strike from above.”
“We know how to take care of ourselves,” emphasized Ben-Hamu. “But no civilian can tolerate rockets fired by terrorist groups as a way of life, and no country in the world would allow civilians to suffer like this.”
“The government needs to do whatever it takes to stop these rocket attacks on Ashdod, Beersheba, Kiryat Malachi, Gan Yavne, Ashkelon and smaller communities across the south. In Ashdod alone we have close to 250,000 people, with 55,000 children unable to go to school during these rocket escalations,” added Ben-Hamu.
In regard to school, there was a temporary solution, with teachers assigning homework assignments to students via e-mail and Facebook.
On a more serious note, Ben-Hamu concluded that there was a much greater danger out there than the current Grad rockets being fired. “Everyone here is aware that there could be a much more serious and massive attack of missiles from Iran. This is what we have to prepare for and for an attack of that proportion, we cannot wait till the last minute,” he said.
The writer is an educator at Hebrew University High School and writes for Tazpit News Agency, Sderot Media Center and other news sources. She made aliyah from Maine in 2004.