This past Saturday, May 24, two red alert sirens activated throughout the western Negev city of Netivot. Two grad Katyusha rockets, fired at the city’s population of 30,000, fell in open areas.
Netivot was founded in 1956, three years after Sderot, as a development town and is home to a large number of Sephardic Jews from Morocco. Although Netivot has not experienced rocket fire as intensely as Sderot, Hamas’s more frequent use of grad Katyushas is making Netivot a target for Palestinian rocket fire.
Netivot is about 11 kilometers from Gaza, slightly further away from the Gazan border than Ashkelon. The first grad Katyusha struck Netivot in October 2007, landing several hundred meters away from a residential area.
Grad Katyushas are a more sophisticated version of the Soviet-designed Katyusha rocket and have a range of 20 kilometers.
In light of the growing rocket threat, Netivot was connected to the red color alert system, familiar to Sderot and other western Negev cities including Ashkelon, only two weeks ago. Yehiel Zohar, Netivot’s mayor, stated that the attack on Ashkelon’s mall, convinced him to activate the alarm in his city.
The siren system, known as Tzeva Adom, activates when a laser device feels the heat of the ground as the rocket is fired. The siren allows Israeli residents between 10-15 seconds to escape to shelter before the rocket lands.
The trauma of sirens and rocket explosions is relatively new for Netivot residents, although that is only a matter of time according to Netivot resident, Meital Ohayon. “It is only a question of time when Netivot begins to experience the rocket terror as frequently as Sderot.”
Meital describes the experience of the siren warning and grad-Katyusha explosion on Saturday morning, as unsettling and disturbing.
“At 6:30 am in the morning on Saturday, I heard the siren go off throughout the city of Netivot,” says Meital. “At first I thought I just imagined the siren so I woke up my sister and asked if she heard the siren. Suddenly we heard a tremendous BOOM, and I knew then that a Katyusha had been fired at us.”
“My sister and I were both shaking from the explosion,” says Meital.
“It is only a matter of time before Netivot residents will become experts on these rockets,” says Meital. “That angers me because I know that the residents of Netivot, like Sderot, will also be ignored by our government.”
Indeed, back in October 2007, when a grad-Katyusha hit Netivot, Zohar stated that the government had denied funds to Netivot for civil rocket defense. Zohar stated that the Israeli government will only allocate funds to rocket-shelled communities that are within a 10 kilometers radius from the Gaza border. Consequently, the Israeli government will not provide financial help for the community.
“The people of Sderot, before the disengagement in 2005, had no idea of what was to come in regard to the rocket fire,” says Meital. “In Netivot, I once believed that we would never understand the meaning of 15 seconds either.
“But now, even the conversations on Shabbat are beginning to revolve around the Katyusha rockets. During the meal last Shabbat, our neighbors debated whether it was safer to remain at home or run out to the bomb shelter, hoping to make it within 15 seconds of the siren sounding.
“I am even more frightened to think that this terrible routine of sirens and rocket explosions, known too well in Sderot, will soon become the normal routine in the city I was born and grew up in.
Approximately 60 Sderot families have relocated to Netivot during the past seven years of rocket fire. It is absurd to think that these families will have to move again in the future because of Palestinian rocket fire.