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As IDF Response Begins, Sderot Residents Tense But Resilient

Following rocket barrage by Gaza-based terrorists, residents of embattled southern Israeli town keep a stiff upper lip.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 3/13/2014, 1:15 AM

 Only a matter of time? Israeli soldier stands atop a tank during 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense
Only a matter of time? Israeli soldier stands atop a tank during 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense
Reuters

As the Israeli Air Force begins to offer Israel's reaction to this evening's barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip, ordinary Israelis are preparing themselves physically and mentally for the possibility of a large-scale IDF operation, and subsequent retaliations from Palestinian Arab terrorist groups.

And that possibility seems increasingly likely, as both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon promised a harsh response against those responsible for the attack - the scale of which has not been seen since the end the IDF's last counterterrorism operation in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense, in 2012.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman went further still, declaring that the only way to stop the constant barrages of rocket fire on communities in southern Israel was for Israel to retake Gaza.

But whatever the scale of the operation, Yisrael Linden, a father of two in the southern town of Sderot, says he and his family are preparing for the worst.

Yisrael was at home when the first "Color Red" (Tzeva Adom in Hebrew) early-warning siren rang, and quickly hurried his children to safety.

Due to the proximity of Sderot to the Gaza Strip (it lies within a mile of the Hamas-controlled enclave), the "early warning" is just a matter of seconds - 15 to be precise.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "You have to run straight to the mamad (bomb shelter) as soon as you hear the sirens."

Despite having lived through Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Yisrael says he was somewhat caught off-guard by the scale of the attack, given that the period since that operation had been "relatively quiet".

"There were a whole bunch of alarms, one after another," he recalled.

It all happened in such quick succession he initially assumed there had been some kind of technical malfunction. "It sounded like the Tzeva Adom got stuck."

But the subsequent series of explosions made it clear a large-scale attack was underway.

He said "wasn't looking forward" to the likely IDF response, but added that nonetheless a forceful response was necessary.

"Obviously Israel can't just let this go by without reacting."

"Unfortunately we're used to it," he said of the prospect of further rocket fire, echoing the thoughts of Yonatan Etzion, another Sderot resident.

Yonatan said the blistering salvo of at least 60 rockets had made him feel "very on edge. Every sound makes me jump."

However, when asked how he and others were preparing to deal with any further escalation, his response was the same.

"I guess we're just waiting to see what happens to be honest, there's nothing more we can do. We've lived through worse."

"People in Sderot are used to missiles, but even a relatively minor number of attacks [compared to previous experiences - ed.] reminds people of when we had 100 missiles a day. I know a lot of families that'll be sleeping, or trying to sleep, in their bomb shelters tonight."

Among those caught up in the surprise attack was a group of American activists from the Zionist Organization of America. The volunteers were on a solidarity mission to deliver mishloach manot gift packages to Israeli soldiers in honor of the upcoming Purim holiday.

"All of a sudden there was a whole commotion," described one of the group's organizers, Rubin Margules.

"When we got out of the auditorium we heard the sirens... and joined some 500 soldiers in the shelters," he said.

"We thought it would be for a little while... but it ended up being two hours," Margulis added, recalling that the experience - including hearing the impact of rockets falling around them - was a harrowing one for many members of the group.

"Some people very nervous. The Americans had never seen anything like this."

And yet, in the crowded bomb shelter, he said he was amazed at the way the soldiers stayed calm and kept everyone else in "good spirits".

"It was really scary for a while, but once you're in a situation like that with everybody else, it's just... what can you do? 

"The soldiers were really great. There was the IDF's Rabbinical Choir with us and they just stated singing!"

But he said his thoughts remained with the local civilian population.

"It's so sad for the people who live down there. How do you get on with your lives?"