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One Year After Pillar of Defense, Houses Are Rebuilt but Lives Remain Shattered

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Greeman and Hakmon families, Be’er Sheva

The Grad rocket that hit Be’er Sheva on November 20, 2012, only a day before Operation Pillar of Defense ended, affected two families. The Hakmon family took most of the hit; their apartment was so seriously damaged that it was impossible to identify what was left under the rubble. The wall that separated their home from the Greeman family's apartment totally collapsed.

The Greemans remained in their apartment during the past year despite the damage and the difficulty they had repairing their home because of the destruction of their neighbors’ apartment. Next week, exactly a year after the military operation, they expect their renovations to be completed.

The Hakmons say that it took them eight months to come to an agreement with the state on compensation for rebuilding their home. Although they have a protected area in their apartment, the Hakmons decided to also build a separate reinforced unit in their yard.

“This is so we will be prepared for the next war, when it happens,” said Ronit Hakmon. “We aren’t taking any more chances.”

Lili and Yonatan Greeman, this week and a year ago. (Photos by Ilan Assayag)
The Hakmon family house, this week and a year ago. (Photos by Ilan Assayag)

Leon Targobov's shoe store, Ashdod

On the afternoon of November 17, a Grad rocket hit a residential building, causing substantial damage to the fourth-floor apartment, which took a direct hit. On the building’s ground floor is a row of stores, among them Leon Targobov’s shoe store.

The display window was shattered, the ceiling was damaged, and a month afterward Targobov was still finding shards of glass in the boots that had been on display.

“The income tax people came with a claims adjustor to estimate the damage and they gave me a check for a thousand shekels,” he recalls. The money wasn’t enough to make the repairs and he was forced to pay for much of them himself, but Targobov said he preferred to do that than to deal with the government bureaucracy.

Amsalem family's home, Kiryat Malakhi

Only one family who lived in the building in the Har Chabad neighborhood when it was hit by a missile on November 15, 2012, is still living there. No one lives in the Amsalem family home, where Itzik Amsalem, 24, and his neighbors Mira Scharf, 27, and Aharon Smadja, 47, were killed during the attack. It took over six months for the apartments in the building to be repaired. The building's support columns were reinforced because there was a concern that it might collapse. New tenants have moved in, even though the city’s engineering department has yet to certify that the building as safe.

When Itzik Amsalem was killed, his sister, Esther Kakuli, was seven months’ pregnant. When her son was born two months later, she named him after her brother. Itzik’s aunt, Yehudit, lives elsewhere in the city, and comes to the family apartment every few days just to check on it. But the Amsalem family cannot bring itself to return, nor has the apartment been rented.

Leon Targobov's store this week and cleaning up a year ago after a rocket attack. (Photos by David Bachar and Ilan Assayag)
The Amsalem family's apartment this week and after being hit by a missile a year ago. (Photos by Nir Kafri and Ilan Assayag)

Stella Har Even, Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, Eshkol Regional Council

A total of 458 rockets exploded within the Eshkol Regional Council's limits during the Operation Pillar of Defense. One of the missiles hit the home of Stella Har Even of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, causing damage to both her home and her neighbors’ homes.

Fortunately, she had gone into the reinforced room before the missile fell, although she had not done so every time there was a missile alert.

After the attack, Har Even, who lives alone on the kibbutz, had to go live with her sister until her home was repaired. After a few months, she and her son replanted the garden and she returned home.

There has been substantial drop in missile attacks since Pillar of Defense, in marked contrast to the period following Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Now the regional council’s residents are primarily worried about terror tunnels originating from Gaza.

Last month the Israel Defense Forces uncovered a two-kilometer tunnel that ran from the Strip under the border and ended right near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

The building on Assis Street, Rishon Letzion

Some 24-hours before the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a building in Rishon Letzion was hit by a missile carrying 90 kilograms of explosives. The destruction wrought on the seven-story apartment building turned it into one of the symbols of the operation. The building's reinforced room, which the building's families entered at 6:01 P.M. for protection, became a national hero. Some of the walls in the building survived the explosion and prevented a much greater tragedy, with the place becoming a pilgrimage spot within days. Repairs were expected to take eight months, but a year later the lights in the building are still unlit at night. The families that lived in the building have yet to move back in. They either live in rented apartments or with family members.

Stella Har Even replanting her garden and someone examining the damage a year ago. (Photos by Eliyahu Hershkovitz)
The apartment building on Assis Street with the lights still off and rescue services responding in the aftermath of the attack a year ago. (Nir Keidar)

Salah Family, Beit Lahia, Gaza Strip

In the early morning hours on November 17, the Israel Air Force bombed several targets in Gaza City, including Hamas buildings and command centers. In one of the attacks the home of Hamas official Ibrahim Salah was targeted. Salah was responsible for external relations for the Hamas government’s interior ministry in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinians reported 30 people, including women and children, wounded in the strike and taken to the hospital.

