Throngs at Ashdod Funeral Mark 'War Against Israeli Normalcy'

First victim of rocket fire in city, Irit Sheetrit, was laid to rest in presence of mayor, ministers.

The big school in Ashdod where the ceremony took place has a thick concrete ceiling, and the building was overflowing with people on Tuesday afternoon. Huge crowds came to say goodbye to Irit Sheetrit, who was killed Monday by a rocket.

Many people had no choice but to gather outside, and there was crying when Sheetrit's body was brought out. But what really bothered Ashdod police commander Daniel Ohayon was the possibility of a warning siren.

Before the eulogies he took the microphone and told the crowd what to do in case of rocket fire, and the speakers were asked to keep their speeches short - this is how the first funeral in the current round of bloodletting in Ashdod started.

Irit Sheetrit left a husband and four children as well as thousands who knew her and her family. Many of the participants at the funeral did not know her at all, but still came from all over the city.

Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai and MK Ophir Pines-Paz marched in the procession behind the body, which was wrapped in an Israeli flag. Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri said in his eulogy that Irit, a dedicated mother, was a symbol of normalcy and that the current hostilities represented a "war against Israeli normalcy that the city of Ashdod represents."

Ida Taranto from Ashdod is trying with all her might to taste a little of that normalcy in the four years since her son was killed on the Philadelphi route on the border between Gaza and Egypt. Captain Moshe Taranto was the officer responsible for the tunnels in the Gaza division in the days when the Israel Defense Forces still patrolled the Gaza Strip and went after weapons smugglers.

Since then, dozens more tunnels have been dug to smuggle in advanced weapons such as the Grad rocket that almost caught the Taranto family at the end of the workday. But what keeps Taranto awake at night is the thought of a ground offensive. Her big fear is that more soldiers will be hurt.

For the last few days officers from the Home Front Command have been wandering around the city, setting up situation rooms and passing out information to residents. But nothing convinced the people of Ashdod that the threat was real until Sheetrit's death.

Yehuda Avidan, a Shas activist, witnessed her death as he was driving on the road where the rocket fell.

"Even though Ashdod residents are very strong, suddenly they understood," he said. "People ask how could the people of Sderot live like this for years. We, after only one day, have gone crazy. How do they survive? On Saturday afternoon, when my daughter woke me up because of the sirens, I was mad at her. Yesterday I sent the children down into the bomb shelter."

Now in Ashdod coffee shops, along with the cappuccino, you get instructions on what to do during a rocket attack, but the stores are still open, as are offices. The buses are almost empty, but running as usual.

The mayor was surprised on Tuesday by the large amount of traffic, only hours after the rocket hit. "The city was crowded, people were on their way to work," Lasri said. "That's a good thing, and it somewhat surprised me. It seems that this is the Israeli character, used to living under threat."