Ashkelon caught between Gaza rockets and gov't indifference

Direct hit in Ashkelon credit: Reuters Amir Cohen
Direct hit in Ashkelon credit: Reuters Amir Cohen

40,000 residents of Israel's most targeted city have no shelter at home and 30 seconds to reach a safe space after a rocket is fired from Gaza.

Since the start of the war, Ashkelon has been targeted by 1,040 rockets including 340 falling in the city and 180 direct hits, representing 25% of all the rockets fired at Israel. Despite the harsh reality of being Israel's "most targeted city," the level of protection there is far from ideal.

Ashkelon Municipality reports that 40,000 residents of the city's older neighborhoods have no shelter at home. Although there are public shelters, this is not a satisfactory solution for them, since they only have 30 seconds to reach the protected space. Some are elderly, some are parents of small children who have to compromise on reaching the "most protected space."

"The issue of protection during the most recent operation was living proof of the lack of dealing with this issue by all Israeli governments over the decades, and we hope that maybe this campaign will spark something," said the Ashkelon municipality.

Owners of essential businesses that remain in the city describe it as a ghost town. "There is no place where you don't see damage. There are no people on the streets. Supermarkets close in the afternoon and people shut themselves in at home," says Eli Gutman, owner of the Archie restaurant next to the beach.

The industrial areas are also empty. "Unlike the previous operations and rounds of fighting, the presence of the workers here in the industrial area is weaker. And this is understandable, so many people were killed in the region or injured, the homes of quite a few employees have sustained direct damage. In the industrial zone, you see weapons of war, you see soldiers being transported, you see security forces" says Shmuel Dornstein, chairman and owner of the Rav Bariach (TASE: BRIH).

He says that 100 employees out of the factory's 580 employees came to work this morning. Some of them get to the factory and feel a certain relief because they don't have a shelter at home.

Part of the industrial zone is just seven kilometers from Gaza

Sources at the municipality told "Globes" that from his first day as the city's mayor Tomer Glam has screamed out over the issue of shelters. About a year ago, a shelters plan was formed that included grants of about NIS 320 million to residents but it was never implemented. Six months ago, a cabinet decision was made that NIS 600 million would be invested in urban renewal programs that would include shelters.

Ashkelon Municipality is currently fighting for the city to be included in the emergency economic regulations, which include compensation for business owners, to which settlements up to seven kilometers from the border with the Gaza Strip are entitled. Ashkelon absurdly misses out on this matter. A major part of the southern industrial area of the city is included in the seven kilometer range established by the state, but does not receive benefits because the city center is further away.

Dornstein explains, "Some of it is within seven kilometers and some is seven kilometers and 200 meters. There has been an attempt to exclude factories beyond seven kilometers. The entire industrial area should receive compensation. The shrapnel does not distinguish between seven kilometers and seven and a half kilometers. The industrial zone is within range. The wise people in the Ministry of Finance thought that the city center should determine compensation. We need the integrity of the state here. Stop talking big and start showing action."

"We don't have shelters and we don't have tax benefits"

The current law makes residents of the Gaza border and Sderot entitled to compensation. But it does look likely that it will be decided to expand the range. In internal cabinet discussions, there have been proposals to expand entitlement to more distant locations that have been hit although it is still unclear what exactly will be decided.

The Ashkelon Municipality said, "The mayor has contacted many people in the government, including the prime minister, cabinet ministers, the defense and finance ministers, in order to bring Ashkelon into these regulations. We don't have shelter and we don't have tax benefits but we will continue to fight to receive assistance.

"There is no difference between our businesses and businesses on the Gaza border! The mortal blow against businesses is also happening here. The regulations also include an initial response for families who are harmed. We hope that this will be brought for approval that the city of Ashkelon will be included at least in the emergency regulations and residents will receive what they really deserve because they are entitled to it and not out of charity."

During a stormy discussion in the Knesset Finance Committee earlier this week Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam shouted, "I have been shouting like hell for seven years! Put Ashkelon into the Gaza border region!

"Evacuate all those without shelters. I'm talking about those who have no money to protect themselves and have no money to evacuate."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 17, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Direct hit in Ashkelon credit: Reuters Amir Cohen
Direct hit in Ashkelon credit: Reuters Amir Cohen
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