'The Houses Danced From the Explosions': Gaza-border Residents' Jolting Night Facing Rocket Fire

With Hamas and Islamic Jihad exchanging blows with the Israeli military, some families decide it’s best to do much as possible in their home’s reinforced room

Israelis watching IDF strikes on Gaza, October 27, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

At 10:03 P.M. Friday the first siren sounded in and around the city of Sderot near Gaza. Local people know the tune very well, and if the rocket fire didn’t bring anxiety and sleepless nights with it, they might be able to appreciate the pyrotechnics as the Iron Dome anti-missile system hits incoming rockets.

Siren after siren – over about eight hours more than 30 rockets were fired in 14 barrages. People are used to it; if the siren goes off more than once, it won’t be a quiet night.

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Many people have turned the reinforced room in their apartment or house into the family bedroom, but few manage to sleep. It’s hard to get used to the sound of the explosions – as reflected by the rise in the number of people seeking psychological help in every round of fighting.

People in Sderot are having trouble matching the situation on the ground with the comments by the government. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to the area, he says Israel will not accept even a “drizzle” of rocket fire as the norm.

Actually, the situation has gone downhill since late March, when the Gazans’ violent protests at the border fence began. Since then, some 30,000 dunams, or 7,500 acres, of fields, forests and open areas have been burned on the Israeli side of the border. The quiet that has prevailed in the south since the 2014 Gaza war has disappeared.

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There is a growing sense among the residents that their security has been abandoned. Regional council chairmen have increased their criticism, and protests – meagerly attended – are being held throughout the country against the Netanyahu government’s security policy. Many of the participants are actually on the right side of the political spectrum, a fact that hasn’t changed Netanyahu’s decisions much.

The Almakayais family at the bomb shelter in their house.

Maayan Shneor, 40, from Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, told Haaretz that after the extensive assaults by the military over the past 24 hours, she felt that “finally the leadership is beginning to wake up and strike hard.” Shneor says she expects a harsh response by the army “so that we’ll have the upper hand and not be dragged along by Hamas’ whims.”

She spent the night in the reinforced room with her family: her husband Yossi and their children Reut, 10, Alma, 8 and Roi, 4.

“We had a hard night. Yesterday evening, like every Friday night, we heard and saw the riots at the fence, which unfortunately have become routine,” she said.

“On Friday night the kids went to meet their friends at the basketball court. The rocket fire started. They were very frightened and went into the little shelter structure in the center of the moshava,” she added, referring to a rural community.

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“We ran to get them. We found terrified and shivering children who experienced the Iron Dome intercepts right before their eyes and clearly heard the explosions. We spent the rest of the night with the family in the security room. The houses danced from the explosions.”

Not far from there is Kibbutz Karmiya, home to 38-year-old Yael Almakayis. She, her husband Tomer and their three small children spent the night anticipating the next alert.

“It was hard to fall asleep with the explosions in the background,” Almakayis said. “The house shook, and with it so did the kids. We were waiting for the alert; supposedly that way we wouldn’t be surprised.”

Almakayis describes the sense of abandonment that over the past six months has deepened to a sense of helplessness among many Israelis who live near Gaza.

“We feel like the government is treating a torn artery with a tiny bandage,” she said. “We feel like the region is being abandoned and that it’s okay for the residents to just take it. This situation just isn’t normal. We want to hear the birds singing, not the sound of exploding bombs and rockets.”

Almakayis says she and her family are living “with a sense of fear, sadness and disappointment, and on the other hand expectation and hope.”

At nearby Kibbutz Kfar Aza, the explosions could be heard in the distance at the home of Ilanit and Hezi Suissa-Botzer and their daughter Renana. Most of what they do at home they do in the reinforced room.

“It’s not quiet for a minute,” Ilanit Suissa-Botzer said. “The Iron Dome was fighting very hard right over our heads, and that’s a very powerful and terrifying shock wave; the army bombed Gaza, it rocks the house; the red alert app that everyone has who lives in this area goes off again and again.”

Suissa-Botzer sleeps with her daughter in the reinforced room. “After Renana falls asleep, using everything we can to calm her down, the dog started wandering around restlessly and going crazy. If I had a tranquilizer I’d give it to her. During every bombardment Renana wakes up with strange dreams. In one of them her eye fell out and she was looking for it.”

The mornings aren’t quiet either, Suissa-Botzer says. Loud explosions convinced the family that they would meet for breakfast in the reinforced room.

"We closed up the bed and opened the folding table,” she said.

“But who cares? Bibi wants us to bring him something new," she said, referring to Netanyahu's haranguing of a social activist this month. "For too many years some of the residents in the south, some of the ‘spoiled far leftists,’ have been complaining about their lives, but that’s ‘boring.’”