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Under a Sky Raining Rockets

First Published JCF Newsletter December 2012

By ANNIKA KOPP

It was 6:00 am when I was awakened by a phone call from a co-worker from CBN News asking if I could join a press tour to the city of Sderot, known as “Rocket Town” in southern Israel.  It was the seventh day of the eight day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Without hesitation, I agreed to join one of the cameramen from the bureau and headed out with multiple other reporters from various news agencies.

It was not my first visit to the town of Sderot, however, this time was more nerve wracking than any other.  As we piled onto our bus and made our way closer to the border, I could feel my stomach churning as I mentally prepared myself for a sudden rocket attack.

After an hour and a half of traveling, we finally arrived in the small town (pop. 24,000). Our first stop was at the Magen David Adom, the equivalent of Israel’s Red Cross.  They described to us how they are the first to help anyone injured by a rocket attack and are able to provide their services in a matter of minutes to both Arabs and Israelis.  During this briefing we happened to be inside a bomb shelter due to the possibility of a rocket falling in our area.  Sderot is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza border, less than a mile away, and therefore the easiest target for a rocket attack.  We were warned that if the alarm should go off, we’d have exactly fifteen seconds to find shelter before a rocket would hit.

Our next stop was the Sapir College Film School to hear a few other explanations and briefings on the conflict. Suddenly, we heard the “Tzeva Adom” (Hebrew for “Red Alert”) warning that a rocket was heading in our direction.  We ran for the nearest bomb shelter which happened to be in the school we were visiting. We waited several seconds and then we heard a big boom.

We were notified that the rocket had hit in one of the nearby neighborhoods where we immediately headed to get our own first hand impressions.  When we arrived, there were people scattered everywhere together with other journalists covering the event.  We spotted the hole where the rocket had landed and as I looked to my right I had noticed a little boy holding a piece of shrapnel.  At that moment I happened to look up to the sky and noticed a rocket flying in the air.  I turned to a man standing next to me and asked him if what I saw in the sky was real.  He looked back at me with a blank smile and said, “Yep, I’m used it…”

One minute later we heard the “Tzeva Adom” again, and in a matter of seconds, people began running in all directions.  My heart started to pound.  My instinct was to run for shelter.  However, we were nowhere near any bomb shelters.  I decided to follow a group of people running towards a house and was directed to head towards the lowest place in the building—an underground apartment.  A group of us huddled together silently as we waited a few seconds until we heard the inevitable loud boom.  We waited again for a few minutes, to be on the safe side, and then made our way back out of the underground apartment.

Throughout all my growing up years in Jerusalem, in the midst of conflict and war, I had never experienced this type of panic and fear.  I have had many close calls with other types of terrorist attacks such as suicide bombers and bus bombings, but nothing like a rocket attack.  Sderot has been living under these conditions for the past twelve years.    

I met a mother whose little son’s bedroom was hit by a rocket.  She managed to find him in the rubble in the dark unharmed.  She, herself, was severely injured in the blast when a number of pieces of shrapnel penetrated her skull.  One piece remains lodged in her head because doctors are afraid to remove it due to the risk of causing brain damage.

Just a few days earlier, during a trip to the southern Israeli farming community of Be’er Tuvia, I had found pieces of shrapnel from a rocket that hit a house.  Just holding one small but heavy sharp piece in my hand was a poignant reminder of how severe the injuries and damage caused by rockets can be—both physically and mentally

This is not only about innocent people threatened on this side of the border.  There are innocent men, women, and children in Gaza who are also living in torment and suffering.  They have no control over their own safety due to the power and misguided leadership of the Hamas terrorist organization.  The fact that both sides are living under such conditions is the harsh reality.  I was able to catch a glimpse of this reality and gain an eye-opening perspective that exists just over an hour away from my own home in Jerusalem. 

Many of my friends and family overseas asked about my safety and wanted to know if the situation got worse would I leave the country. My first response was “no.” Even though the situation is frightening and unsettling, throughout my visit I had a sense of peace and comfort from God. Even walking the streets of Sderot I knew I would not face death because I believed that I was brought to witness what life is like living under the threat of rockets on a daily basis.