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Testimony: Life in southern Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense

Dr. Julia Chaitin, Lecturer, Department of Social Work, Sapir College, Resident of Kibbutz Urim in southern Israel

Julia Chaitin

Yesterday, 19 November 2012, I was supposed to go for a medical checkup at the town of Ofakim and afterwards to the dentist in the city of Beersheba. I left the house around 9:00 A.M. With me were my husband and my son, who lives in the United States and is now on a visit to Israel.

On my way home from Beersheba, around 10:30 A.M., as we were passing the agricultural community of Moshav Patish, we heard a Color Red Warning. We stopped the car, lay down on the ground and covered our heads with our hands. We heard an explosion, not very close to us. Then we got back into the car and continued driving. We got back to Kibbutz Urim a few minutes later. The houses at Urim aren’t reinforced against rockets and bombs. There are bomb shelters in the kibbutz but homes don’t have “safe rooms”, with the possible exception of a few families who renovated recently.

After getting back to Urim, I went with my son to the grocery store to buy a few items. On our way there, there was an alert. We were near the kibbutz bookkeeping offices. We went into one of the offices and shut the door. I noticed that a window was open, but there were really strong explosions very close by, so I didn’t dare get up to close the window. We ducked down near the desk. After it was quiet for a few minutes, we left.

Then there was another alert. We were across from the dining hall and ran inside. The dining hall is not reinforced either. People there told us to go and stand in the stairwell. We went to the stairwell. We heard many explosions very close by. Everything was shaking and I could actually feel the shock of the explosions. When it was finally quiet, we left the dining hall and went to the grocery store. We bought what we needed and went home.

We received text messages telling us not to walk around on the kibbutz sidewalks. Throughout the day, there were many more alerts and explosions. At midnight, more rockets fell. We have no safe room in our house. According to the instructions we were given, we’re supposed to go into the innermost room in the house and shut all the doors.

My sister and niece, who live in the United States, are in Israel now. I told them that under no circumstances should they come to see us with the current situation, so they stayed in Jerusalem. We told them that we’d come visit them in Jerusalem ourselves, because Sapir College, where I teach, is not holding classes anyway. In the morning, my husband drove me and our son to Beersheba to catch a bus to Jerusalem. At the city entrance to Beersheba we saw the bus that had been hit by a missile a short time earlier. The driver had managed to stop and let the passengers off. He was lightly wounded. We saw that the ambulances were still there.

We took a detour to avoid the site where the bus was, and then got out of the car at the central bus station. There was another alert. Everything at the bus station is under construction, so we went into a sort of nook that was being renovated. The alert was over. I started getting annoyed that the bus that was scheduled to depart hadn’t even arrived yet. Instead, a local arrived, which I didn’t want to board, because that bus route takes it all through the area, and that’s terrifying. It’s really dangerous.

There was a large crowd, hundreds of people in a place with practically no shelter. In the best case scenario, there is one minute’s warning to get to a safe place. People were standing there and it felt like those responsible don’t have the situation in hand. It’s a sense of utter helplessness.

Finally, after about an hour, the bus came and we set off to Jerusalem. Now, just about an hour ago there was an alert in Jerusalem too. I feels like I’m being followed...

I’m a member of ‘Another Voice,’ a non-political civil initiative by people who live in the southern Israeli town of Sderot and other Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip and Palestinian residents of Gaza who are calling for different, creative action that could lead to finding a real, long term solution and get the people in the region residents out of the cycle of conflict. My political views haven’t changed, but this situation is really impossible.

Dr. Julia Chaitin, 60, lives in Kibbutz Urim in the Eshkol region of southern Israel. She is married, a mother of three, and a lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Sapir College. She gave her testimony to Miriam Leedor on 20 November 2012, by telephone.