Tzfat, Israel — The screams of the 9-year-old girl as she pushed through the door immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. No amount of reassuring from her mother could truly comfort her. Wrapped inside her mother’s arms, the trembling child was too overwhelmed to comprehend the war going on around her.
As an adult, I felt oddly safe, despite the siren blaring in the distance. My adult mind was able to rationalize that the odds of being hit by a Katyusha rocket were actually infinitesimal. And I knew that inside the window-less center of the hospital, I really wasn’t even at risk of flying shards of glass.
While a child might not think in terms of “odds,” she didn’t need to go far to witness justification for her fears. Since last Thursday, more than 100 local residents have come through the front door, some with severe physical injuries, others suffering from severe emotional trauma.
Just last night, a Hezbollah-launched Katyusha rocket smashed into the side of the building. Thankfully, it hit concrete, meaning there was no explosion inside the hospital. But since Katyushas spray shrapnel upward in a cone formation, the blast knocked out windows across the hospital.
Walking through the children’s wing the day after, it was clear that a miracle had occurred there. Even after a cleaning crew had done its work, glass was everywhere, including little shards wedged in the computer keyboard where kids normally are glued for hours at a time, day after day. But since the rocket hit after 10pm, no children were in the playroom.
Another child, though, was not as lucky. Recovering from spleen surgery one floor above the children’s wing, 13-year-old Koby was watching TV at the time of the blast. Glass rained down on him, and he was gashed in the back of his head.
Further from the blast but on the same floor as the children’s wing, 52-year-old Yakov Avoudboul was thrown out of his bed and across the room. This, though, was far less devastating than the rocket that exploded just one meter from him on Friday. An assistant chef at the hospital, Avoudboul was called in on the second day of sustained attacks to prepare meals for the increasing number of patients. Within moments of stepping out his front door, the rocket came within a whisker of killing him instantly.
The rocket explosion sprayed shrapnel into his legs, back, and arms. After he bathes, merely wrapping a towel around himself “feels like dragging nails across my back.” The physical wounds, though, will heal. Far more long-lasting will be the emotional scars. “Since Friday, I don’t sleep; I just relive the event,” he said.
Like other populated civilian areas across northern Israel, Tzfat has been showered with Katyusha rockets for almost a week now. Despite this, some residents are actually trying to maintain some semblance of normality. Dr. Anthony Luder explained that he still walks his dog. The punchline to his story, though, was that minutes after he finished one such walk, a spot he had just been was hit by a Katyusha.
Welcome to life in Tzfat. Many residents have experienced near-misses or miraculous timing. Locals have been swapping stories for the past few days, and at least one person said this recent ritual is therapeutic. Based on the rest of the day’s events, there will be more tales to tell.
Fifteen minutes after the siren — the recommended time during which people should stay in sheltered positions — the group of seven journalists I was with got on the bus and drove away. Less than a mile from the hospital, we saw at least two separate plumes of smoke rising up from the valley below. We received a call from the hospital executive who had shown us around that more rockets had just hit. News reports later indicated that several more rockets pounded the Tzfat area within hours of our departure.
For adults who escape physically intact, the long-term impact of the rocket attacks hopefully will be minimal. Compartmentalization and blocking painful memories are well-practiced skills for adult minds. But as we drove away with smoke from rocket explosions off in the distance, it was the image of the terrified 9-year-old girl I couldn’t shake.