A cease-fire in place between Israel and Hamas may have stopped the rocket attacks, but Sigal Ariely has already lost almost everything.
The 59-year-old mother of three is still picking up the pieces after a rocket fired from Gaza hit her home in Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city located about 25 miles from the Gaza border.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Ariely, director of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, told The Media Line. “There was no corner in the house that hadn’t exploded. Windows, doors, air conditioners. I found things in places and I don’t know how they got there.”
Disaster struck the Ariely household on May 20, a few hours before a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group that rules over the Gaza Strip, went into effect.
Ariely was in the midst of preparing lunch for her son and getting ready to join a Zoom meeting when a red alert siren sounded, warning that an incoming rocket from Gaza was about to hit. Residents of Ashkelon have only 30 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter or reinforced room once the siren is activated.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no corner in the house that hadn’t exploded. Windows, doors, air conditioners. I found things in places and I don’t know how they got there.
Ariely managed to make it to the shelter located outside her living room in the nick of time.
“I heard a boom and I realized it was close,” she recounted. “It sounded like thunder. We’re used to hearing rockets and interceptions, but this time it sounded horrible.”
Ariely’s 26-year-old son, Ron, who was also at home at the time, grabbed the family dog as soon as he heard the siren and barely had enough time to take cover in the stairwell behind the couch in the living room, seconds before the rocket hit.
He was injured by the blast.
“It landed about 3-4 meters (9.9 feet-13 feet) away from me,” Ron Ariely, who works as a security guard, told The Media Line. “At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
“I heard a very loud noise and then I couldn’t hear almost anything from my right ear,” he said, adding that his hearing still has not fully recovered.
When Ariely realized that her house had been hit, she was overwhelmed.
“First of all, I said, ‘Thank God we’re OK,’” she said. “We’re safe; nothing happened to us and then I looked around me and I said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot,’” referring to the damage.
Shards of broken glass and metal beams littered the floor; shrapnel holes peppered the home’s ceilings and walls. The explosion ripped through the walls of one side of the house, leaving a gaping hole into the backyard beyond. Lighting fixtures hung haphazardly from the ceiling and everything inside appeared to be covered in a thick layer of dust and soot.
Against this otherwise monochromatic display of destruction, Ariely and her son, who were wearing brightly colored clothes, stood out in stark relief as they waded through the debris.
I still say that this is only property and it’s something that we can rebuild and renew. With life, you can’t.
Though she will not have to pay for the reconstruction – since the Israeli government is tasked with financing these efforts, the damage is so extensive that the family will have to live elsewhere for at least a year until their house is rebuilt.
“I still say that this is only property and it’s something that we can rebuild and renew,” Ariely said, looking around at the place she called home for 19 years. “With life, you can’t.”
In her role as director of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, Ariely has worked closely with the Baltimore Jewish community for the past 17 years. The partnership is a program of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. Since 2003, Ashkelon and Baltimore have been sister cities and have undertaken numerous projects together aimed at building ties between the Jewish communities of both places.
Sigal said she has received an outpouring of support from the community in Baltimore since the incident.
“They love Ashkelon and they love Israel,” she said.
During the latest round of fighting, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza fired over 4,000 rockets into Israeli territory over 11 days.
While Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system was able to stop the vast majority of the rockets, 11 civilians and one soldier were killed as a result of the attacks. On the Palestinian side, more than 200 were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
The Egyptian-mediated cease-fire, in place since Friday, appears to be holding for now and a fragile quiet has been restored.
However, for residents of Israel’s south, who have already lived through several periods of fighting over the years, the next war is not a question of if, but when.
“I’m not naïve,” Ariely said. “I know that this is not going to be solved [just] like that. My hope is that maybe it will be a longer period of time before this craziness starts [again].”
“The [Palestinians] have families and children. We all want to live our lives,” she added.