Editor's note: I was in Israel this week on a trip sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters and hosted by Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
Israel – On Wednesday morning I walked downstairs at my hotel in Jerusalem to grab breakfast before jumping on a bus headed south to Gaza's northern border with Israel. The plans for the day had changed as a result of the ceasefire agreement falling apart late Tuesday, so we left around 8: 30. When I got to breakfast at 7:30, my Red Alert application on my cell phone already showed dozens of rockets had been launched into Israel from Hamas overnight. In fact, one siren had gone off in Jerusalem around 10 p.m. the night before a barrage of rockets had been fired at Tel Aviv. By the time breakfast started and ended, 12 rockets had been launched. More rockets were launched that day than during anytime so far in this war.
As we headed south and down the hill away from Jerusalem, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Being on a bus when rockets are being launched is not ideal. Roadways are considered open areas and often times the Iron Dome allows rockets headed for open areas to fall and running to shelter after the bus is pulled over isn’t an option. Regardless, I needed to get down to see how Israeli’s live under constant attack from Hamas terrorists. There are plenty of reporters stationed in Gaza and the West Bank, but it’s hard to find stories about the hell Israeli civilians go through when rockets are fired hundreds of times a day. Since June, Hamas has fired more than 3500 rockets at Israel. Over the past few days since the ceasefire was broken, Hamas has fired 300 rockets into Israel, killing a child and wounding others.
After a short drive from Jerusalem, we arrived at an intelligence center, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. Less than five minutes after getting out of the parking lot and into the building, the rocket sirens went off and we quickly moved to a shelter down stairs.
“We work here and the thing that is the most most terrifying to me is to get used to the daily shutting because I have to say my children, one of them came with me today to work and he heard the alarm and just went away to the shelter. I don’t need to say anything to him, it’s building behavior and this is the most difficult for me because to get used to terrorism, to get used to this kind of life it’s catastrophic. We can’t live this way, that’s why we come here each day. No one gets a vacation,” one woman working at the Council explained. “We have to be strong, so our army can work.”
After our briefing in Hof Ashkelon, we continued to a little agricultural community on the border with Gaza called Netiv Ha’Ashara. A man named Raz, whose family has been in this area for decades, met us.
Ten minutes into our talk with him outside in a courtyard, the rocket sirens sounded again and we ran to get into shelters. Because Netiv Ha'Ashara is right on the border with Gaza, we only had five seconds to get there. Shortly after taking cover, we heard the Iron Dome intercept a rocket nearby. When we left the shelter we saw where the interception happened in the sky as a trail of smoke from the explosion was left behind.
When it was safe to go back outside, we moved inside to a community center that is used for gatherings. Raz briefed us on the challenges of living in the area, the history, etc. and then again, we heard the sirens. We ran to a shelter attached to the room and shortly after, heard an explosion. This time it wasn’t from the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket in the sky, but from a rocket landing in a nearby house.
Raz ran out to find out what happened and to make sure nobody had been hurt.
“There was a wreck in a house. This was a house that I used to live in until four and a half weeks [ago],” he said. “I built my new house here and I rented an apartment here and the one that is bombed now is where I lived four and a half weeks [ago]. The owner of the house had a baby two and a half weeks [ago].”
Walking around the community, Raz showed us a daycare center and the bomb shelter that sits just a few feet away. Many other shelters in the area were newly delivered over the past few weeks.
Although rocket fire is a major ongoing concern, the people here have been dealing with them for 10 years. The success of the Iron Dome has saved lives and serves to combat rockets falling into communities. The biggest concern now are Hamas tunnels, which were used to kidnap three Israeli teenagers in June, sparking the conflict. Raz and dozens of fathers like him worry about terrorists using tunnels to get into their communities to kidnap their children, which is why he sleeps with weapons and military gear next to his bed. He also walks around with a pistol in his waistband. Thirty of the tunnels built by Hamas from Gaza to Israeli cities, towns and the backyards of civilians have been destroyed, but the government will not say if they have all been annihilated.
After leaving Netiv Ha'Ashar and the Gaza border we drove to Ashkelon, one of the large cities in Israel under constant rocket attack during our visit. We met with the mayor’s office and spoke to the vice mayor about life in a rapidly growing beach city. We also heard from two teenagers living and studying there.
“I want you to know it’s a very hard experience to live like this,” student and head of the Ashkelon Youth Council Yuvall Sadon said. “We try to do our best. We try to give all the children living in Ashkelon spirit and a sense of a little bit of fun and normalcy."
Sadon works to help get children into shelters when rockets fly into Ashkelon.
“As the head of the Youth Council in Ashkelon, what we did is we opened more than 100 shelters,” she said. “We help to guide little children in the shelter and every evening we try to do something for the youth because it’s summer, it’s our vacation and they took the freedom from us because we always have to be thirty seconds away from a shelter. It’s not normal, it’s not a game so we try to stay normal and we want peace and we things normalized. We don’t want war and we don’t want rockets. We’re sick and tired of this.”
Two hundred and seventy two Schools are supposed to open in seven days with 27,000 students in the city but that opening may be delayed due to continuing rocket fire.
Israel’s Iron Dome system is a miracle and although it stops people from being killed, it cannot stop the mental trauma and daily disruptions of living life Hamas wreaks on Israeli civilians. Not to mention the toll terror takes on the tourism industry and ultimately the economy. Regardless, life goes on.
“We go to PTA meetings, we go to shops, when we get old enough if we’re lucky we can play with our grandchildren,” our guide Amir Orly said. “For us Israel is home.”