‘It’s Unpleasant to Say but We’re Used to it’ – Ashkelon’s Resilience to the Latest Rocket Attacks

By Benjamin Brown/TPS • 25 February 2020
Photo by Lena Voelk/TPS

With rocket sirens once again blaring in southern Israel for the past two days, residents of the towns and villages close to the Gaza Strip saw their normal lives disrupted.

But did they?

In Ashkelon, a city of around 135,000 inhabitants located a mere 13 km from the northern border of the Gaza Strip, daily life was interrupted several times by Red Alert sirens, signaling incoming rockets. And yet, Ashkelon residents seem to have become accustomed to the security situation, flaring up at times unbeknown to them and continuing for as long as terrorist organizations in Gaza choose to uphold their bombardment.

Running for shelters has become something the population is used to, somewhat a part of their daily life, as Maxim, a security guard in Ashkelon, told TPS: “We have had this issue with rockets for 13 years or so. It’s unpleasant to say but we’re used to it.”

While some cars pull over when the sirens sound, and around half of those traveling on buses leave their seats to lie down flat on the road, even the alarms do not seem to deter many Israelis in the southern city from continuing with their daily lives. In the past two days, as over 100 rockets were launched at Israel, streets were crowded, shops were full, and day-to-day business was a clear priority in the city.

“Unfortunately it’s part of our normal lives,” Maxim said. “Of course we still care, but there’s nothing you can do to prepare. You’ve got rockets flying above your heads, what can you do to protect yourself? You can only run.”

A mere hour before TPS spoke to Maxim, he had to stand in the entrance of a store while rockets were intercepted over Ashkelon by the IDF’s Iron Dome rocket defense system. “I couldn’t make it to a shelter. I’m not Usain Bolt,” the guard said.

With the Iron Dome defending Israel’s population from the indiscriminate rocket attacks and managing to intercept the majority of projectiles aimed for inhabited areas, Israel has been lulled into a false sense of calm. With casualties rare and injuries mainly limited to falls on the way to shelters, the feeling of relative security prevails.

“We’re not invincible, though,” Maxim says, remembering that in 2019 a father of four was killed when a rocket hit his home, succumbing to shrapnel wounds on the way to the hospital. Another three were killed in other parts of Israel’s south.

On Monday night, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett made his way to Ashkelon to update officials on the security situation. Maxim, however, does not feel protected by Israel’s politicians, a sentiment echoed by many others around the town.

“Politicians are basically liars. They only promise stuff and do nothing. What they do is keep their place in the Knesset,” he stated, angry at what he perceives to be unnecessary years of fear that could have been avoided.

“We’ve had a few military operations. After a military operation, it stops for a few months, maybe a year or two. And then it starts all over again. Rockets, alarms. It keeps coming back. But what can you do? Politics.”

With the majority of Ashkelon’s citizens relatively laid-back about their security threat, it is easy to forget those who are most vulnerable to the psychological damage inflicted with every new round of rockets.

Be it the child crying on an Ashkelon street, her parents trying to comfort her, or the visibly distraught heavily pregnant woman hiding in a shelter outside Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital, everyone knows that it is a matter of time before the next alarm sounds.

The south may seem calm, but for many, the fear is very real.

Maxim, meanwhile, will continue to patrol the city’s central station, looking out for suspicious objects on the ground, while hoping the Iron Dome protects him from those in the sky. “I stay here and hope for the best,” he says. So do hundreds of thousands of people in Israel’s south.