A day in southern Israel


Rocket remants collected at Sderot police station, 28 January 2009 ©Amnesty International

28 January 2009: We read in the news that a home-made rocket was fired from Gaza to southern Israel by Palestinian fighters this morning, but it didn’t fall near any people. We saw yesterday at Sderot and Ashkelon police stations what these rockets – among them Qassems, Grads, Quds – look like: they are very crude, rusty 60, 90, or 120mm pipes about 1.5 metres long with fins welded onto them.

They can hold about five kilograms of explosives as well as shrapnel in the form of nails, bolts, or round metal sheets which rip into pieces on impact. They have a range of up to 20km, but cannot be aimed accurately. Anybody with some basic chemicals and scrap metal can make them. One can readily get a sense of why these rockets are inherently indiscriminate.


Drawing on sign at entrance to Kibbutz Gevim. ©Amnesty International

People in southern Israel have been rehearsing how to protect themselves from rocket attacks since the first one was launched in 2001. If there is a siren and an alarm warning, they have 10 to 20 seconds to take shelter or lie on the ground.

Today, we travelled to visit cooperative farming and industrial communities, known here as kibbutzes, which lie in the proximity of the Gaza border, in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel. As we got closer to the Gaza Strip, we saw evidence of increased Israeli military presence.

Trucks transporting tanks and bulldozers used the main road, until we came to a military base facing the entrance to kibbutz Nahal Oz, one of the communities on our itinerary. Nearby is one of the crossings for the transport of fuel into Gaza. Two workers were killed at the Nahal Oz fuel crossing on 9 April 2008 when it came under mortar attack.

A little further south is the Karni crossing for commercial goods. In a parking lot off the main road, a number of commercial trucks were waiting, perhaps carrying aid or goods which are not allowed in when the crossings are closed, as they were yesterday.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz is a close-knit community of 320 people. Although they are closest to Gaza and were the first to come under mortar fire, nobody was injured and none of the houses sustained damage in recent attacks because all the mortar shells and rockets fired in their direction from Gaza fell in open spaces. Some window panes were shattered, but this might have been due to the sonic booms caused by Israeli fighter planes flying over Gaza.


Home destroyed by rocket in Sderot, 28 January. ©Amnesty International

Mortar attacks differ from the rocket attacks because they are aimed horizontally, which means that there is no time to sound the alarm siren: they can strike without warning. The head of the regional administration, Alon Shuster, told us:

“It is amazing how much one can do to protect oneself in 15 seconds. With the mortar shells, one cannot take those measures.”

For this reason, the administration of Nahal Oz organized the temporary evacuation of families with small children, comprising about-two thirds of the community, during the three-week long conflict. For those who stayed, they organized cultural events in the protected communal room in order to keep up morale.

Morale was not so high, however, in the neighbouring kibbutz of Kfar Aza. One villager, Jimmy Kadoshim, had been killed in a mortar attack on 9 May 2008. This was deeply traumatic for the small community and many decided to play it safe and leave until the danger ceased. They are slowly returning, but not many trust the fragile ceasefire that has brought them quiet since 18 January 2009.

In another community, the religious kibbutz Sa’ad, two apartments were hit by a home-made rocket on 1 January 2009 just after noon. People were having lunch in the communal dining room but one resident was in one of the apartments that came under attack.

She heard the siren and took shelter, but the façade of the house and the windows were badly damaged, with large pieces of shrapnel penetrating the room where she had been standing seconds earlier. Many here call these close calls “miracles”, but they can also be attributed to the proper rehearsal of protection measures, the availability of safe rooms and the low explosive power of the rockets.

Posted in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories | 5 Comments

  1. okay says:

    Isreal was defending themselves, and the people who started it, have only themselves to blame.

  2. Kiki says:

    Yea those militant 3 year olds sure deserved to be blasted with white phosphorous. Hamas should not be firing indiscriminate rockets but that doesn’t give Isreal the right to do the same to the Gazans.

  3. Irene says:

    Hamas has been firing these rockets for years. This is a war crime, why no one cares?

  4. Tembelim says:

    Kiki- Did you ever read Hamas or Israel agenda or chart to know what are you talking about?

    - If you don’t watch both sides leadership speeches (in their own language) and what their promise and seek

    remember: you know nothing about this conflict and who are the bad guys

    Soon, and probably by bloody ‘peaceful’ way you’ll find out
    that this propaganda based on news channels kept you ignorant and biased

    do you really thinks that IDF need this pictures or do you understand that the dead kids help the side ?- who rely don’t care…

  5. Happy and Proud says:

    What a biased and ridiculous report. It implies that the rockets that have been fired continuously for the past 8 years are ‘no problem’ because not enough people are killed. Of course, the fact that many if not most of the inhabitants of the entire southern part of the country had to evacuate, leaving the area area in economic ruins, isn’t mentioned. So according to Amnesty the attacks are really no problem – all the Israelis have to do is to leave their homes forever, and they won’t be threatened! The hypocrisy and ignoring of Israel’s basic rights to life and living on their own land is staggering.

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