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Former deputy Israeli ambassador to SA drawn into Gaza rocket anguish

  • FreemansNeighboursHouse
On Monday evening, the skirmish raging between Israel and Hamas became very real for former Deputy Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Michael Freeman, and his wife, Sigalit. They learned that the home of Sigalit’s mother had been hit by rocket fire, and neither of them was in a position to do anything.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Nov 15, 2018

Currently based in London on a diplomatic posting, Freeman and his wife found themselves drawn into the conflict in spite of being miles away from the southern borders of Israel. Shortly after 22:00, Freeman tweeted, “My wife was on the phone to her mum in Ashkelon when a rocket hit their house moments ago. ‘The living room just exploded,’ she shouted, ‘I have to go.’ Praying that all are safe and well.”

In the house at the time were Sigalit’s mother, Sara Noakh, her sister, Yifat Yosef, and niece, Roni. Although Sigalit’s father also resides in the Ashkelon home, he was in hospital in Tel Aviv at the time, having undergone surgery for bladder cancer the day before. Yosef was in Ashkelon that day to take care of her mother, who had suffered a fall the week before and broken her shoulder.

Although recent months have been quiet, Noakh says they have grown accustomed to the reality of regular rocket fire. “Up until this past conflict, everything has been fine,” she says. “Unfortunately, we have become used to the flare-ups over the past ten years. Ever since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the rockets have been coming. Sometimes more and sometimes less.”

“Our house was built many years ago, and we don’t have a bomb shelter or sealed room. It means that every time there is a siren or rocket attack, there is nowhere to run or to hide; just stay in the house and pray that everything will be okay. There were some very close encounters. Rockets landed in our neighbourhood in the past, but nothing too close. Israel has developed some amazing technology, and the Iron Dome system that shoots down rockets in the air has made a big difference, but we know it can never be perfect.”

In this case, the encounter was more than just close. Sigalit says that in the middle of the call to her mother, the sirens started sounding. “I asked her how it was, and she said that in the past few hours it had got really bad with dozens of rockets. I remember thinking that the sirens seemed louder than normal.

“Then there was a boom. It was so loud, I can’t even describe it. My mum shouted that the living room had just exploded, and the phone went dead. I went into a panic. I didn’t know what had happened, and whether my mum, sister, and niece were ok.”

Sigalit contacted her husband immediately, and though he was in Wales speaking at a university, he went straight home to London. Fortunately, Sigalit was able to make contact with her sister about 20 minutes later, learning that she and her other relatives were all unhurt.

Nevertheless, the experience was traumatic. Says Sigalit’s sister, Yosef, “The brothers and sisters were taking it in turns to be at the house to look after my mum. It was my turn when Hamas started firing rockets. Even though my family lives in Beer Sheva and I wanted to get back to them as there was a danger of rockets being fired on them, the constant rocket fire meant I couldn’t get out of Ashkelon.”

She recalls how terrifying the experience was. “I remember hearing the siren, and then noise and glass flying everywhere,” she says. “I screamed at my mum and daughter to get away from the living room and see if they were ok. The glass, dust, bits of ceiling fell everywhere. It was terrifying.

“Within minutes, the ambulance and rescue teams were there. We couldn’t get to the front door, so they broke it down to get in. They took us out into the street for a doctor to check that we were ok. My mum grabbed the home-made biscuits [she is a great baker] and we went outside. When it was clear to go back in, we did.”

When they returned, they found that they had lost all their windows, shutters, and front door. The ceiling was cracked, as were the walls, but thankfully the building itself was still standing. Their neighbours, however, had not been as lucky.

“The house opposite took a direct hit, and our house experienced the reverberations,” says Noakh. “Our home was not as badly damaged as others.”

In spite of the damage, Noakh was adamant about returning to her home and remaining there. “This is the home we bought when we got married,” she says, “even with the glass everywhere, no windows, and no front door, I wanted to sleep in my house. And I did. There were more sirens, but I wasn’t going to be chased out of my home.”

Yosef says that her mother wouldn’t be deterred. “My parents served in the army, and were career commanders. They met in the army, and they have kept some of the traits. Mum was insistent on staying the night. My daughter Roni was really scared, and she insisted on sleeping in the corridor.”

Sigalit says that her sister is experiencing trauma only now after having left Ashkelon. “Even I was shaking the whole night, and couldn’t fall asleep,” she says. “I got on a plane on Wednesday morning to go and spend time with my mum in the house.”

Come what may, Noakh is determined to remain in her home, and refuses to bow to terrorism. “We will stay in Ashkelon and in our house,” she says. “I hope the rockets will stop, and we will live in peace. We hope it will come, and we will be able to live with our five children and our 11 (soon to be 12) grandchildren.”

She concludes, “When we were younger, my husband and I used to go into Gaza to buy food and products. We had Palestinian friends. The Palestinians and the Gazans aren’t our enemies; Hamas and radical terrorists are our enemies. Disposing of Hamas is good for the Palestinians, for Gaza, and for Israelis.”

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