Sixteen-year-old Liz Sheetrit and her family stand in their homes with shell-shocked expressions as they point to their burnt front yard and shattered kitchen window. “I can’t believe this happened to us,” Liz exclaims. A Grad rocket fired from Gaza struck the family’s street this past Saturday night, damaging four homes in their neighborhood, leaving a splattering of shrapnel holes, shattered glass, and pieces of metal stuck in the housing exterior.
Liz says she feels only slightly lucky. She and her family were thankfully not home at the time of the explosion but her dog, which was home at the time of the explosion, harbored some marks from the attack.
The Sheetrit family and the other neighborhood families are lucky for another reason too. They live in relatively new homes, all of which have bomb shelters. “Our neighbors entered their shelter as soon as the alarm went off. If they had been anywhere near the kitchen or living room, someone could have been seriously injured,” Liz’s father said.
More than fifty percent of Ashkelon’s residents live in older buildings that were built without shelters, according to a municipal spokesperson, Yossi Assoulin.
“But thanks to the Iron Dome, residents here, even during Grad rocket attacks from Gaza, haven’t lost their sense of security,” explains Assoulin.
The Iron Dome is a mobile air defensive system that was developed in Israel to intercept incoming Palestinian rockets through a special radar detecting system. Although the system has been criticized for its steep operating costs, it has become an important tool in defending Israeli civilians by successfully shooting down countless rockets. Israel plans to invest $1 billion in the Iron Dome missile defense system in coming years, of which the US Congress has approved to provide $205 million.
However, the defense system offers no guarantees.
On the same day that the Sheetrit family’s home was struck by rocket shrapnel, an Ashkelon man, Moshe Ami, a father of four, was killed in a rocket attack on his way home. The air raid siren, which gives Ashkelon residents about 25 seconds to find cover, went off as Ami was driving home in the heart of the city along Rabin Road. Unable to make it to the shelter in time, a piece of shrapnel from the rocket explosion mortally struck Ami and he later died of his wounds in Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center.
In addition to Ashkelon, a city of over 120,000, the barrage of Grad missiles also struck Be’er Sheva, Ofakim, and Ashdod, considered major metropolitan areas of Israel’s south. The rockets hit an Ashdod school and caused extensive damage to countless buildings and homes in residential neighborhoods across the region. Twenty Israelis were hospitalized for shock and injury including a baby.
A total of 35 projectiles including Iranian-made Grads and mortar shells struck Israel this past Saturday.
Elad, an Ashkelon taxi driver, who was born and raised in the city, said that Saturday night was a nightmarish experience. “Working as a taxi driver during these kinds of terror attacks is the worst experience. While everyone else stays at home and in their shelters, we have to go out to make our living.”
“There’s no way we can make peace now,” the Israeli taxi driver continued. “There is no one to make peace with. How many more rocket attacks are needed to prove that?”
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