SDEROT, Israel (AP) — This working-class border town has been pounded with several thousand missiles fired out of Gaza since 2001. Now anxiety is mixed with satisfaction that Israel’s military is finally getting even with its tormentors.
“It’s about time,” said Victor Turjeman, a 33-year-old electrician. “We’ve been waiting for this for eight years.”
In that time, rockets have killed eight people here, injured hundreds more and made daily life unbearable.
Turjeman said his four children have been traumatized by the near daily attacks, his home has been damaged and his brother had a heart attack after a rocket exploded nearby. He fears escalation, but said he was pleased that the militant group Hamas was finally being punished.
“We should keep pounding them until they beg for mercy,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, all of Gaza can be erased.”
Israeli warplanes have struck furiously at Hamas positions in Gaza since Saturday, killing about 380 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
Elsewhere in southern Israel, however, people were increasingly fearful, and many followed army instructions to begin preparing bomb shelters. Four Israelis were killed by rockets since the Israeli offensive began, some in attacks that struck farther into Israel than ever before.
In Beersheba, the largest city in southern Israel, streets and malls were alive with movement, even after the Israeli military extended its rocket warning system to include the city Monday.
Ortal Levy, a 30-year-old mother of two, said she had never even entertained the idea that her bustling city could be within rocket range. Now she was preparing her bomb shelter.
Outside the central bus station, Mazal Ivgi, 62, said she couldn’t believe their city, 28 miles from Gaza, would be hit.
“When the first ‘boom’ comes, we’ll have to get used to a new situation,” she said.
That first attack on Beersheba came Tuesday. One long-range rocket hit it an open area outside the city, and the mayor told Israel television that a second missile struck an empty kindergarten.
Unlike the new targets of Gaza’s militants, the residents of Sderot are well versed with life under fire. Sderot Mayor David Buskila said his 24,000 citizens were still scared but mostly overjoyed that something was being done to strike at Hamas.
“We felt abandoned for so long, that our despair was ignored. We felt like we weren’t even a part of Israel,” he said. “Now we feel like the army is actively protecting us.”
Israel Katz, a social psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the reaction in Sderot was a natural one.
“Fear and rage are often intertwined,” he said. “These are people who feel vulnerable and all of a sudden they feel empowered. It’s the same kind of satisfaction that a child who has been picked on gets when he hits back.”
In Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people 11 miles north of Gaza, the reality that Sderot has faced for years began to sink in after a missile crashed into a construction site Monday, killing one worker and wounding several others.
It was the first rocket death ever in the city.
Looking at the damaged site later, Yitzhak Daboosh shook his head in disbelief. The 58-year-old father of two has spent his entire life in Ashkelon, and he said he now fears for his family’s safety.
“These missiles have no address. Only God is watching over us now,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot of things here, a lot of wars. But something like this? Never.”