Hearing the Tzeva Adom, red color alert, this past weekend, caught me by surprise, especially because it sounded in Netivot. It was the first time that the warning system went off since the grad Katyusha directly struck the Ashkelon mall.
I spend my days working in Sderot and the western Negev. I often hear the red color warning and run to the protected shelters. I also document the damage that the Qassams wreak upon this region and how they devastate the lives of those families and residents who are struck in the attack. During each week, there is a day of quiet where we gather our strength to face the next rocket bombardment.
Only, two weeks ago, Netivot was connected to the red color alert system in order to warn Netivot residents of incoming rockets. This warning is different from the one in Sderot and I have yet to get used to it.
Until now, quite a few Qassams have fallen in the Netivot area, but fortunately most of the Qassams have landed in open fields and have not caused damage or injuries.
The general consensus in Netivot as to why the Qassams do not reach the city is that the righteous Baba Sali, the great Morrocan spiritual leader and rabbi, is buried within the city borders and thus the Netivot residents are protected from the Palestinian rocket fire.
During our Shabbat meal on Saturday night, our conversation with our neighbors relates mostly to the Qassam rockets and the new warning system. Both our neighbors believe they have only four seconds to run for cover when the new warning system sounds, although in reality one has between 10 to 15 seconds.
A debate ensues as to what to do when the siren does sound — is it worth risking one’s life to run for cover with so little time available? One neighbor concludes that it is better to lie on the floor with hands protecting the head from pieces of shrapnel if a rocket explodes in the area.
This is what people generally do when the siren goes off and there is no bomb shelter within the vicinity.
I remember when I thought to myself how the people of Netivot, a city that is only kilometers away from Sderot, still do not know what to expect in regard to the Qassam fire. This is how Sderot residents also felt before the disengagement in 2005.
It is only a matter of time that Netivot residents become experts on Qassams, that when the siren sounds, they will run to shelters, that Netivot mothers will think twice about going outside, and that 15 seconds become significant moments between life and death.
And then at 6:30 a.m. in the morning on Saturday, I hear the siren go off throughout the city of Netivot. In the beginning I thought I was dreaming or that I wasn’t hearing right. I woke up my sister (who doesn’t live in Netivot) and ask her, “Are you hearing what I’m hearing right now?”
“Yes,” she replies. She then proceeds to ask what is the significance of the siren sounding Saturday morning? I start to explain that a week ago, our city was connected to the warning system, when suddenly we hear a tremendous BOOM. Fortunately, the rocket fell in an open field, but we are both shaking.
I don’t want to think this, but I fear that soon, Netivot will become another Sderot.
Two hours later, we hear another siren and rocket explosion in an open field. This reality is all too familiar to me from my time working in Sderot at the media center.
My reaction is mixed with fear, shock and anger that the residents of Netivot will also be ignored. Even more I am frightened to think that this terrible routine that Sderot residents have become accustomed to under the rocket fire will become the normal routine here as wel l– in the city in which I was born and grew up.
According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, over 200,000 western Negev residents are under rocket threat, and this includes the city of Netivot.
Will Netivot become the next rocket bombard city in the western Negev?