Shelters, safe rooms and missile shields: Weary Israelis endure barrage of Hamas rockets

ASHKELON, Israel – The air raid siren’s hollow wooing began to howl when Moran Segal was home with her three daughters late that night.

“The girls didn’t understand what to do because it sounds like the siren during Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day,” she told NBC News, speaking by phone from the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva. “They thought they should get up, as we do to show respect to the dead these days.”

It was 1am and she quickly took them to her building’s air raid shelter, which is usually for storage and was full of cobwebs, cockroaches, and dust. They stayed 20 minutes before returning to their home, only to return at 3 a.m. in the face of another attack.

“My children were scared at first, but I tried to be calm to show that the situation was under control and that the noise is the protective system we have over us,” said Segal, 39, who is at one non-profit organization works that supplies food to those in need.

For the youngest Israelis in the central and southern parts of the country, this is their first experience of indiscriminate missile barriers from the Gaza Strip, a blocked Palestinian enclave that hugs the coast to the south. For others, however, it is only the latest in a series of similar attacks since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Northern Israelis have been exposed to similar grenades and rockets from Lebanon and Syria for decades.

In addition to unmanned attack drones and anti-tank missiles, more than 2,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and Islamic Jihad – both groups designated by the United States as terrorist organizations – since Monday. Three rockets were also fired from Lebanon on Thursday.

Eight people have been killed in Israel, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, including a 5-year-old Ido Avigal, who was killed on Wednesday in Sderot, a small town on the border with the Gaza Strip that has been regularly hit by rockets for years.

Israel’s air campaign and a land campaign in Gaza that began Thursday evening have killed at least 119 Palestinians, 27 of them children, according to Hamas officials. The bombings targeted Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials and the infrastructure used by these groups, Israeli officials said.

Residents gather around a car that was hit in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Wednesday.Adel Hana / AP

While the rocket attacks are terrifying, Israel has a comprehensive system in place to protect its citizens. All public buildings such as shopping centers, hospitals, places of worship and theaters must have air raid shelters, and so do some children’s playgrounds in the south of the country. Modern homes and private buildings must also have safe spaces, and cities operate public shelters that are opened by the Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command during times of conflict.

While many missiles are launched by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, sirens and app notifications also alert Israelis to incoming ammunition. Schools send videos about how to talk to children and explain what happens to help them relax.

However, all preparation does not eliminate fear.

“I’ve been suffering since we got out of Gaza,” said Regev Biton, 38, an accountant from Sderot, of the Israeli withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hamas continued to win local elections and ousted the more moderate Fatah movement under President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Tuesday, people took cover under a bridge at the entrance to downtown Tel Aviv. Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP – Getty Images

“In Sderot you have 12 seconds. During this time, you can’t really bring a baby from the shower to the shelter. It’s not possible when you have two children, ”said Biton, the father of two young girls.

“All day long you think,” How far are we from the shelter? “It’s not an easy life,” said Biton.

Biton said he canceled his 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party Thursday, which was due to be a springboard due to the rocket fire – after canceling her party last year due to the pandemic. The war also affected other rites of passage.

“Her potty training went well and then we had to take her in the middle to go to the shelter and she got confused,” he said. “It’s a nightmare. You are trying to shield them literally and figuratively so that they are not afraid.”

While the most widespread local violence between Arab and Jewish citizens has occurred in the most widespread local violence between Arab and Jewish citizens for at least two decades in the latest round of violence in Israel, all Israelis may be on the sharp end of Hamas’ rockets.

Sama Safouri, 33, was having iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with her parents, brother and three children in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, when the rockets started falling on Tuesday.

Although she was concerned about Hamas’ threat to attack that night, she and her family focused on one more announcement – whether Eid al-Fitr and the end of Ramadan would be the next day or Thursday.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, people seek shelter in the basement of a building in Tel Aviv city. Gideon Markowicz / AFP – Getty Images

At around 8:45 p.m., the airstrike siren sounded as they searched for the announcement online.

“My parents, my brother, my children and everyone ran into the safe room … In the previous round, I was in a panic. This time I feel safer because we have the shelter. I feel in control, ”says Safouri, who works for Hebrew University aChord Center, which focuses on the inclusion of minorities in the labor market, said. “Every time we have this situation everyone is really worried. And everything is more complicated when you are an Arab in Israel.”

Safouri covered previous periods of terrorism – “I remember when children’s buses exploded” – and civil unrest, and in light of the current outbreaks of ethnic mob violence, she said she needed to hide or reinforce her Arab identity.

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During the knife stab days in Jerusalem in 2017, she spoke to her mother on the phone in Arabic when she left her office to have coffee so that the locals in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah would not suspect her of being Jewish.

Speaking of her fellow Israeli citizens, Safouri said: “We are really here together and we are attacked together.” She paused. “But I have to complete the sentence and say that my cousins ​​in Gaza are also suffering. We all suffer. “

Before Safouri finished the interview on Thursday, she quietly told her daughter that they would sleep at the shelter.

Rockets fired at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip light up the sky on Friday.Anas Baba / AFP – Getty Images

In Petah Tikva, Segal said that while the missiles were “terrifying”, the inter-Israeli conflict was a bigger problem.

She said her family and her family often go to the nearby Arab village to eat out, buy sweets and fix their car.

“These are people we know and with whom we are neighbors. We drive through there and now everything is suddenly on fire and people are against each other, ”she said.

“What makes us desperate is that if there is a truce and it happens again in a year, why did we have to go through all of this?” She added. “Why did all of these people have to die? Why did all of these children go through these trauma? “

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