Israeli Army Kept Silent on Second Safe Room Breached by Gaza Rocket Shrapnel

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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The penetrated window of the fortified room on the sixth floor , as seen from within the apartment.
The penetrated window of the fortified room on the sixth floor , as seen from within the apartment.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

The Israeli Defense Forces did not inform the public that a rocket shrapnel, which killed a 5-year-old boy hiding in a fortified room in Sderot, had also penetrated another fortified room in the same building, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, in May.

Following Ido Avigal's death, the army said that the breach of the safe room window in which he was sheltering was caused by a "rare ballistic trajectory," but now admits that at least one other apartment was damaged. The IDF commented that “conclusions have been drawn from the incident and have been fully publicized.”

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The second breached fortified room was three floors above Avigal’s. The IDF said that it had informed local authority heads in the area about the second incident, but three local authority heads told Haaretz that they didn’t recall being informed of it.

Ido Avigal, the five-year-old who was killed by a shrapnel

The day after the strike, on May 12, Colonel (Res.) Gil Shenhar spoke to Kan 11 on behalf of Home Front Command, calling the incident that killed Avigal a “super rare incident.” However, he did not mention the damage on the sixth floor, even though at that stage the IDF knew about it.

The resident of the sixth floor apartment, Eva Azoulay-Peretz, told Haaretz that soldiers from the Home Front Command visited her home on the evening of the attack and saw the fragments that entered her apartment through the window, but haven’t been in touch with her since. No one in her apartment was injured, but Azoulay-Peretz was treated at the scene for shock by IDF personnel. The shrapnel caused damage to objects that were in the safe room.

The building was sprayed with shrapnel after a rocket hit an adjacent building. Out of the seven protected rooms on that side of the building, two failed – in Azoulay-Peretz’s apartment on the sixth floor and in Avigal's apartment, where he took refuge with his mother and sister, who were also injured.

The whole in the window of the fortified room in which Ido Avigal was killedCredit: Almog Ben Zikri

“A second before the fragment breached the window, my daughter told me to get off the bed and onto the floor,” said Azoulay-Peretz. “If I had stayed on the bed, maybe I wouldn’t be here today. I was with my daughter and my sister, we realized something happened, we heard glass breaking, I felt shards in my hands. I was sure the rocket struck my house and the safe room was still intact, but when we went out we realized the magnitude of the horrific tragedy that took place three floors below us.”

Azoulay-Peretz said that even though the IDF has not stated that two protected rooms failed, she had chosen not to confront them in public. “Every day I give thanks about how things turned out for us, but the tragedy of the Avigal family is also our tragedy. I’m not comfortable with my story being called a miracle. Maybe my decision not to talk played into the hands of the Home Front Command, which is calling it a rare case.”

She added that since the incident, she has suffered psychological distress, and her daily functioning has been impaired.

A military investigation found that the building’s protections met the standards, and that the breach of the safe room was caused by the shrapnel. After the incident, the IDF spokesman called on Israelis to keep below the height of the window when sheltering in safe rooms.

The building that was hit in Sderot

On Azoulay-Peretz’s street, Mishol Sturma, buildings are fitted with 18-millimeter-thick protective metal plates, in keeping with an old standard that the Home Front Command said in 2019 was not sufficient. The public was never informed that a new recommendation called for 24-millimeter-thick plates, and windows were never replaced – because new standards cannot be imposed retroactively, said the army. Newer buildings, though, were built in keeping with the new standard.

The window in the fortified room in Azoulay-Peretz's home, this monthCredit: אליהו הרשקוביץ

After Avigal’s death, the IDF recommended that the state pay to upgrade the metal plating on all windows facing the Gaza Strip to 32-millimeter thickness. In a June 1 statement, the IDF stated that the recommendation came after the incident in which Avigal was killed. It did not mention the second case.

Over the next few weeks, the government is expected to replace all the windows damaged during the fighting in Gaza, and to fit them with extra plates to give them the recommended layer of protection. However, the state will not fund replacements for windows that were not damaged. Residents of Azoulay-Peretz’s building estimated that the upgrade would cost about 5,500 shekels ($1,700), and said several residents cannot afford it.

The IDF stated in response: “During Operation Guardian of the Walls, an investigation into the Sderot incident was conducted, under the helm of the commander of Home Front Command, included mapping the damage to protected spaces. The Home Front Command commander spoke with local authority heads, and as part of the findings, the damage to all safe rooms, including the damaged window on the sixth floor, was presented.” As for Shenhar's comments, the army said that they "touched on the fact that this is the first and only incident since 1992 in which was a civilian was killed by a breach of a shield  – and such was the case."

During the fighting in Gaza in Operation Guardian of the Walls, which lasted 11 days, 11 Israelis were killed from being hit by rockets and shrapnel, and one soldier was killed by an antitank missile. Two of the Israeli casualties were children – Avigal and Nadine Awad, who was killed along with her father after a rocket hit their unprotected home near Lod.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 256 people died in the Gaza Strip, 66 of them children. At least 128 of those killed were civilians, 62 belonged to Hamas and other armed groups, and the UN did not determine the affiliation of the others.

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