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THE FIRST BOMBING OF BE’ERSHEVA: FORMER WINNIPEGGER GIVES EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

[Editor’s note: This was first written January 8, 2009 and is being reprinted now]

By Reesa Cohen Stone, Be’ersheva, Israel,

I have lived in Be’er Sheva for almost 24 years, and have seen it grow from a small town of 60,000, to a metropolis of over 200,000 in that time. Beer Sheva is twinned with the city of Winnipeg, and hosts the Asper Community Center, only a few blocks from my home.
Until  two weeks ago Be’er Sheva had never been bombed.
 
While the Negev was targeted during the first Gulf war in the winter of 1991, the objective was not Be’er Sheva, per se, but rather other 'factories' situated further south. The only other time that Be’er Sheva was in a real-war situation was during the War of Independence in 1948, and at that time, Be’er Sheva wasn't even big enough to bomb, with a total population of approximately 5000 people.
Today the people of Be’er Sheva live with a new reality.

Of the first 2 Grad missiles landing within Be’er Sheva city limits two weeks ago, one landed in an open area with no damage. The second, however, came down directly on a kindergarten. It being night, there were no casualties, but the building was virtually destroyed. Imagine if that bomb had landed 12 hours earlier, directly hitting approximately 30 ever-so-beautiful 4- and 5-year-olds.

When the siren went off at 9:00 PM here, my own 7-year-old was asleep. I had to wake her up to take her to the 'secure room' (cheder me’ugan), made of reinforced concrete walls and doors (which we use as a bedroom for my oldest). All houses built since around 1985 are built with such a room. Groggily she asked what was happening, but how do you explain to a little girl that she is being bombed?  They had had a drill that morning in school of how to run to the nearest shelter, and how to crouch under their desks with their hands on their heads.  But hoping, she asked if this was another  drill (‘targil’). She was unable to fall asleep again after the Grad fell (we heard a great boom! - the neighborhood where it fell is the next neighborhood to ours - about 2 km away), and woke up during the night.
I stayed with her, and thought how the children of Sderot have put up with this for 8 YEARS. Not once or twice or for 2 months, like the Second Lebanon War, but for 8 YEARS. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.  

The next day another 3 missiles fell on the city. I was at work. We made it into the shelter, and heard a terrific BOOM; the building shook; the high school, where approximately 1500 students study, which was hit is right next door to where I work. A classroom was destroyed and the building sustained heavy damage.  Amazingly, since it had been decided to close all schools until further notice, and that the kids would stay home, there were no physical casualties, though several people were treated for shock.  On this same street as the school are situated the largest shopping center in the city, the bus and train stations, City Hall, a small University campus (where I work), two schools, the Soroka Hospital and then the main campus of Ben-Gurion University.  These buildings are more or less all in a row. The schools were the ONLY buildings in the row which were not teaming with people.  Who says miracles don't happen? But imagine, again, a class full of 16-year-olds, a school full of high school students.

Yesterday[January 7], I was in my car listening to the radio, when all of a sudden the announcer announced that there was a siren in Beer Sheva right now. I didn't hear anything, and nobody else seemed to hear anything, and I wasn't sure what to do. The army’s Home Command has issued instructions saying that if in the car when a siren goes off, one should immediately stop the car, get out, distance yourself from the car, and lie down. But there was no siren. But then suddenly, about a minute after the radio announcement, the siren was heard. I was on a major street, and simply stopped my car in the middle of the road, and ran across the street (making sure I had the light – it would have been quite ironic to get run over at that point). Somebody from a nearby shop came out and told passersby to come inside and go into the back. Had I lay down as per instructions I would have been run over in about 10 seconds, because very few cars actually stopped. Everyone kept going.

Back in the car about three minutes later , I went shopping.  

The second siren caught me in the supermarket.

Suddenly, over the loud speaker came the words ‘Tzeva Adom, tzeva adom’ (color red, color red) which are the words heard in Sderot when a kassam missile is headed their way. I had never actually heard this before – in Beer Sheva there is only a siren – and it made my skin break out in gooseflesh. The manager of the store then asked everyone to get into the bunker at the back of the store. And then the siren came on – loud.

Now, for the first time, I encountered panic and fear. I also encountered Arabs, as there is a substantial Beduin and Arab population in the city and its environs, with a third of Ben-Gurion University’s 17,000students being Beduin. More than half the people in the supermarket were Bedouin.  As we all huddled together in the bomb shelter (along with a few grocery-laden trolleys some women refused to relinquish), it struck home how indiscriminate these Grads, and Katuyas, and Kassams truly are.
 
Emerging from the bunker everyone went for their cell phones. It was from a Bedouin gentleman and his wife that I heard that the same neighborhood next to mine had been hit again. My Arabic is far from fluent, but I fully understood what my bunker neighbor had to say about Hamas. And believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Yesterday, [January 7]  another Grad hit another kindergarten in Ashdod. Last week a shul was hit in a nearby Kibbutz. A playground in Ashkelon. The list goes on.

Much has been made of 'disproportionate response'. 

Imagine someone is shooting into your house. He has a gun, and shoots into your windows. You don't know when he is going to shoot, or who. You have to go about your daily life. But this guy is shooting at you and your family. You can't sell your house, because who would buy it? Your kids can't sleep at night, because this guy might shoot them. Your wife is afraid to go to work or go shopping, because the kids might be shot while she is gone. Your husband can't take the kids to school because he might get shot leaving his house. How would you feel if nobody was stopping the guy shooting?

And that's the way things are here. Until Hamas is destroyed,  nobody is going to be able to sleep.

Disproportional response? Three quarters of Sderot's population are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Half the kids are wetting their beds. Hamas has terrorized whole towns. Hamas times its attacks for when the kids are going to or coming home from school.

Instead of spending all the money they got from the international community on food and medicines, Hamas chose - with support from the populace - to buy arms instead.

Israel 'disengaged' from Gush Katif three and a half years ago.  Hamas took  Gush Katif,  and the millions of dollars worth of agricultural equipment and hot houses and turned beautiful villages into training centers for terrorists.  Palestinians voted in Hamas in free elections. The Hamas's charter states "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

Don't believe they don't mean what they say. They do. They say it loudly and clearly. They mean to destroy Israel.

 

 
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