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A barrage of rockets aimed at the Jewish state

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It has been days of mayhem and panic, with more than 250 rockets fired in Israel since Tuesday morning. This situation has been caused by retaliatory attacks after the planned killing in Gaza of a senior Islamic Jihad commander, who had intended unleashing mass bloodshed in Israel.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Nov 14, 2019

The SA Jewish Report contacted South Africans living in Israel who spoke of how they were scrambling for safety in bomb shelters and safe rooms as air raid sirens wailed across the country.

“Thank G-d for the Iron Dome,” said Pretoria-born father-of-four Shmuel Shantall, a tour guide who lives in Modiin.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) warned that they were prepared for several days of fighting following the “surgical strike” on Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) senior commander Baha Abu al-Ata.

On Tuesday, the IDF ordered schools to be closed in southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, as terror groups in the Gaza Strip fired hundreds of rockets at cities and towns throughout the country in retaliation for the assassination.

By Tuesday night, more than 190 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza. There was relative calm overnight, but the barrage of rocket fire continued on Wednesday morning. At the time of going to print, the number of rockets had risen to 350. On Wednesday, the IDF said the PIJ was launching rockets at Israeli towns once every seven-and-a-half minutes.

Tuesday started like most ordinary days, said Shantall, getting the children ready for school. But then “it really turned into one of those days”.

“We heard the sirens as my wife, Orya, got back from dropping the kids at school,” he said. The couple then rushed to fetch their children and made their way to his parents’ apartment to use the secure room with its steel shutter.

“We heard the Iron Dome interception over the skies of Modiin, then we heard the loud boom. And afterwards, when we went outside, we saw the clouds above and you could see the trail of smoke.”

Shantall said the biggest concern is “to keep the kids calm and distract them”.

“My 11-year-old knows what’s happening, so he becomes a bit shaky. There is this strange sense of security. You worry for your kids, that they don’t see you panic. It’s a strange feeling, almost surreal. It has the element of excitement and adrenaline, but there’s also a huge sense of gratitude that we are able to defend ourselves.” 

In certain areas, once it is safe to leave shelters, life returns to normal, shops reopen and people go about their everyday lives. “There is a lull, but I also know that friends of mine have been called up for reservist duty,” said Shantall.

For many, the air-raid sirens are hugely disruptive and inconvenient. But for those with young children there is the added dimension of fear and panic as they dash to safe rooms and attempt to keep the little ones calm. Others regard the sirens as a rude interruption in the day, and then it’s back to life as normal.

South African immigrant Geora Zadok, who resides in south Tel Aviv, has lived in Israel for 10 years. He said he is used to the sirens. “I was out cycling on Tuesday when I heard the sirens go off. I watched the Iron Dome take out two missiles and then I went inside and ate breakfast.”

He said a short while later, while he was taking a shower, he heard the sirens again. “I went onto my balcony, heard the loud bangs of missiles being intercepted, and went back inside again. You can’t let these things get to you – life goes on, there are issues all over the world.”   

Janice Friedland of Johannesburg, who was visiting her daughter in Tel Aviv, said it was “quite scary”.

“On Tuesday, we heard the siren and went to the bomb shelter. It lasted a few minutes and then we could come out,” she said.

She added that the streets were noticeably quieter afterwards and many of the shops were closed. “It was quite scary seeing as this was our first time experiencing the sirens in Israel,” she said.

Heather Bloch, who lives in Ashkelon, about 20km from Gaza, said her family is always “very relaxed” during the air raid sirens as it has “become a way of life”.

“You sort of get used to it. It’s unsettling, more than anything else, and there is uncertainty over how long things will last – when work will resume, when schools will open, that kind of thing. The uncertainty is unsettling.”

She said in Ashkelon the residents have 30 seconds to get to a safe area following a siren. Her family, including her husband and two daughters who are in their 20s, stay indoors and spend quality time together. But, she said, “for people with small kids it’s a very different kettle of fish”.

South African Oleh Dorron Kline told the SA Jewish Report that during a flare-up it is stressful, but residents get fair warning. The instructions from the Israeli Home Front Command are very clear, and if people stay close to their safe rooms they will be fine.

His daughter Shaked lives about 400m from the Gaza fence in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. “Her bedroom is a safe room, so when there are sirens at night she stays put. On Tuesday there were so many sirens that she and her partner went hiking in the Ramon Crater to get away from the noise, as there was no work.”

This week was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since the 2014 Gaza war.

According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was planning to carry out rocket attacks and other terrorist activities against Israel, and was also directly responsible for several cases of rocket fire over the past six months. The military said it had sent a number of warnings to Abu al-Ata to call off his operations, but they went unheeded.

In the past year, terror groups in Gaza, including the PIJ, have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, which has responded by targeting their infrastructure and some of their members.

Twenty-one Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli fire since early Tuesday, the majority of whom are believed to belong to terror groups.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has called on the South African government to condemn the rocket attacks. The government, however, had not issued any statements at the time of going to press.

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