Voices from the front line

January 8, 2009
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Israelis react after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza hits the southern city of Ashdod

Israelis react after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza hits the southern city of Ashdod

We hope this will stop the Kassams
Elraz Azran
31, Restaurateur, Sderot

“All in all, the atmosphere here is very optimistic. People are very satisfied that the IDF is in Gaza and they hope that the operation will stop, once and for all, the rockets being fired at us.

But the situation in the restaurant is bad and business is weak. Right now, even though it’s lunch time, the only people in the restaurant are me, my partner and our staff. About an hour-and-a-half ago, we had clients eating here when a Kassam rocket landed in the city’s market, 20 metres away. The Colour Red alarm sounded, and we all ran to the sheltered room. Then we heard a powerful explosion and everything shook. It was an unpleasant moment. The diners were all reporters, most of them not Israelis. Some of them panicked, shouting with fear.

My wife and our two kids, aged one-and-a-half and five, are at home now. Kindergartens are closed because of the fighting, and my wife could not go to work — she’s a secretary — because she had to stay with them. Luckily, my younger kid doesn’t understand yet what’s going on. Or maybe he does and I just think that he doesn’t. The older one understands perfectly. Unfortunately, he experienced two explosions close to him — one near his kindergarten, the other while we were in the car. He shows a lot of courage and responsibility: as soon as he hears the alarm, he runs to the secure room and he takes care that all of us get into it too. He knows how to react better than I do.

Staying in a closed room all the time is not a pleasant situation for kids, so we try to take them out of rocket range once or twice a week, to breathe some fresh air. Last weekend, we took them to the Safari in Ramat Gan and to a mall in Rehovot. Then, on Saturday night, we came back home.

I’m not ashamed to say that I built the biggest sheltered room in Sderot. It’s 30 sq m, built of reinforced concrete. I left an option to divide it into two rooms in the future, when calmer days arrive. There’s one window, made of shielded steel, which, sadly, we never open. I used the six months of ceasefire to build this room. The state helped with NIS 87,000 (£15,700). Out of my own pocket, I added about NIS 70,000 (£12,640). It was clear that the whole situation was like a balloon on the verge of explosion, waiting for the first Kassam to puncture it.

I hope the ceasefire which they say is about to be negotiated will solve the problem of arms smuggling. Otherwise within a year or two we will be back in the same state we’re in now. People here fear that if the IDF doesn’t succeed with its mission in Gaza, we’ll be the first ones to pay the price of failure.

Nine months ago, I still thought of leaving Sderot. Today I don’t want to. I thought of moving to Ashkelon or to Ashdod. But now the rockets reach these cities too, and eventually Tel Aviv will get hit too. There’s nowhere to escape to. It will be simpler to stay here, solve the Kassam problem and try to make peace with our neighbours.”

As told to Michal Levertov

My children are terrified
Nirmeen Elsarraj
37, UN worker, Gaza City

“Ever since the ground incursion started, we hear bombing everywhere. It’s so frightening, I can’t even describe how scared my children are. My daughter is 14, my son is nine and my other son is three. We all — the children, me, my husband, my sister-in-law and her daughter — sleep on mattresses in the hall, because our rooms have windows and it’s not safe.

The situation is so horrible. We don’t have electricity, apart from 10-15 minutes each day. My nine-year-old son has asthma and needs a ventilator, and we need electricity for that. We have a generator, but not enough fuel. So we turn it on for a little bit at a time, for my son’s ventilator, for me to check emails, and to do washing or cooking.

We don’t go out at all, because there’s bombing everywhere. It affects us psychologically. I get angry all the time, I shout. When the kids want to go to the toilet, they want somebody to go with them. They’re too scared to fall asleep before 2am, when they are really very exhausted. I try my best to take their minds off the situation. For example, on New Year’s Eve, I baked pizza and we said we want to celebrate. Then the bombing started and we tried to laugh, saying here are the fireworks for the celebrations of the new year.

My three-year-old doesn’t understand what’s going on, but the other kids do. And the nine-year-old, Adam, has more asthma attacks than he used to, maybe because he’s scared all the time.

Yesterday my daughter was watching the news and she saw pictures of her school, which had been bombed. She was shocked, because the whole school was destroyed, and the guard was killed. Nowhere is safe. Bombing is everywhere. The whole house shakes whenever there are bombings.

I stocked some food before it all started and we have a well in the house, so we get water. Today our neighbours came and asked for some because the municipal water system has collapsed. The hospitals, even before, were short of medical items. Now the situation is worse. I stocked up on medications for my son because I knew that it will be very difficult to get a doctor. And I would never take my kids to the hospital, no matter what, because the situation is really very dangerous outside.

As a UN worker, I get permits to leave Gaza for work and each time I do it feels as if I go to the other side of the world, compared to the life that we’re living. Three months ago I was in Ramallah, and I saw girls the age of my daughter, walking, eating ice cream, chatting with their friends. It felt so bad because I knew that my daughter can’t do that. And why? Doesn’t she have the full right to be like any teenager?

If it was only me, maybe I would say — ok, that’s life and we have to cope. But when you have children you feel so sorry, because they don’t live the normal life you’d like them to have.

I don’t know if this operation will change anything. They say they will continue until Hamas is weakened, and I don’t know how Hamas can be weakened. People are being killed — Israeli soldiers and resistance people, and the leaders hide. In Israel they are behind their desks, giving orders to the soldiers, and here they are hidden somewhere, and civilians are suffering. For me the whole thing is disastrous. I don’t care if Hamas stays or not, I don’t care about Olmert or Livni or whoever — I want to raise my children in a healthy, good environment. And I don’t know when and how it’s going to end. They want to destroy Hamas completely — fine. But is this going to be any better? Only this morning I said to my sister-in-law: if they want to fight, fine — they should find a place and go fighting away from us.

We are all human beings, and we deserve to live a happy life. All of us, Palestinians and Israelis.

Rocket landed in our back garden
Claudia Giat
46, Teacher, Ashkelon

A former London resident living in Ashkelon had a close call after a Kassam rocket the size of a small car landed in the back garden of her family home.

On Monday, a rocket landed in the garden of Claudia Giat, originally from St John’s Wood, who has lived in Ashkelon since 1992.

Mrs Giat was not at home at the time and was informed by her neighbour of the attack. While her neighbour’s windows were blown out, her house suffered no damage. By the time she returned home, the army had dug up the rocket, cordoned off the area and assessed the damage.

“It was a miracle. Another 30 metres closer and it would have hit the house,” Mrs Giat said.

Married to an Israeli and the mother of three children aged 21, 18 and 13, Mrs Giat said that people in Ashkelon are living in fear and uncertainty.

“We are living scared, not sure when the next rocket will fall, when we go out, we are always looking around but people are not sure what to do, whether to lie on the ground or drive fast.”

A kindergarten teacher with the Masorti organisation, Mrs Giat is currently helping to get children out of the city for a day to give them, and parents, a break.

She is the daughter of Peter Levy, chairman of the JC.

    Last updated: 8:01pm, January 8 2009