One year after Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip are still reeling from the rocket fire. Traumatized children and adults, disrupted lives and uncertainty about the future are commonplace after thousands of rockets were fired at these residential areas during the operation.

“I live in Kibbutz Alumim, the closest community in the region to the Gaza border,” said Rafi Babayan, Head of Security in Sdot Negev Regional Council, talking with Tazpit. “My community ‘won the honour’ of having more rocket alarms than any other community in Israel during the operation. Those were tough days.”

“During the operation, over 90% of the population stayed at home in rocket-proof shelters all the time,” added Babayan. “Our informal education system held activities for kids in safe shelters so they won’t wander around the streets. We also took thousands of kids to watch shows outside the danger area.”

During the 50 day operation, 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by armed groups in Gaza, killing 6 civilians and injuring 261. Many of the rockets were fired at big Israeli cities.

“Hamas tries to terrorize people, and they understand that firing at big cities causes more fear in Israel,” said Yair Abelson, father of three from Beersheba, the biggest city in southern Israel.

“Every missile landing close to us shaked the house and startled my kids. They are between the ages of 6 and 11, and trying to explain to them why we’re getting shot at is not easy,” added Abelson to Tazpit. “While in the shelter, we tried to make a game out of guessing if the explosion was a rocket hitting the ground or an Iron Dome interception.”

Iron Dome is an Israeli air defense system that detects rocket trajectories and fires a defensive missile that intercepts and destroys the rocket in the air. According to Abelson, “The Iron Dome system did a terrific job and reduced the fear in adults and children alike.”

However, hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived in constant fear for almost two months. Many of them remaining traumatized to this day, a full year after the operation ended.

“Every time we see on the news that a rocket was fired at Israel, my 11-year-old daughter stops whatever she’s doing and rushes to her room. That’s PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] for you,” said Abelson. “After Operation Cast Lead in 2008 it took her over a year until she managed to sleep an entire night in her own bed. Any sound resembling a siren caused her to run to the shelter.”

Babayan added: “Our welfare department has been going from house to house and treating residents, mainly children, who still suffer from trauma symptoms caused by the operation. We once had a practice alarm, and even teenagers got very stressed and anxious despite being told it wasn’t a real alarm.”

As for the future, it is surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. Nobody knows when the next outburst of violence will be, after three operations in just five years.

“When the operation ended we told the kids that we won and that the bad people won’t fire at us again,” said Abelson. “This worked for my youngest son, who was 5 years old at the time, but my older daughters get the drift of things and this explanation isn’t enough for them.”

“I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” he added. “It’s just a matter of time until we have another operation, history has taught us that we have to be ready. We still have spare mattresses and supplies in the shelter.”

“The challenges we’re facing aren’t simple, and we’re getting ready for the future both physically and mentally,” added Babayan. “We are ready for any future escalation, but in the meantime we’re focusing on getting back to normal life.”

Michael Bachner
Tazpit News Agency