Ashkelon, Israel — When Ruth Sharabane was roused by the missile alert in the predawn silence last Saturday morning, she wondered whether or not to get her three children and grandchild up in a panic.
Then, from the next room, 15-year-old Eden started shouting “Color Red, Color Red,” a teenager’s hurried interpretation of the “Code Red” alert for incoming rocket fire.
Hustling the kids and her husband into the stairwell, they all huddled together as the Gaza-fired Katyusha rocket shook the entire apartment building from two floors above.
“No one had prepared us,” said the 42-year-old housewife, explaining that she only knew where to take cover because of the school briefings given to her kids. “What a crazy reality.”
On Saturday afternoon, Eden had gone to Ashkelon’s Marina as a distraction, but then a Katyusha slammed into a nearby parking lot.
A day later, the family was still coming to terms with Ashkelon’s new status as part of the Gaza war zone. Though they had tried to get back to normal, their shattered bedroom windows still had not been fixed and most of the kids were still too jittery to go to school.
Sharabane said she had inquired about the post-attack trauma with a municipal psychologist, who advised her to limit the children’s exposure to television coverage of the hostilities.
“We never thought that the rockets could reach us,” she said, as her 5-year-old son Netanel clutched her leg.
After more than a dozen Katyusha rocket attacks on the city in less than a week, 14-year-old Esti said she knows to take cover on the northern side of stairwell because the rockets come in from the south. She also knows the chances of another rocket hitting again are next to zero, but it is of little comfort. “I’m still in shock,” she said.
Ashkelon adolescents scaled the stairwell of the Sharabane’s building to gawk at the hole in the roof. There, a pair of army engineers took measurements and notes.
Pointing to a dent in a metal ladder above, one of the soldiers speculated that the rocket exploded before crashing through the roof and into an apartment below.
Yitzhak Sharabane peered down at a stack of bills in his neighbor’s salon while recounting the early morning ordeal. “It was a powerful explosion. Like you were standing next to a tank.”
Sharabane said that while he supported Israel’s offensive in Gaza, he acknowledged that it would be difficult to stop the weapons flow without reoccupying all of Gaza. Instead, an international force should be deployed in Gaza as peacekeepers. “What is Gaza? It’s Lebanon II.”
Back downstairs, Ruth Sharabane said that she originally thought that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza would help the Palestinians there become independent. But now, all she could do was try to make sense of the surreal memory of the attack from Saturday morning. Was it real or did she just wake up into a nightmare?
Then little Netanel chimed it: “Mom, I don’t think it was a dream.”