Hamas’ Interior Ministry stated that an F-16 bombed the home when many civilians, including children, were in the vicinity. The two-story building collapsed and rescue services worked to extricate the wounded from the wreckage. A great deal of collateral damage was also done to the surrounding homes in the crowded refugee camp.

A year later, the building stands anew, but still not yet finished. The new building has three stories: the first floor is used for commercial purposes, the second floor is residential and the third floor is still empty.

Al-Dalu Family Home, Gaza City

On November 18, 2012, the Israel Air Force bombed buildings in Gaza City. In one of the bombing raids, a four-story building was utterly destroyed and rescue services that reached the area worked many hours to extricate the bodies of 10 people. Among the dead were eight members of the Al-Dalu family. The street where the family lived was one of the major thoroughfares in the city’s downtown Nasser neighborhood.

A photograph of the destroyed building and bodies of four children between one and seven years old, along with five women, was one of the harshest images of the operation, and the tragic story of the Al-Dalu family was publicized around the world. The surviving family members, father Jamal and 19-year-old son Abdullah, were not home at the time of the air raid. Today, one year after the offensive, they have returned to live in the rebuilt building on the same spot.

In Gaza they say that aid money from Arab countries and Turkey helped fund the reconstruction of the family’s home. The three-story house with a concrete wall looks well-kept and new. It can be seen that the family uses the two lower floors of the house while the third floor remains empty.

Outside the Salah family's rebuilt building and picking through the rubble a year ago. (Photos from AFP)
The Al-Dalu family's rebuilt building in Gaza City's Nasser neighborhood and the damage after Israel Air Force Strike on November 18, 2012. (AFP)

Abu Khadra complex, Gaza City

F-16 planes attacked the Hamas government compound known in Gaza City as the Abu Khadra complex. The complex contains not only the prime minister’s offices but also public buildings that provided services to citizens, such as mail and banking services, as well as quite a number of private lawyers’ offices.

The attack on the compound occurred on the eighth day of the operation and pictures of the extent of destruction gained wide exposure in the global media. Hamas emphasized after the attack that it was a civilian compound that did not host any militant or armed activity. The group claimed that Israel attacked the compound for the sake of increasing the level of destruction.

The Hamas government worked for months to clear out the wreckage from the complex and has decided for the time being not to build a new building on the spot. The plaza there is used by the organization for gatherings, processions and meetings. During an Id al-Adha holiday about a month ago, children’s games were held on the spot. Civilian activists in Gaza said Hamas officials did not rush to rebuild the damaged government buildings because they were worried it would just be attacked again in the next confrontation with Israel. Instead, activists said, Hamas authorities preferred to focus on rebuilding infrastructure and private buildings.

Al-Shuruq Tower, Gaza City

On November 19, 2012, the media building in downtown Gaza City known as the Al-Shuruq Tower was bombed. The building housed Hamas’ television channel and foreign networks as well as offices used by journalists covering the war.

The target of the attack was Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, but the fire and smoke spread to the rest of the building, doing a great deal of damage. Because the tower was in the vicinity of many media channels, some of which occupied the nearby buildings, the immediate aftermath of the attack was broadcast live around the world.

Palestinians claim the building was attacked more than once and that the November 19 bombing killed three people. Hamas stated that the building was used for civilian purposes and that Israel bombed it to prevent the broadcasting of images of the war to international audiences. The building did not collapse after the strike and was returned to active use. Today it is again home to offices of many media outlets.

Wadi Gaza Bridge

On November 21, Israel attacked several targets in Gaza including a bridge in Wadi Gaza that connected the city of Gaza to the central Gaza Strip. Hamas claimed that it was a targeted strike on public infrastructure to hurt Gaza’s civilian population, rejecting assertions that it was meant to block traffic arteries used by Hamas cells and other militant factions in Gaza.

At the end of the operation, the Hamas government worked to immediately rebuild the bridge. Already on February 21, 2013 they dedicated the newly rebuilt bridge despite a shortage in Gaza of some of the raw materials needed for construction. Gaza residents say the bridge was built to high standards and that Hamas government officials took pride in the rapid rehabilitation of the bridge.

Before and after: One year since Pillar of Defense.
Lili and Yonatan Greeman near their Be'er Sheva home, November 2012.Credit: Ilan Assayag
The plaza where the Abu Khadra complex used to stand is used today as a spot for gatherings and processions. (AFP)
A view from the street of the Al-Shuruq Tower today, still used by media outlets and crowd gather below after the building was hit a year ago. (AFP)
The Wadi Gaza bridge that connects Gaza City to the central Gaza Strip was quickly rebuilt by the Hamas government after it was bombed on November 21, 2012. (AFP)

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