Although longer than a normal blog, I think this letter from a resident in Sderot deserves some publicity. we went through katyusha attacks in Haifa but I don't think that this compares in any way to what is happening in the South.
Am I safe? Well in terms of life in NZ or the UK NO I am not safe and in truth I haven't been safe since I arrived here, if I measure safety by UK or NZ standards. How do I explain that whilst I am highly unlikely to get mugged on the street, or shot or knifed as I might be in some UK cities here I am part of a mass target for Hamas to lob missiles indiscriminately at. I suppose I can also be targeted by bull dozer drivers, the streets that those attacks happened on I used to walk down every Tuesday when I was studying in Jerusalem.
The events of the past week and e mails from friends have pushed me into sitting here and typing a letter which even if I have to stay up all night, I am going to finish because I want you all to have a glimpse of what life is like here. Plus with the noise from outside the chances of my actually sleeping are zero. In past letters I have made light of the the kassams that fall but it's not really a joking matter.
We have just had another Tzevah Adom however it's hard to tell if anything has fallen because of the noise.
The Kassams land in our fields in doing so they make a huge hole, when they land my house shakes, the windows move and plaster falls from the ceiling and walls. These are not Guy Fawkes rockets, these are not toys, nor are they the little mortars that people may have seen in the clip where the whole thing blows up as the masked man fires them. These things take two men to lift them off the ground and then they can't carry them far. The noise is ear aching. If I don't take control of my imagination the fear that it might land near me opening up the earth or that one might come through the roof as I stand at the sink can take control and make me feel sick to the stomach and start shaking. This is how it has been for the last two years.
Over the last week the noise from air strikes, artillery gun fire etc has been horrendous here I cannot begin to imagine what it is like over there. My heart bleeds for the women, children and the elderly. I find myself crying at the drop of a hat.
Here are some figures to toy with, for more that 8 years rockets have been fired at the North Western Negev and mainly at the town of Sderot. An estimated 9000 plus missiles have been fired in that time. Since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (I was here getting engaged at the time) more than 6300 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel.
In this last year alone, and remember there has supposedly been a cease fire for 6 months of the year, more than 3000 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel. During the "Ceasefire" there were more than a 1000 missiles. The cease fire ended December 19 and at first there was a sort of business as usual, a few Tzevah Adom (colour red in hebrew) alarms on our kibbutz every day and then it came to a head on 24 December (my birthday as it happens) with a barrage of 80 missiles on that one day, more on this later.
On the day that the Foreign Minister went to Egypt to try and get Hamas to agree to an extension, even the Egyptian foreign minister felt moved to make the comment that it was foolish and aggressive of Hamas to fire 60 rockets that morning.
Perhaps I can describe for you what the alarm is like, we have up to 15 seconds to take cover, more often than not we don't have that much leeway. Some houses, the newer ones and those that have been enlarged and renovated, have a safe room, with solid concrete walls and ceiling, a blast and fireproof door and a window with a heavy steel shutter. We live as do most of the people in Israel in a house without such a feature, whilst ours has concrete walls, we have a corrugated asbestos fibre roof and a plaster ceiling. So our safe area consists of a patch of our hallway 75 X 65 cms that is not directly facing a window. Unfortunately this only offers minimal protection from shrapnel if the rocket falls out side, because if it falls inside the house there is nothing to protect us and it is also situated under the air conditioning grill that opens directly into the roof space so we don't even have the benefit of a piece of plaster.
All that aside at least as we run to stand there we feel we are doing something. If it sounds at night we pull the covers over our head and pray. We have an air raid shelter nearby but it takes more than 15 seconds to get there. It was designed for bombing raids in the bad old days when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Jordan and the members might spend hours down there, not for rocket attacks. When I first came here it took a while to distinguish between our alarm and that of our nearest neighbour Nahal Oz and I was running to the safe area at the drop of a hat.
If you are outside you run to a building or lie down on the ground with your hands over your head. Yeah right, it's winter here, it's rained, it's rural and there is mud everywhere, if you think I am lying down in it you can think again, I run like hell.
The problem with tzevah adom is that just before it sounds properly, there is a sort of crackle of static, the kind you get when a radio or audio device comes to life, if I hear that kind of noise my stomach cramps and my throat tightens. It even happened to me when I was in the UK , Stansted airport, the railway and underground stations were a bit of a nightmare.
One other problem is that whilst it sounds for kassams, mortars do not set it off and the first you know about one of them is the noise and then the thump as it hits the ground.
Here we don't need an alarm clock most days because the alarm system usually starts to activate from about 5.30 onwards in summer and 6.30 to 7.00 in winter, depending on first light. This for them is the optimum firing time.
Each time Tzevah Adom sounds we get a txt message that tells us where the kassam fell. On my Birthday at about 9.00am my phone started beeping and it carried on throughout the day, we had 12 kassams fall near the kibbutz including one just outside the perimeter fence of the housing area (150m from my house) and one on the chicken sheds. I don't know what is worse being here and having them fall or being at work and not knowing exactly what is going on. From then on it was just downhill.
Thursday we got the news that we had been allocated space in a long term shelter. I didn't even know where it was and I am still a bit hazy on the details of how to access the entrance, bearing in mind that it's at least a 7-10 minute run away from where we live. From this date onwards I don't lie in bed in the morning I get up early and get dressed as quickly as possible in case I have to run. From tonight I shall be sleeping in my clothes.
