Life under the threat of rocket fire

Photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson Archive

Home Front Command personnel have been busy during the recent escalation; IDF (Zahal) Website talked to two of them

Date: 13/03/2012, 5:40 PM     Author: Daniella Bokor

During the recent escalation, the Home Front Command has tried to provide the most effective as possible protection for the over 1,000,000 Israeli civilians forced to stay in bomb shelters and suffer recurring sirens as over 200 rocket are fired from the Gaza Strip at the home front.

From search and rescue teams on the ground under fire to NCOs giving life saving instructions via the media, Home Front Command personnel have been busy during the escalation. We met with two majors in the Home Front Command to hear about the work they have been doing in the intolerable reality, under the shrill wailing of sirens.

At Camp Rehavam, the information section is receiving an endless amount of phone calls. To distribute Home Front Command instructions to the civilian population, there is a need to activate an extensive range of communications channels.

“From morning until night, we need to be in regular contact with media outlets, update the internet, and be a call center for civilians,” said head of the information department, Major Tal Michaelovitch. “We make sure to frequently update our Facebook page and our website in real time, so that social networks also provide a response during this time of emergency.”

The department transmits information to all sectors of Israeli society, to people of all ages and speakers of all languages.

The department cooperates with a children’s television channel, to ensure that youngsters understand life-saving instructions during times of emergency, Major Michaelovitch said.

Not all residents of southern Israel speak Hebrew, so the department is expanding its activities in the Arab sector and is using non-Hebrew media outlets to deliver messages.

“We want to reach the entire population, in order to help everyone,’ Major Michaelovitch said.

Home Front Command search and rescue forces provide the critical first response after rockets fall in populated areas. Major Yoav Ben Abu, a company commander at the Home Front command training base in Zikim, has been very active in recent days in Be’er Sheva. He heads two forces responsible for rescuing people trapped in rubble, identifying rocket strikes, and working with civilian forces.

“We are important in many ways, among other things we provide a shot of morale,” Major Ben Abu said. “Our presence in the streets helps create a sense of security amongst residents and if there is an incident we race to provide a quick response. We also sent female instructors to the urban call center to answer questions that come up and help children pass through this startling time in relative comfort.”

Major Ben Abu and his team have faced complex missions, one of the most memorable of which took place in Be’er Sheva.

“We had just finished a situational assessment when we received an update on a missile landing close to a building in Be’er Sheva,” he said. “We arrived there, helped isolate the area, and conducted scans to identify wounded persons and damage. We weren’t done when we were informed about a missile falling in the yard of a school. At the school, as we were doing the same activities, we were called to the scene of a missile strike in the yard of a residential building.”

That missile, Major Ben Abu said, was the most dangerous because it hadn’t exploded yet and could do so at any moment. “We were among the first to be there and we sealed off the area. We were confident that everything was ok and we summoned the sappers.”

“We cleared everyone out and were convinced there was no one left in the surrounding buildings when a woman approached us. The sappers were already there, and she told us that her elderly mother was located in a home perhaps just five meters from the missile.”

A small team went to the home. They knocked on the door, and a confused foreign worker opened it. Standing behind her was an elderly woman attached to a breathing machine, in a wheelchair.

“We immediately understood why they did not respond to the evacuation calls,” Major Ben Abu said. “We were able to rescue them with the help of Magen David Adom and I cannot even explain how I felt. I know we did something for the good of people and saved them.”

Although Major Ben Abu operates in the Be’er Sheva area, his heart is constantly with his one-and-half year old son in Ashdod.

“Even at that young age, he responds to the sirens,” Major Ben Abu said. “He knows to put up his arms and jump into the hands of his mother. What calms me is that I know that, like how I help in Be’er Sheva, there are also people like me in Ashdod, keeping my house safe.”