Life un­der fire

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - • MAXINE LIPTZEN DOROT The writer had to stop twice for in­com­ing rock­ets while com­pos­ing this ar­ti­cle – one a bar­rage of 12 rock­ets, the other “only” four.

As of this writ­ing on May 6, the peo­ple of Ashkelon have been con­fined to their homes for over 48 hours. Streets are empty, peo­ple are tired and frus­trated, and Ha­mas threat­ens that this rocket bar­rage is just the be­gin­ning.

The quiet of a beau­ti­ful, sunny spring Satur­day on the morn­ing of May 4 was shat­tered by the wail­ing of a siren, an­nounc­ing an in­com­ing rocket. Noth­ing new, it’s hap­pened be­fore; but none of us ever an­tic­i­pated that this would be the open­ing note of what is, as of this writ­ing, over 34 hours of run­ning in and out of our safe rooms, death, de­struc­tion and ev­ery­thing else that ac­com­pa­nies it.

I live down­stairs in a two-story house; my son, daugh­ter-in-law and their two sons, eight and six, live up­stairs. I have a for­ti­fied room, and so they’ve moved down here for the du­ra­tion, play­ing in the back­yard, front yard and other places in the house where they can get to safety within the al­lot­ted 30 sec­onds.

In Ashkelon, each neigh­bor­hood has its own set of sirens, so that if a mis­sile is headed into a dif­fer­ent area, you don’t get an alert. How­ever, you do hear the “thuds” of the Iron Dome in­ter­cepts, a spe­cific sound dif­fer­ent from a di­rect hit of a mis­sile “boom.” Some­times you hear the air force bomb­ing Gaza, and some­times, you just hear the birds singing.

On that Satur­day, we spent a good part of the day in the safe room, lis­ten­ing for the “booms” and wait­ing a few min­utes be­fore open­ing the safe room door. It started at around 10:15 a.m., and I wor­ried about peo­ple who were in sy­n­a­gogue for Shab­bat ser­vices. The sirens con­tin­ued through­out the day, but although we had been in this sit­u­a­tion be­fore and knew the drill, this was get­ting to be a bit too much.

We stayed in the safe room for the re­quired time and would some­times go to the gar­den and marvel at the pic­ture in the sky left by the Iron Dome in­ter­cept, and qui­etly thank who­ever in­vented this lit­eral life­saver again and again.

Then came the phone rings and What­sApp pings with mes­sages ask­ing if we were okay. Since me­dia cov­er­age out­side the coun­try has been scarce, even nonex­is­tent till very late last night, I felt it my duty to post on Face­book on­go­ing cov­er­age of what was hap­pen­ing here in the South. The re­sponse was in­cred­u­lous: “Why don’t we hear/read any­thing here?” Maybe we’re not im­por­tant enough.

Since I live near the beach and ma­rina, Satur­days are busy days for foot and ve­hi­cle traf­fic, but to­day it was, ex­cuse the ex­pres­sion, “dead.” The only sounds I heard were life­guards at the beach scream­ing at peo­ple to leave and go to a for­ti­fied

area im­me­di­ately.

Evening fell, with the sounds of booms in the background, and with that, time to get ready for bed. We all show­ered wear­ing our bathing suits, a sys­tem we be­gan dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge. It was good that we did, be­cause a siren caught eight-yearold Ita­mar in the shower.

It was pretty quiet, with the sounds of thuds in the dis­tance but not any in-your-face siren sig­nal­ing “in­com­ing.” The TV was turned on to the news, and we were as­tounded at the ever-grow­ing list of ar­eas be­ing threat­ened by rock­ets. I needed a break, and put on a re­ally stupid but re­ally funny Sacha Baron Co­hen film, The Dic­ta­tor, per­fect for now.

The kids went to sleep eas­ily enough; the rest of us were ex­hausted. We fid­dled around with our com­put­ers and phone mes­sages and, one by one, went to bed, jok­ing that we’d prob­a­bly see each other be­fore dawn. Ari and Ronit were han­dling it pretty well, but never know­ing when a siren would go off and run­ning in and out of the for­ti­fied room were get­ting to me. “Come on Ha­mas, sleep break!”

But it was not to be. Sirens, sirens, sirens. Till around 3:30 in the morn­ing, there were sirens all the time. In bed, out of bed, in bed, out of bed. Ronit de­cided just to sleep in the for­ti­fied room with the kids, not the most com­fort­able place in the world (a sofa bed), but surely bet­ter than jump­ing in and out of bed. Af­ter each “all clear,” I went back to bed and waited for what­ever would come first: sleep or siren. While wait­ing, I heard the ca­coph­ony of thuds and booms, some in the dis­tance and some a bit too close for comfort.

It was a bit un­nerv­ing and, tired as I was, it was im­pos­si­ble to sleep, be­cause the sirens just kept com­ing at in­ter­vals long enough to make you think that that was all and you could fi­nally re­lax. My friends and I were all What­sAp­ping be­tween our­selves to see how we were do­ing, which in it­self was sur­real. Some­one men­tioned a house in the city had been hit, but since none of us had heard any ser­vice ve­hi­cles (a sign of prox­im­ity), we knew it wasn’t around here.

It fi­nally stopped at around 3:30 a.m., the last time I looked at my clock ra­dio. The next thing I knew, the birds were singing and the sun was pour­ing into my room (you have to sleep with the win­dows open in or­der to hear the sirens). A chirp­ing bird sounded like “tzeva adom,” the code words warn­ing of in­com­ing rock­ets. It was 8:16 a.m. Five hours of bliss.

THE FIRST thing I did was check to see if any mis­siles had been shot at Tel Aviv and then catch up on the overnight news. A man had been killed here in Ashkelon, and I soon dis­cov­ered it was the uncle of Ita­mar’s best friend. He was to be, as of this writ­ing, the first of four fa­tal­i­ties.

There were dozens of mes­sages from friends in the US ask­ing what was go­ing on and how we all were. No pa­tience to an­swer them all, so I put a quick mes­sage on Face­book.

Ari had to go out at 8:30 a.m. and said he was the only one on the road. Ronit went to work at 9 a.m. She, too, had the streets to her­self and drove like the wind.

We’ve been get­ting in­vi­ta­tions from friends and fam­ily all over the coun­try to stay with them (and even bring our three dogs), but we’d rather not be on the roads and feel safe here, if you can call it that.

I am for­tu­nate enough to have a safe room, but I have friends who don’t. Some run into the stair­well of their apart­ment build­ing, oth­ers press them­selves close to an in­ter­nal wall, and two have no place to go; the pub­lic shel­ter isn’t ac­ces­si­ble within 30 sec­onds, so they sit in their liv­ing room with cook­ing pots on their heads.

When you look at it this way, we’re pretty lucky, but we’d be luck­ier, much luck­ier, if the pow­ers that be could fig­ure out a way to stop these at­tacks once and for all. Af­ter 20 years, enough is enough.

Till around 3:30 in the morn­ing, there were sirens all the time. In bed, out of bed, in bed, out of bed

PEO­PLE TAKE cover as they hear sirens warn­ing of in­com­ing rock­ets from Gaza, in Ashkelon on May 5. (Reuters)

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