Ashkelon, an ancient port city in southern Israel, has become a ghost town as rockets rain down from Gaza. The city’s residents are living in fear, despair and anger, as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its fourth week with no end in sight.
Ashkelon is located about 12 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, and has been one of the main targets of the Palestinian armed groups. According to the Israeli military, more than 1,000 rockets have been fired at the city since October 7, when the conflict erupted. About 340 of them have landed in or near the city, causing damage to buildings, cars and infrastructure. Six people have been killed and dozens injured in Ashkelon.
The city has a population of about 180,000, including many immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. It is also home to a large Arab minority, mostly from the Bedouin community. Ashkelon has a rich history, dating back more than 5,000 years. It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts, the Hebrew Bible and the Islamic tradition.
But today, Ashkelon is a shadow of its former self. Most of its residents have fled to safer areas or stayed indoors, only venturing out when absolutely necessary. The streets are empty, the shops are closed, the schools are shut. The only sounds are the sirens warning of incoming rockets, the explosions of the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting them, and the occasional ambulance rushing to the scene of impact.
“I feel like I’m living in a nightmare,” said Sima, a 70-year-old widow who was born in Ashkelon. “I can’t sleep at night, I can’t eat, I can’t relax. Every time I hear a siren, I run to the shelter and pray that I will survive.”
Sima said she had accepted an offer from the city’s welfare services to evacuate to Jerusalem, but she had to return to her apartment to get some medication and other items she had forgotten. She said she was waiting for the next bus to Jerusalem at the central station, which was deserted.
“I don’t want to leave my home, but I have no choice,” she said. “I don’t feel safe here anymore. I don’t know when this will end.”
Frustration and Anger
Many of Ashkelon’s residents have expressed frustration and anger at the Israeli government for failing to protect them and stop the rocket fire from Gaza. They have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being too soft on Hamas and not doing enough to achieve a decisive victory.
“We are fed up with this situation,” said David, a 45-year-old father of three who owns a grocery store in Ashkelon. “We are tired of living in fear and uncertainty. We want our government to take action and finish this once and for all.”
David said his store had been hit by shrapnel from a rocket that landed nearby. He said he had lost most of his customers and income due to the war. He said he had applied for compensation from the state, but he had not received any response yet.
“We are not getting any help or support from anyone,” he said. “We feel abandoned and neglected by our own country.”
The Israeli government has said that it is doing everything possible to protect its citizens and restore calm. It has blamed Hamas for starting the war and using civilians as human shields in Gaza. It has also defended its right to self-defense and its military operations against Hamas targets in Gaza.
The war has killed more than 5,000 Palestinians and 69 Israelis so far, according to health officials. The UN has said that more than half of Gaza’s population lacks access to basic services and humanitarian aid.
The international community has urged both sides to de-escalate the situation and resume negotiations for a lasting peace. However, both Israel and Hamas have rejected any calls for a ceasefire without meeting their conditions.
Israel has demanded that Hamas stop firing rockets and disarm completely. Hamas has demanded that Israel end its blockade of Gaza and its occupation of East Jerusalem.