On Saturday 27th I was on duty in the dining room, we were busy in the kitchen getting ready to serve the main courses when there were huge booms, I thought it was sonic booms which the air force sometimes does over Gaza when the kassam fire had been particularly bad by way of warning. It was strange in that we had heard no aircraft. When we wheeled our trolley out into the dining room, it was very obvious that this was not the case, not only were the windows bulging in and out as they do with sonic booms, but the earth was shaking. We then though it might have been one of their ammunition dumps going up as they have been know to do from time to time. But the blasts carried on for about 10 minutes and then an announcement was made that the noise was our air force actually attacking Gaza. We were told to stay in the dining room rather than go home as they expected incoming missiles would start up in response once they got organised over there. If we wanted to go home it was best to stay in or near the secure room. I had to stay in the dining room and clear up and of course my dear husband went home.
One night I was on my way home from Beer Sheva when as I drove past Ofaquim, a town south of us, I heard their air raid sirens start wailing. I pulled into a bus stop and phoned Eric to ask if he thought I should get out of the car and lie down on the ground or was I far enough away to ignore it. No he shouted if you can hear it get out of the car. Now call me fussy, call me pernickety but I know what the area round that bus stop is like, it is littered with rubbish and cigarette ends never mind the mud ! Yeugh. Other cars were driving past hell for leather and I joined them putting my foot down and roaring off. I have a Hyundai Getz, it gets you from A to B , it's not built for speed, it's built to move like treacle on a cool day but when it gets up to speed it rackets along like a crazy thing, bouncing along the road. Thank goodness I had the steering wheel to hold on to.
I phoned Eric to tell him what I was doing and as I did so I happened to glance up at the sky to see 5 incoming rockets arcing out of Gaza. I started screaming down the phone at Eric " Oh my god the sky is full of them, what am I going to do" I was crying and I was so scared I thought I might wet myself. I slammed down the phone and put my foot down even further. Now I was going at 125Kph and I was hanging on to that steering wheel like a drowning man with a life belt. I opened the window so I could hear if the alarms were sounding in the towns and kibbutzim I passed. I drove with my eyes on the sky rather than the road. I drove through red lights and I got home to a welcoming Tzevah adom. Now I did jump out of the car and lie down with my hands over my head.
It's Saturday night and the IDF have entered Gaza. I have just received a txt message to tell me that we should not leave our homes, we can drive along the roads for the time being if we want to. I'm scared enough in my house the thought of having to drive in the dark, watch the road and watch the sky is too much.
The so called ceasefire with it's 1000 rockets over 6 months, you know what? I would have been able to cope with that at Alumim if they would have renewed the cease fire but they didn't want that for some reason that only Hamas leaders know. I even got up enough courage to go to Sderot, only during the middle of the day of course.
I'd even become used to driving along "bomb alley" between Sderot and the Gaza if we wanted to go to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, I went once a week for study. It's nerve wracking especially after you've see fields of straw on fire from a kassam or a restaurant at a kibbutz get hit and catch fire.
I really doubt if there is any other country that would sit by and let a neighbour fire missiles into it's territory, never mind fire them at it's citizens for years without doing anything. Why is Israel expected to do so?
I'm glad it's happening we wasted so much time in trying to negotiate with them that in the end we withdrew from Gaza with no demands and left them to their own devices. We have tried sonic booms to scare them, we have closed the border to all but essential aid but still the rockets come. We have targeted their military installations and Hamas infrastructures and still they keep on firing missiles and not just Kassams but Grads and Katyushas too.
Aiming for our cities not just rural areas, aiming for the power station at Ashqelon that was actually supplying nearly all their electricity. There are store houses on their side of the border full of supplies but Hamas will not allow it to be distributed. When the IDF target a building they drop leaflets and phone people telling them to get out that an attack is coming. Hamas send us text messages threatening us with all sorts of horrors that they will inflict on us when they "take over Israel".
I am listening to a man being interviewed on Sky television and I hope that the politicians of Europe are listening to him because he is stating how many millions of Muslims live there and threatening Europe with attacks if they don't support Hamas. Nice.
I wrote to the BBC website after the disengagement from Gaza and asked that Hamas be allowed a chance to govern Gaza, to improve the lot of the people there. to take the aid money and use it for the people, not line their pockets and Swiss bank accounts as previous leaders have done, Sadly what they have done is use it to buy weaponry, smuggle it into Gaza, and site it in built up areas, they even built an entire department of their university for weapons development when their people don't even have a sewerage system that works (by the way they were given $75 million solely for that purpose).
Where were all the international voices calling for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel, where were the demonstrators in the streets?
For what it's worth this is how one woman feels sitting here at her computer less than 4 Kms from Gaza.
One more thing, there is of course the myth that all the missiles are "home made" and therefore somehow harmless. The current version is up to 2 metres long, weighs 90 Kg, carries 10Kg of explosives and has a range of 8-10km. Now this is a lot bigger than most people realise. It can't really be aimed it is just pointed in the general direction and it can go off course regularly so it is totally indiscriminate. They have even been known to turn back and kill their own launch crew.
It doesn't destroy buildings completely but it will make a mess of your house, the shrapnel can kill or maim people and anything the shrapnel hits is torn and smashed, human bones and flesh, windows, cars, walls etc. They bury themselves into the road, path or open land so they can penetrate.
Katyushas these are missiles fired from a battery, these are not home made, they are smuggled in via the tunnels from Egypt.
Grads are the missiles that are hitting Beer Sheva, Ashqelon, Ashdod and Kiryat Gat amongst other places. They are manufactured weaponry the latest lot are from China, they have a long range and a heavier payload of explosives. These are smuggled in via the tunnels from Egypt.
Mortars these are about the size of a ten pin bowling pin but fatter, they have a short range and they don't set off our warning system because they are too small. The joy of these little darlings is that we only know they are coming in when they whistle on their way down and of course when they hit