NETIVOT, southern Israel — Rockets have been relentlessly pounding southern Israel for the past month during Operation Protective Edge, and sporadically for years beforehand. But over the past month, few Israelis actually saw what the rockets look like. They are either exploded by an Iron Dome interception, or land in open areas, far from people. It took seeing a mostly complete rocket remnant face-to-face to understand the size — and the threat — that the rockets pose.
“This isn’t even a big one,” said Erez Tidhari, the director of security operations for the town of Netivot near the Gaza border, on Wednesday as he gestured to a two-meter- (six and a half foot) long piece of an unexploded rocket that landed in an open area outside of Netivot two days ago. The head of the rocket, packed with six to eight kilograms of TNT, exploded on impact, and probably added another 60 centimeters (two feet) to the length of the rocket, he explained. It took three security guards to bring the rocket into the room.
This particular specimen was a professionally built Grad rocket and the serial number on it allowed security forces to trace it to Syria, Tidhari added. In the past, many of the closer-range missiles that landed close to the Gaza border were made in Gaza and clearly not made professionally. They had shoddy welding and bodies made out of street signs, he said. But in the current conflict, even the rockets landing closer to the Gaza Strip are made professionally outside of Gaza and smuggled in.
Still, the town of Netivot refuses to let the threat of rockets interrupt its daily routine. A recently completed industrial center for Netivot and the surrounding towns has “a rich man’s problem,” said Mayor Yehiel Zohar, “we don’t have enough workers.” Attractive government incentives for workers to move to Netivot have the town planning a massive expansion, including 3,000 apartments currently under construction in addition to a large mall. The new train station, an extension of the line from Sderot, is almost finished and will hopefully begin operating in December.
Despite frequent sirens warning of incoming rockets, children in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods play in the streets and pregnant mothers walk to the markets for shopping. At the municipality, dozens of workers at an emergency command center work to connect residents with social services or other help they may need.
“Right now, everything is pretty quiet,” said Zohar. “The city is alive, breathing, bustling. If this quiet continues, we will soon be back to normal. We hope the soldiers will take care of the tunnels [in Gaza] and leave, so that every soldier returns to his mother.”