Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Prophet Speaketh

We had the honor today of having Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, visit, as the newspaper Ha'aretz termed it, our "rocket-plagued city". He spoke to our fellow residents, encouraging us to stay alert because the katyushas are "not a one-time thing" and

"The Grad is heavier than the Qassam, and we have no way of preventing these things (rocket attacks) from recurring."
Not what you want to hear, but that's the reality. He also added:
"...this is the reality of the past 60 years and we must show restraint and strength."
Strength, yes. Restraint, um, ok (although I'm not seeing how "restraint" stops anything but yourself).

Now for prophetic part:
A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck southern Ashkelon on Tuesday, ending a four-day lull in violence that began directly following the terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem last Thursday, which left eight yeshiva students dead.

No injuries or damage from the rocket strike was reported.

The rocket landed in south Ashkelon only a few hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the rocket-plagued city...
Ok, predicting that terrorists will fire their rockets again is not exactly going out on a limb, but you have to give Olmert credit for the timing after his prediction. And thankfully the rocket was only a smaller Qassam and not the aforementioned Grad (though Ha'aretz doesn't specify, only saying it was a "rocket").
Toward the end of his visit to the southern city the prime minister said "I am leaving encouraged. I did not come to make any promises to the residents, but to convey to them that the situation is complex and that we have no immediate solutions. However, I am encouraged by the fact that the municipality, the residents and the students are not afraid.
Not afraid? Everyone (that is, everyone) we have spoken with here is quite afraid. Maybe Olmert is just encouraging us, which is needed, but the reality is rather sobering.
(PM Olmert in Ashkelon's Barzalai hospital visiting a 10 year old boy from Sderot who was wounded by a Qassam last week)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

In a place desperate for any form or semblance of peace, a dubious Israeli Muslim leader is trying to stir the rage of his followers.

The al-Aqsa mosque [a.k.a. Temple Mount] was never the site of a Jewish temple, Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, said Monday during a press conference he convened in Jerusalem to respond to voices calling for the expulsion of Israeli residents of the city who participate in terror activities against Israel.
That's a big claim, seeing how one has to ignore all of the archaelogical and ancient textual facts proving what the world has known, even prior to the first Muslim appearing 6 centuries AFTER the SECOND Jewish Temple. Minor details, I know. Interestingly, this same Shiekh Salah was present at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Nazareth last weekend.
(Salah is the bearded man behind the flag)

The Sheikh's rant continues:
He went on to deny any Israeli or Jewish historical claim to the city, denying that there ever existed a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.

"The claims of the Jews are big lies and they have no right to any speck of dirt here," he said. ...

Salah's speech also attacked Jews, saying, "They want to build their temple at a time when our blood is on their clothes, on their doorsteps, in their food and in their drinks. Our blood has passed from one 'general terrorist' to another 'general terrorist.'"

He also said, "We are not those who ate bread dipped in children's blood."
Is it just me or does it seem that this guy is not looking to find some sort of common ground to work things out? Anyway, while at the demonstration in Nazareth we stood right next to him for a few moments, which was rather creepy. My wife was itching to set him straight on some things, but better sense prevailed that afternoon.

The Nazareth demonstration was actually a commemoration of a dead international terrorist leader, George Habash, who is affectionately known as "the father of modern airplane hijacking".
(The picture on the banner is the commemorated terrorist figure Habash)

Ever wonder why flying on an airplane is as restrictive and expensive as it is? Do you wonder who inspired Osama bin Laden to dream up 9/11? Thank George Habash. And just imagine seeing people gather to remember this man as a hero to be honored.

The Week After

Back in town now after the week away, Ashkelon is not the same city it was before. The map is now dotted with the sites where the rockets did their damage. People are preparing for the next round, be that sooner or later. Not so many are out and about as usual, especially in these warmer than usual March days. In the words of one resident:

On the counter of the old town district's Istanbul Restaurant is a bumper sticker reading, "We will win," and another that reads, "We're fighting for our home." I ask the owner, Rafi Levy, if he pasted those up in the last few days. "No, they're from another war, the last one in Lebanon. But they still apply today," he says.

A beefy, seemingly gentle man, Levy, 59, took over the restaurant from his father in 1976. He remembers being a young soldier during the War of Attrition "and getting shelled forever" by the Egyptians. Still, the spate of rockets from Gaza has shaken him somewhat. "On Friday night, I was lying in bed, sort of half-asleep, I couldn't really sleep, and then - boom! My grandchildren were with us in the house. It landed far enough away, there was no damage. But it's not a good feeling."
No, I can heartily concur it's not a good feeling.
He goes over to one of his regular customers, a lawyer, and tells him I'm doing a story on how Ashkelon is holding up. The lawyer's expression turns gloomy. "I hope this is a one-time thing," he says. "If it isn't, there won't be much left of this city."
We can only hope, but I doubt the terrorists have turned a new page in their rocket-firing ways. But the good (or bad) news is that at least one Ashkeloni isn't sitting idly by; he's taking matters into his own hands.
Ashkelon resident Moshe Nissimpor decided that the best way to halt rocket fire from Gaza - in light of what he terms the government's failure to do so - is some vigilante justice.

Nissimpor developed a homemade 200-millimeter ballistic missile which he planned to launch from Ashkelon into the Gaza Strip.
"From this day onwards, we will push back to the stone age every place which dares shoot missiles into Israel's sovereign territory," he said Wednesday. "It is time the world understood Israelis' lives are not expendable." ...

Nissimpor arrived at the Ashkelon Municipality building with the missile painted black and lettered "to Hamas, from the residents of Ashkelon" in red, and was planning to launch it.

Ashkelon residents gathered round to cheer him on and protest the government's conduct, but at the eleventh hour, police stopped him from firing the missile and seized it.
By the looks of it, that seemed to be a wise move for everyone involved.

On a more somber note, Ashkelon buried one of it's own yesterday.
[Staff Sergeant Liran] Banai, of Ashkelon, was driving the jeep when it rolled over an explosive device next to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, on the Israeli side of the border with central Gaza. He was taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva in serious condition, and both his legs were amputated. Family members stayed by Banai's side for three days, praying for the miracle that would keep him alive. The doctors fought for his life, but lost the battle. ...

Many of the mourners were deaf. They came to the funeral in a show of solidarity with Banai's parents, Guy and Gila, both of whom are deaf, and wanted to find a spot from which they could read the lips of the eulogizers. ...

His commander said that Liran could have been exempted from combat duty because of his family situation, but had chosen not to because of his dedication to his country.
That's real dedication and we are thankful for those who are on the front lines trying to protect us all. Meanwhile, trepidation weighs heavily on everyone's minds. Especially when one sees the results of an attack in a favorite place we have frequented more times that I care to recall.
And some more images from a house that was hit.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

What Exactly Does a Katyusha Do?

One of the many that hit Ashkelon this week:

Any questions?