By Edward Brody, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Ben Gurion University
On March 9, 2012, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stepped up their offensive showering rocket attacks on Israelis living in Southern Israel, including Ashkelon, Ashdod and even reaching as far as Be’er Sheva.
The following is an eyewitness account from Eddie Brody, an alumni of Chabad on Campus’popular IsraeLinks program now living in Be’er Sheva, Israel.
Two and a half weeks ago, I arrived back to Israel after visiting my grandmother in Budapest. After being away for several weeks I was looking forward to seeing my friends again, and accepted an invitation from a married friend to join him and his family for Shabbat dinner. It was while sitting at the table on Friday night, at around 10pm, that we first heard the sirens.
When rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip, the sirens don’t give you much time to prepare. Here in Beersheva, we’re “lucky”: We have a full sixty seconds to run for cover from when the sirens sound. In Ashkelon or Sderot, one has only 30 or 15 seconds, respectively, to avoid the detonating rockets.
I am a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I have been living here in Israel since August 2011, where I am currently studying in the Masters Program at Ben Gurion University. During the time that I’ve been living here, there have been multiple rocket attacks on my city, but never so many within such a short period. In the dormitories, there are shelters located near all the rooms that can be reached within a few seconds. Over the past seven months, I’ve had to run to these safe areas multiple times. But this Shabbat was different: I was not at home in my dorm, but at the home of a friend, with his wife and small children.
I was feeding his two-year-old son when the alarm rang. Everyone jumped up from the dinner table, wary of our sixty second time limit between life and death. I knew the bomb shelter was in the backyard – but my friend and his wife were hurrying to the bedroom. I watched them head in the opposite direction and wondered if the bedroom was also a safe area that I didn’t know about. The rest of us were running to the backyard. Seconds later, they emerged, holding their tiny baby who had been sleeping in his crib in their bedroom, and joined the rest of us rushing to the backyard.
At that moment, I began to perceive the differences in each of our experiences. As a single, 23-year old student, I only have to take care of myself. People with families, on the other hand, are forced to risk their lives often in order to save their smaller children.
This reminded me of the story I heard last year, about a woman in the town of Sderot, which has been under a barrage of rocket attacks from Palestinians in Gaza. The woman, a mother of three, was driving together with her children in the car when the alarm sounded. Sderot is located extremely close to the Gaza Strip, and the alarm allows only fifteen seconds before the rocket will detonate in the city. The mother heard the alarm ring and within a split second had to make the most important decision of her life: A woman has only two arms with which to carry her children. How can a mother be forced to decide which children she takes with her to safety, and which child she leaves in the car, exposing him or her to mortal danger? From the depths of my heart, I wish that no human being should ever be faced with such a heart-rending decision.
Back at my friend’s house, as these thoughts ran through my head, we waited in the shelter to hear the explosions. This is the most agonizing part of the entire experience: the waiting. By this time, the alarm had ceased wailing.
There was dead silence.
The rocket was bursting through the air.
Suddenly, it gave off an unforgettable sound. Seconds later, we heard a terrible noise and felt the impact of the explosion.
Fortunately, Beersheba is equipped with the Iron Dome missile defensive system, which is capable of shooting down incoming rockets. However, when multiple rockets are fired, it cannot block them all at once. We watched the Iron Dome’s rockets shoot down two incoming missiles. It was magnificent. The feelings of joy as we witnessed such a sight can only be compared to perhaps the joy of winning the Super Bowl as the underdog, by a tight margin. In the shelter, everyone cheers for the Iron Dome and as soon as the rockets detonate in the air, people rejoice.
The rejoicing doesn’t last for long, though. Fifteen minutes later, we heard the hospital helicopter fly above us. We all knew what this meant: It could have been any one of us…
Soon after, I walked back to the dorms – to sleep, ideally, but it wasn’t without interruption. At 1.00am, the sirens woke us again. Luckily, my bathroom also doubles as a shelter, so I didn’t have to go far, but the knowledge that somewhere out there, people could be injured didn’t exactly make for a peaceful Shabbat feeling. The sirens went off several times during the night, again at 3.00am and early in the morning just after seven. We didn’t sleep much. The rest of the day was relatively quiet, but at 6.00pm our “friends” at Hamas sent more rockets, just before the end of Shabbat, emphatically reminding us that they intend to disturb the Jewish day of rest.
Our classes at Ben Gurion were scheduled to resume on Sunday, but the Home Front Command ordered a break for all educational facilities. I had to look at the bright side – I still had homework to finish for Arabic class… Sunday was mostly quiet in town until the late afternoon, when rockets detonated in a schoolyard. It wasn’t the first time I was grateful that schools were closed, but this time I had a more legitimate reason for relief. Since no children were present, no one was hurt, but we can’t imagine the pain if the Palestinians had succeeded in sending a rocket into a busy schoolyard full of children.
As I write this on March 11, we have received nearly 200 rockets since Friday, March 6, but there has not been a single fatality in Israel. Some people don’t believe in miracles, but we in Israel know better!
Eddie Brody graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he had the opportunity to participate in Chabad’s IsraeLinks summer program, exploring our land and our heritage through three weeks of travel and study. In August 2011, he returned to Israel to complete a Master’s Degree at Ben Gurion University, in Beer Sheva, Israel.
From: Chabad on Campus