Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Drama in Sderot: Qassam attack, first person.


Mihale Eliav is looking to buy a house in Sderot. On her most recent visit, she got a taste of the local attraction, supplied by the neighborly Hamas. See Sderot Impressions and Sderot Qassam capital

Sderot this evening. I was on my way to look at another house with my realtor. Just as it was getting dark, I experienced my first ‘red' and then, my first Qassam.

I didn’t hear the alarm, but Alex did. ‘GO, GO, RED!' he cried braking, and I tried to undo my seatbelt at the same time as open the door, fumbled for the release button, other hand fumbling for the door handle, found the door locked, reached over, got confused, out at last. 'Where?' I asked and he indicated a nearby shop (women's clothes). He hurried me along 'quickly, we've only got about 30 seconds!'. We ran, leaving the car in the middle of a roundabout, and darted into the open door. The shopkeeper was just coming out from behind the counter- Alex quickly asked 'roof ok?' and the answer was positive. He and we and several shoppers all moved into the back of the shop. Two of the shoppers continued to browse the racks. I stared at a nice knit dress, gray and black stripes, pretty but too short. No one talked.

The bang came some seconds later, sounding close and loud. We all waited a few minutes, just in case there was another one. There is no 'all clear' signal, I guess because how would they know?

I examined my feelings closely- after all, I'm planning to move to Sderot once I find a suitable house- and found that on the whole, this event was only slightly scary. I felt a whole lot worse though, when upon leaving the shop, we encountered one woman in a wheelchair and one with a walker, who were still on their slow way to shelter, but. No cigar.

Being able to take shelter is really, really important.

We retrieved the car. Alex called his 13 year old daughter, who was crying. 'Calm down' he told her, 'it was you that chose to come back. It's OK sweetie, it's OK, just calm down and I'll see you soon. I have to show my client a house, and then I'll come get you and we'll go home.' I asked him what he meant by 'you chose to come back' and he told me that he'd arranged for his family to live on a moshav [farm community] further east, but she and her little brother opted for staying in town and in their own school. I've met this girl. In some families, living under fire is a challenge to rise to. I could hear Alex's daughter Mazal fight back tears and say 'OK papa, I'm OKk now, you hear - I'm not crying. I'll wait for you here'. I offered to take her with, but Alex said 'she's fine now' and we carried on. Living in Sderot is good for the backbone, it seems.

And went to pick up a woman who wants to sell her house. Waiting for her on a street near the edge of town, I looked around and realized there were no shelters on this street. [Kids in the Gaza area practice taking shelter. Remember airaidrills in grade school?- nothing like that.] 'Alex, if the 'red' had sounded and we were already here, where would we go for shelter?' 'Choose the closest house with lights on and run like hell for the front door' he replied. 'And if there's no answer and the door is locked?' 'Then you lie down parallel to the base of the nearest east-facing wall' he told me, and pointed to the nearest suitable place. I'd already seen, from inspecting a Qassam crater, that the blast angles up at about 45 degrees. The base of an east-facing wall, especially if there's a whole house on the other side of the wall, probably is pretty good protection.

Only, of course, if you can get there fast enough. The radar picks up the launching. The up and down of the missile's flight takes about 40 seconds. 40 seconds isn't as short as all that; one can probably find shelter in that time if one stays cool-- provided one can run.

The ‘red’ was almost inaudible from where we were, partly the car window being up on my side, but I've heard that it's pretty effective from most places. Of course, local ears know what they're hearing too, which mine do not.

As any of you who've read about my first visits know, there are shelterettes all over Sderot, nicely painted a pale celadon and I'm sure everyone knows just exactly which one is closest, no matter what they're doing. There is even one very large shelter, shaped like a giant snake or slug, brightly striped and curving through a playground- every few meters is an opening, so the thing is a piece of play equipment as well as a place to go if the 'red' sounds. On Kibbutz Migvan, the kids are under instructions to play between the houses, rather than in the street, so if the 'red' sounds, they're only a few meters from the protected rooms of the houses on either side.

As quiet as the alarm was, the Qassam bang was exceeding loud and sounded quite near. Later I found out it fell on Elbaz street (where the first house I looked at is), quite a bit further away than I'd thought. Bombs are LOUD. I'd heard bombs before actually, scuds back in the Gulf War. Scuds are not just loud, they make whole neighborhoods shake. For a small bomb, Qassam is loud enough. No one could sleep through a Qassam hit, even in a protected room, even with earplugs. In fact I think if one fell within a few meters of a shelter, the people in the shelter would be fine, but they might also be deaf.

This is a disorderly subject. I keep trying to give the above paragraphs more form, but simply can't do it. I keep thinking that I know too much about bombs. The mere existence of such things makes me ashamed to be a human being. The thought that just a few kilometers from Sderot (Gaza) are people who have it a lot worse is - irrelevant. After all my visits there, this is the first time I experienced an attack. It hasn't changed my mind about moving. After all, the whole country is a target of various kinds of attack, more by drivers than by terrorists.

The main thought is something very vague and potentially even wrong: we just have to carry on. What else can we do? But I do wish that we'd grow up faster, figure out a better way faster.

This isn't a very good telling, I know. But I don't think I can do any better, especially after three solid days of beastliness from Mumbai. and I've let enough time pass since the incident to know that I'm not going to get any forwarder with my thoughts than this at the moment.

There's a house on Hagana street which looks great. I'll keep you posted.

Mihale Eliav

Copyright © by author – M. Eliav

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