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Reesa Cohen Stone with her family (this is an older photo)

This is what lightly injured looks like.

First Hand Account from Former Winnipegger Reesa Cohen Stone in Be'er Sheva: Living under Hamas Rocket Fire

by Reesa Stone, May 6, 2019

For the week or so before Yom HaAzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – the skies over Beer Sheva are filled with military aircraft practicing for the air show, an annual highly looked-forward-to event. My house is a seven-minute car ride from Israel’s largest airbase, so we heard planes taking off and landing all the time.

This past Saturday, when we don’t put on the radio or TV, we heard and saw planes flying over our house and disturbing the quiet that is an Israeli Shabbat.

“Still practicing?“ one family member wondered.

“No, they don’t practice on Shabbat – something is up,” said another.

And indeed, immediately after Havdala, everyone’s phones came out and we discovered that over 200 rockets had been fired into Israel in the space of 12 hours. That’s about 16 every hour, or 1 rocket shot into Israel every four minutes.

Beer Sheva, up to then, had been blessedly spared.

I immediately got in touch with one son who had spent Shabbat with his wife and baby in Ashdod.

“OK?” I messaged him.

“Of course”, he messaged back, “there are lots of safe rooms here”. While Ashdod only had two sirens that day (I don’t know who many rockets were launched each time), Ashkelon, slighter closer to Gaza, had 50 sirens.

The best was yet to come.

An hour or so after Shabbat, minutes after I answered several messages from people asking how we were, Beer Sheva was targeted with four sirens in a row, with more than 15 rockets fired at the city. Several were shot down by the Iron Dome defense system, but three rockets made direct hits, striking a school, a building in the Hi-Tech Park adjacent to the University, and a house in a residential neighborhood. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries.

Sleep was elusive that night, as we all had an ear and a half open for the next volley. But it was quiet.

The quiet was broken at 1:02 PM, Sunday, while I was at work at the University.

I work on the third and top floor of what is colloquially known as the Student Building. The building has several shops on the basement and first floors, administrative offices on the second floor, and event halls, learning classrooms, Psychological Services, and my Department – the Research and Development Authority – on the top floor. Usually, the building is teeming with students, researchers, administrative employees and outside guests, but on this Sunday, on the orders of the IDF’s Home Front Command, all classes and events had been cancelled. Because so many of the employees of the University have small children who were also kept home, the campus was a virtual ghost town. However, I, not having any young children at home, and about 10 other colleagues (out of about 35) did come to work. Administrative work had not been cancelled.

There wasn’t much to do. The phones were quiet, my inbox stayed empty. I drank a couple of pots of coffee. Most of us were simply sitting around waiting for the inevitable.

Every knock and rattle made us jump – a scrape of a chair, a bang of the door; the air conditioner started up with a thump and a woman came rushing out, “was that a siren?? I thought I heard a siren!!”; planes overhead caused more than one to scramble for the door.

When the siren did come, everyone was ready. Except, of course, me. I had to get my sandals on. I’m always barefoot.

Whoever was in the building rushed toward an exit, all in different directions. This is because the Ben-Gurion University Student Building, built in the early 1990s, does not have any safe rooms. There is a bomb shelter way in the basement, but there was no way anyone was going to reach that in time from the third, or even the second floor. In addition, the building has a glass wall.

What were they thinking?

Home Front Command instructs people who don’t have a safe room and cannot reach a bomb shelter in time to go to an inner room on a low floor, and away from windows. The stairwell I found myself in, was on the top floor, with windows all around. Great.

More people poured in behind me and I looked up. Coming into the stairwell was the President and the Director General of the University. With them was another suit-clad man I assumed was some outside guest from abroad. They are the only ones who wear suits. It turned out to be the Governor of the Bank of Israel.

Everyone quieted when the eight or nine booms that followed the double siren shook the building. The young student who was standing on the stair below me was also shaking. A native of the center of the country, this was her first siren. I held her close.

As we returned to the office a few minutes later, my friend and colleague received a phone call from her son’s a special-needs young adult – councilor. Her son had fallen on his way to the safe room and they were taking him to the doctor. She should meet them there.

Thankfully, he was only lightly injured.

?Physically, he will be fine in 10 days, when the four staples will be taken out. But the trauma could last a lifetime.

By Sunday night, almost 700 rockets had been shot into Israel, and more than 200 fell short, landing in Gaza. A hospital, a factory, schools, kindergartens (blessedly empty), train tracks, several different buildings, and dozens of houses sustained severe damage. 234 people were treated for injuries in two hospitals, while scores more were treated in clinics, in emergency treatment centers, in homes, and in stairwells.

Four Israelis were killed. Four more worlds were destroyed. Four more names have been added to the list of those we remember and honor in this week’s Yom HaZikaron—Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.

Where is the outcry?     


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