SDEROT, Israel – It was Friday at 13:30 in Sderot and Ido Avigal (5) was located a few kilometers north. He was killed in what officials called a freak incident two days earlier when a rocket fired from Gaza a direct hit on the building next to his aunt’s apartment, where he was hanging out with his mother and older sister.
When the rocket struck Wednesday night, he was hiding in a reinforced safe meant to protect residents from this exact threat. But a piece of grenade managed to pierce the thick, steel shutter and thick glass window of the shelter, and fatally wounded the boy. Ido’s mother and sister were also injured when they were in the room.
It was the first case of death in a reinforced safe room that military officials could recall.
“Shouldn’t we trust the safe room now?” asks Andrei Mardachayev, 38, who lives in a building about 250 meters away and came to inspect the damage with his wife, Irit, and their three young children.
“No, no, don’t say that,” she said. Mardachayev said, aware that the children were listening. “We still have to go in there when the siren goes off.”
In the current round of fighting, which began on Monday, military groups in Gaza fired at least 2,000 rockets at Israel, with more than 600 aimed at Sderot, the Israeli army said. Israel slammed Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes and artillery fire.
On Friday, Palestinian officials said 120 people had been killed in the attacks, including 31 children in Gaza. On the Israeli side, seven civilians, including Ido, and one soldier were killed, Israeli officials said.
In the early 1990s, after Israel was attacked by Scud missiles from Iraq, all newly built houses had to be built with a secure room of reinforced concrete. The defenses were built according to technical specifications upgraded over the years, and are therefore supposed to withstand the explosion and grenades of conventional weapons, and also provide protection against chemical and biological attacks. These rooms have windows as it is also a functional part of the house.
In an extra layer of security, Israel developed the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system to intercept rockets aimed at populated areas. This, coupled with incoming rocket alerts that people receive on their phones, has minimized civilian casualties during rocket attacks.
Lt.col. Moty Dayan, deputy chief of the southern district of the home front commando, the civil defense department of the Israeli army, said safe rooms saved many lives, adding that others arose in Mishol Struma Street ‘without a scratch’.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
15 May 2021, 19:48 ET
According to an initial investigation, the safe room where Ido is hiding was built according to the correct specifications, according to Colonel Dayan. The intrusion by the shrapnel was probably caused by the angle at which the rocket hit, he said, adding that the only new recommendation for now was to sit low in safe rooms below the window line.
The apartment building where Ido’s family lived was built in 2015. The modern, airy accommodation has open-plan living areas and balconies. A secure room in each unit also serves as a bedroom.
When the siren went off on Wednesday night, Eli and Gitit Botera stormed with their baby daughter Adele to the safe room of their apartment on the sixth floor. The room, which serves as Adele’s bedroom, contains another bed and some Jewish prayers stuck on the walls.
Seconds later, a rocket struck the fifth floor, creating a gaping hole in the front of the building and setting fire to the apartment below. Fortunately, that family was not home. But shrapnel blew everywhere, even in the safe room where Ido and others hid in the building next door.
When the Boteras opened the door of their safe, their apartment was full of smoke. They take the stairs down.
“It’s a miracle we survived,” he said. Botera (43) said. “If the rocket had hit one floor to the top, I would not have been here to tell you.”
On Friday, they packed a small suitcase. They were going to a hotel in Tel Aviv to decompress for a few days.
The afternoon was underlined by a foggy wind from Gaza and occasional sharp surges in the blue sky above. Sderot, a city that has endured 20 years of rocket attacks, is so close to Gaza that sometimes rockets fall or are intercepted by the Iron Dome before the siren sounds.
Meir Manor, 63, moved to the cul-de-sac where Ido was killed three years ago from a rural town, “to show solidarity with the people here,” he said.
He said it was important for people to stay and be present.
“If everyone runs away, we might as well close the country and leave,” he said. “We must be brave and strong.”
At Ido’s funeral, his father, Asaf Avigal, applauded him. Ido’s mother, who was seriously injured in the attack, was still in hospital.
“I’m sorry I did not take the scraper in your place,” he said. Avigal said said, according to the Israeli N12 news channel. “A few days ago you asked me, ‘Dad, what will happen if the siren goes off when we’re out?’ I told you you would be protected as long as you were with me. I lied. “
During the funeral, which took place in Kiryat Gat, 18 miles away, another incoming rocket siren blew through the air. The mourners, exposed and vulnerable, protected themselves as best they could by lying on the ground.