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Reesa and her family in Be'ersheva Israel

The hole the grad missile made
photo by Mark Stone


Being right in the Middle of the Middle East

March 2, 2011

Last night, just before I went out for the evening, I watched a few minutes of news on TV.

"Isn't it funny," I said to nobody in particular, "Libya is being blown up, Egypt is imploding, half the other countries in the Middle East are falling apart, and here I am, in the middle of the Middle East, going off to book-club! I'm so glad I live in Israel and not a dangerous country!"

And, indeed, off I went to discuss Flannery O'Connor and, ironically, her collection of short stories A Good Man is Hard to Find, which can be rather relevant in this area of the world.

In the midst of our heated discussion about Southern racism and anti-Catholicism, we were interrupted by the very loud wail of a missile warning siren. The rising and falling tones of the siren are unmistakable. Everyone around the table was an experienced Israeli; we all knew what the siren indicated. However, for long seconds we all just looked at each other and didn't move. The hostess finally jumped up and ushered everyone into her bomb shelter with a "there should be room for everyone".

We filed into the shelter, which – like almost everyone’s – held a washer, dryer, freezer, boxes of clothes, and assorted tools. We managed to find room between the washing machine and the freezer. We stood quietly, waiting for the siren to end and listening for the BOOM. After what seemed like a long while (but really wasn’t – especially if you are running to a shelter from, say, a parking lot), the siren ended, followed a few seconds later by the BOOM. It was a very loud BOOM, as it happened. The explosion from the grad missile sent our way from Gaza, which is under Hamas rule, was obviously not very far away.

Emerging from the shelter a minute later, all of us went straight for the cell phones. But nobody could get through. One of the more exasperating phenomena after any "pigua" (terrorist attack) in Israel is that all the cellular phone lines crash almost immediately from overuse. Because everyone needs to phone everyone, it ends up that you can't phone anyone, which, obviously, only exacerbates the panic.

I got through to my family a few minutes later, however, on a land line. My daughter told me everything was fine but the BOOM had been very very loud, and the windows and walls had shaken. As I got off the phone, my hostess was busy texting her husband who was still at work at the University. "All ok," she wrote, "good news is that nine people fit into the shelter."

Book-club fizzled out soon after. It was a little hard to concentrate on post-war America while fearing that we might, once again, be pre-war.

And so, still trying to get in touch with any of my out-of-town sons to let them know all was well so they shouldn’t get worried when they heard about the attack, I took a couple of friends home. The streets were quiet, no signs of fire, or firetrucks, or ambulances. No sign, that is, until I turned into my own street. Here, there were police everywhere, lights flashing, blocking off parts of the road. The grad missile had landed about a five minute walk from my house.

As I parked the car outside my house, I was finally able to get through to one son, and I told him how close the Grad had fallen. "Hey, cool," was all he said. So much for panic.

Upon entering the house and reporting breathlessly that there was a ton of police down the street (nothing like adding to the drama), my husband announced in true Israeli fashion "let's go see!!"

So, armed with a cell phone equipped with a camera, we marched off to go see a bombed house.

The closer we got to the area, the more confusion there was. Dozens of people were milling in the street, an ambulance was trying to back out a narrow passage blocked with gawkers, and a fire truck was double parked down the block. By the time we got close to the site, most of the excitement was over, and people were packing up their picnic baskets and going home. The street was full of glass from blasted windows, and it crunched beneath our feet. We could see shrapnel damage on the face of one house on the street and damage to a fence near a different house. Disliking the feeling of glass under my feet, I turned to go home before seeing the house that had actually taken the hit, but Martin went further. He was able to actually see and photograph - gasp - a hole in the ground.
The truth is that the damage was extensive. At least five houses were damaged, with one living room falling in. A number of cars were also wrecked, and several people suffered from shock and had to be taken to the hospital.

What is miraculous, however, is that it wasn't much worse. The missile had fallen in a yard (hence the hole in the ground) and not directly on the house. There had been nobody outside, though it was a warm evening. In addition, the missile fell in a neighborhood where every house, by law, has a 'protected room' or shelter. In other, older neighborhoods, there are neighborhood shelters, rather than private ones, and most of those are locked up.

Five meters in any direction and that one missile had the capacity of killing and wounding at least twenty people .

But we all know that here in Israel miracles happen.And this is why I'm so happy to be living here, in the middle of the Middle East.

Editor's note: The first time that a grad missile ever hit as far as Be'er Sheva was in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 ( the war in Gaza) . Up until that time, Be'ersheva had been  considered out of  reach of missiles  from Gaza.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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