'Because We're in the Periphery, We Need to Die?'

Ashkelon residents feel outraged and abandoned after another day of falling rockets and more cases of shock.

Like other Israeli cities, Ashkelon is being flooded with campaign posters these days.

The faces of Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, Rafi Eitan, Avigdor Lieberman are visible on every street corner and every municipal bus. One promises leadership, another promises to do good for the country, a third boasts of his credibility.

But it is doubtful whether residents of this city believe any of them. After waking up to another morning of falling rockets and another 24 people treated for shock, people are outraged - at the Israeli politicians who preach restraint, and at fellow citizens from the center of the country who, not suffering rocket barrages themselves, are apathetic. Many here see themselves as hostages of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not of Gaza.

"I don't understand why we don't use our military might," said Avraham Guetta, who runs a taxi stand in the city. A Grad rocket landed in the courtyard of his apartment building yesterday while he was saying his morning prayers. His two young children were playing outside, his wife was at work nearby, his sister and her children had come for a visit from Bnei Brak - and instead of enjoying the Hanukkah holiday, they all found themselves at Barzilai Medical Center, being treated for shock.

Guetta has plenty of faith in God, whom he believes saved his family from greater harm, but very little in the government, or in the likelihood that his city will soon see better days.

"I'm not ashamed to say that if this continues, I won't remain here," he said. "If the state doesn't know how to put an end to this fear, I don't think I'll stay. My children are important to me, and it seems to me that the coming days will be very difficult."

The rockets thinned out workplaces and shopping centers, but did not paralyze the city.

"At this stage, the municipal pulse is beating normally, even though the situation, in macro, is intolerable," said Dr. Shlomo Agmon, who heads the city's psychological service. The fact that it was Hanukkah, when children have vacation from school, actually made it easier on parents, he added - as, of course, did the fact that no one was killed.

"We remember that Sderot's situation is much worse than ours," said a resident of one neighborhood that was hit by rockets.

That, however, is small comfort for mayor Benny Vaknin. "Never before have we had seven Grads in one day," he said. "That's seven Grads hanging over the heads of 122,000 residents. The government must make it unequivocally clear to Hamas, via a hard, painful blow, that it needs to think twice before launching missiles at Ashkelon. Under no circumstances will we agree to this situation continuing. If we need to shut down the city, we'll shut down the industries, we'll shut down the schools, and we'll force the state to defend its citizens."

Ilan Cohen, who oversees reception at Barzilai's emergency room, charged that the Grads turn staff and patients at the hospital into "cannon fodder."

"There's a cement plaster ceiling here, and no reinforced rooms," he explained. "There were three color reds [rocket warnings] this morning, and when the alert sounds, we have to pull the wool over people's eyes: We tell everyone to go to the trauma room, as if it were reinforced. Nothing here is reinforced. It's pathetic, because the ceiling will collapse the moment there's a direct hit. Every morning, the staff here leaves houses that, at least in some cases, have reinforced rooms, for a hospital that's completely exposed. It's suicidal. Because we're the periphery instead of the State of Tel Aviv, we need to die?"

A new, reinforced emergency room was supposed to have been built, Cohen said, but the work has been halted because graves were discovered at the site, and the authorities are afraid of protests by the ultra-Orthodox if the building proceeds. "Construction has been delayed for a year already," Cohen said. "They'd rather protect a few graves than the population."