Saturday morning. It’s 5:20 am. The explosion was clearly heard in the fortified room. The windows shake. The Grad rocket landed less than 600 meters away. A feeling of complete helplessness; the fear is paralyzing. Everything I experienced so far means nothing. Welcome to the Qassam roulette.
Exactly 24 hours earlier, the El Al plane returning Prime Minister Olmert from Japan lands in Ben-Gurion Airport. I am informed about a rocket attack on my hometown – Ashkelon. My heart skips a beat. Even before I have time to check that my family is ok, Olmert grabs hold of the microphone, and in a cheerful tone thanks his people, thanks the security personnel, and thanks us the journalists who accompanied him on this trip to Japan. His people, who are waiting for their suitcases, don’t have any good news either. “The national security cabinet will be convened on Wednesday. We will consult and see what we do next,” one of them tells me.
I leave the terminal to meet my partner, Racheli. “We’re entering a new era. There is nobody out there who can stop the Grad rockets. We must protect our children on our own,” I tell her, while my stomach turns with anxiety. I’m returning to a town facing war. “Now, it’s a war for our home,” I mutter to myself, holding my suitcase from Tokyo in one hand and weekend newspapers in the other hand as I stand in my driveway.
Saturday, 5:25 am. Good thing the jetlag woke me up an hour earlier. I heard the ‘Color Red’ alert and was quick to wake up everyone. I call my parents, who are awake. They heard one of the rockets hit. They are sitting in their fortified room and maintaining their cool. The relatives of one of my sisters go out of their own fortified room, and from their seventh floor balcony they can see their car on fire.
Hiding under the deskWe move on to the customary round of phone calls after the second Grad barrage, a bit before 9 am. This time too all is well, at least for us. The third barrage, around 4:30 pm on Saturday, catches me in the shower. I hear the “Color Red” alert as the water pours down. My partner has enough time to run into the fortified room while I grab for the towel, which turned into my shelter, as I had no chance to reach the room. A moment later, we could hear the explosion in the western end of town, 1,200 meters away from home.
My children call from their ski vacation in Bulgaria, to see that all is well. Friends from the north call, to offer us a room if we want. During the Lebanon war we invited them. Now they’re inviting us; they’re concerned. I need to calm them down, but mostly I need to calm myself down.
Sunday morning, my children returned from Bulgaria to the war in Ashkelon. My youngest child, 7-year-old Omri, went to his art school, where he will have to hide under the desk if a Grad comes. And it will come, I know that. Racheli’s and my retired parents have not left the house, so they can stay close to the wall that may protect them, or not. And I headed to Jerusalem to cover the government session. Olmert, Barak, and Livni spoke about national needs, and about a smart war that must be managed from the head, not from the gut.
My head was busy listening to the voices of reason in Jerusalem, yet my stomach continued to turn in the face of the voices of anxiety emanating from my abandoned home in Ashkelon.