During many rounds of rocket fire, I have traveled to southern Israeli communities, usually to Sderot and Ashkelon, but also to Kfar Aza and Netivot. I have seen much damage and I have become accustomed to rocket warning sirens.
I have never seen as much damage as I did on Thursday in the haredi housing complex in Kiryat Malachi that was hit by a rocket. One damaged apartment was left exposed to the open air. It was in an old building, without a fortified room.
The apartment suffered a direct hit. After the explosion, neighbors found a pregnant woman lying dead. Another two were found dead in an apartment that had been turned inside out. The neighbors left, stricken with panic. Death permeated the air.
In a nearby building, someone put up a sign reading "Jewish blood isn't cheap." An Al-Jazeera reporter got into a quarrel with MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union).
The staircase was narrow and the building was filled with dozens of onlookers. I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor. Before I got there, I was stopped by Yosef Klein. His mother, a Holocaust survivor, had hidden in the kitchen. She said a prayer, protected only by a thin wall and a plastic door. She was saved, but her neighbors in the apartment above were not. If only the residents of the top two floors had gone into the hallway they would have survived without a scratch, as the hallway remained intact. No damage, except a hairline crack.
The residents of Kiryat Malachi gathered and the uniform tone was that this had to stop. There has been such hope before, maybe this time it will actually happen. Who knows?
The south is on fire. On my way down there, I heard three or four different rocket warning sirens. On the road, I saw vehicles carrying tanks. Is Israel preparing itself for a possible ground invasion of Gaza? Or are these tanks meant to be a deterrent that will make their use unnecessary?
In the evening, the situational picture widened. For the first time since the Gulf War in 1991, air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv. Veteran Tel Aviv residents who did not flee the city in 1991 remember those days. It is not a comfortable situation, but also not a terrible one.
At the same time, rockets were also being fired into southern Israel. The Israel Defense Forces went on the attack in Gaza and the rocket fire ebbed temporarily, in what was probably a tactical move.
One could have assumed that Hamas would respond to the killing of Ahmed Jabari with means that it had not dared to use previously. This was not surprising. The Israel Air Force had destroyed most of the Fajr rockets in Gaza, but not all of them.
The air raid sirens in Tel Aviv united central Israel with the million residents of the south. As the fighting may go on for some time, the sirens could be heard again in the Tel Aviv area.
This does not need to cause Israel to change its plans. Israel must act at its own pace, with pre-planned conditional escalation. Tel Aviv residents can now say "this cannot go on," just like in Kiryat Malachi and Sderot. We should not lose our heads. War is difficult, but "fear not, my servant Jacob."