'2.5 Million People Are Hiding': Southern Israel Residents Worry Gaza Flare-up Won't End Soon

'No other country in the world would let this go on,' one resident says after 250 rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern Israel, complaining of government neglect

A boy looks at a damaged house after it was hit by a rocket, Kiryat Gat,  May 4, 2019
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The rocket that fell in Kiryat Gat, severely wounding an 80-year-old woman, disrupted a peaceful Shabbat in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramot David.

Shortly after the rocket struck the yard of an ultra-Orthodox elementary school, dozens of men arrived at the site to pray. Their children watched the police sappers trying to decide whether to dismantle the rocket or take it away whole. One of the police officers said the woman was only a few meters away from where the rocket fell.

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Not far away, in a home for people with mental disorders, one resident said that everyone had been able to reach the shelter, but they were still struggling to calm down. “There were shouts, there were people who had traumas return,” the resident said. Their therapist said: “Some of them were extremely anxious, but we managed to keep things under control. They mainly need to talk about it, to create a supportive and calming environment.”

Israeli bomb squad inspects the remains of a rocket, Yad Mordechai, May 4, 2019.
AFP

S., a resident of the home for the past two years, sustained psychological damage during his army service. He says he doesn’t remember what happened to him then, but that “this incident with the rocket gave me some flashbacks.”

Another resident sitting nearby was listening to music through earphones. “Did you calm down, is everything OK?” a staff therapist asked him. He hesitated for a moment before answering, “Yes, yes, better now."

At the Buchnik family home, the second site hit by a rocket on Saturday in Kiryat Gat, the atmosphere was quieter among the ruins. Abraham and Bruria Buchnik had just finished lunch with their 24-year-old son when they heard the siren. “They went into the shelter. Luckily, except for the damage to the house there was no other damage,” another son said. Most of the damage was confined to the second story of the house, where glass and pieces of concrete were scattered. “We’ll get through it,” he said.

Unlike the Buchnicks, Yael and Jack Nisenbaum, who live in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, didn’t reach their reinforced room in time. The second floor of their house took a direct hit. One of the rooms was almost completely destroyed. Jack Nisenbaum said he was watching television when the rocket hit, but he declined to give further details and only said he “felt fine."

Their neighbor, Sarit Peletz said: “Our security has been undermined, and we don’t know what will happen. From one round to another, it becomes much harder.” Peletz added that she understands the difficulty of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, but “there are moments when we are forgotten, something else distracts the government and then they go back again to the Gaza border...something has to be done here. These rounds are terrible for us."

A house hit by a rocket in Netiv Haasara, May 4, 2019.
AFP

Another neighbor, Alfredo Vacks, said: “I’m ashamed that I have to hear everything through intermediaries - the media, Hamas spokesmen. Our leaders aren’t talking, they aren’t explaining anything to us. At the very least, I expect to hear from the leadership what’s happening. I feel that we have no government at all, it’s not talking to the people."

Avi Cohen, of Ashkelon, where a man was moderately injured from rocket shrapnel, called on the government to take more aggressive steps against Hamas, but didn’t blame any specific official. “It’s the weakness of all the governments, not just Netanyahu’s. They have to put an end to this mess. There are 2.5 million people hiding in their houses. No other country in the world would let this go on,” he said. Cohen added that the man who was injured had been walking along the sidewalk when the rocket hit. “The rocket struck a tree and a few buildings were damaged from the shock waves."

After the rocket fell, municipal workmen began removing the branches and trees nearby to prevent them from falling.

Despite the tensions, Miriam and Raymond Reiner, whose home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz was damaged by a rocket, said they have no intention of leaving the south. Having come from Holland a year ago with their three children, they said they knew about the sensitive security situation, but they fell in love with the place despite the explosions. “I told my father that a rocket struck our house and he said he was glad we were alright and asked us to take care of ourselves,” Miriam Reiner said. “If no one will want to live next to the border there will be no more Israel. My children really love it here and we have to explain to them why we moved here, even if it isn’t always easy,” she added.