No Rest for the Shell-shocked in Ashkelon Shelters

Poor Ashkelonites choose hiding in open stairwells over ramshackle shelters.

Dozens of bomb shelters in Ashkelon designed to serve hundreds of individuals and families are not ready for even short-term habitation.

The shelters are foul-smelling, dark and decrepit. Some of the residents have resorted to taking shelter in stairwell, even though they are unfortified, and others simply choose to remain in their homes.

At issue are private shelters located in the city's poorer neighborhoods. A residential building on Hagalil Street holds eight households for the elderly, new immigrants and single-parent families.

"We don't go down to the shelters," said Miri Levy, a disabled mother of two young girls. "We stay at home and pray that the rockets don't fall on us. The girls go to the stairwell sometimes, but it's open and unprotected."

Yelena Glick, who lives with her chronically ill mother in the same building, has entered the shelter only once.

"You can't be down there even for a second," she said. "Since then, I've gone into the stairwell and my mother has stayed in bed." Many of the shelters do not have light or ventilation. Iron bars protrude from the ceiling, and the floor tiles are cracked. According to Ashkelon municipal law, responsibility for maintaining the shelters falls on residents themselves, as the buildings are private property.

"Tenants here don't have money. Home Front Command came here three months ago, saw the shelters, wrote in their notebooks and promised to come back. Since then we haven't seen them," said resident Eli Kronfeld, who moved his family to stay with relatives in Hadera. The closest shelter to Kronfeld's home is 200 meters away.

"I'm not at the age that I can get there in 30 seconds, certainly not when I have to go down four floors," he said. For now, he descends to the third floor every time an alert is sounded. Ashkelon municipal representatives said 640 private shelters exist in the city's shared residential buildings, of which 350 in poorer neighborhoods have been renovated in recent months with contributions from the non-profit International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.