On Monday, Dec. 29, Pittsburgh native Maura Linzer asked her fiancé, Liad, what would happen if Hamas launched a rocket into Beersheba, where they were staying.
Impossible, Liad replied. Beersheba was 40 kilometers from Gaza, and the weapons of Hamas did not have that far a range.
Linzer pressed the issue: what if?
Fortunately, Liad explained the safety procedure: a siren will sound, letting you know you have 60 seconds to get to a safe place. You wait until it hits, then you go back to your life.
At 9 p.m. the very next evening, the siren rang out in Beersheba, and for the first time, the residents of that town knew firsthand the fear and panic that the citizens of Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod have known for the past eight years.
Linzer, a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, arrived in Israel on Friday, Dec. 26, to spend time with Liad, a student at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba. Just three days later, Beersheba was hit.
“A rocket had not struck Beersheba before,” said Linzer. “Everyone was panicked and shocked. We ran into a stairwell. Then we heard three ‘booms,’ those were the rockets that had fallen.”
Watching the news that evening, Linzer discovered that the rockets had hit a suburb seven miles from Beersheba.
Although she thought this was probably an isolated event, Linzer said that before she went to bed that night, she nevertheless lined up her shoes by her bed “for a quick exit.”
Linzer awoke the next morning to news that another missile had fallen outside of Beersheba an hour before, but this time with no alarm warning. Ten minutes later the siren rang out, and two Grad missiles fell, one onto a junior high school just 40 meters from Linzer.
“The whole building shook,” Linzer said. “It is a whole different experience from when you hear a missile to when you can actually feel the missile.”
Linzer said that fortunately school had been cancelled that day, so there were no students in the junior high at the time the missile hit.
“But the damage was tremendous. A Grad missile is filled with metal that explodes everywhere, because Hamas wants to kill as many civilians as possible,” Linzer explained.
After that, the sirens stopped working for a few days, Linzer said. With no alarms, residents of Beersheba had to sit in front of the television and wait for warnings of subsequent rockets.
“We left Beersheba that afternoon,” said Linzer. “I couldn’t imagine how you could go to sleep there and not have a siren.”
Linzer said that she hopes Israel’s current incursion into Gaza “is the culmination of eight years of rockets coming into Israel.”
“For me, this was two days of my life,” Linzer said of her experiences last week. “For people who live in the south, this has been their whole life. I can’t imagine children growing up thinking this is normal life — living life from alarm to alarm.”
Linzer said she is frustrated by world news reports portraying Israel as using “disproportionate force” in its actions in Gaza, and focusing on the inevitable resulting civilian causalities.
“There are Web sites that report the large number of Palestinian casualties, and don’t even report the rockets,” Linzer said.
“And there are 300,000 children stuck in shelters all over the south of Israel, living in fear. No one wants to see the loss of civilian life, but Israel has to protect its citizens. They can’t live a normal life like this.”
Noting that Israel has taken pains to avoid civilian causalities by dropping warning flyers into civilian neighborhoods before striking, Linzer believes that the ground incursion is the only way to end the terror of Hamas.
“These Hamas are dressing as doctors and hiding in hospitals. The only way to eliminate its infrastructure is to go in on the ground. Hamas is shooting from apartment buildings. Israel warns the people living there to leave, but they choose to stay. What choice does Israel have?”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)