Thursday in Beer-Sheva dawned grey and overcast. It was a fitting setting for the day after a grueling week of nearly constant rocket barrages. Close to 200 rockets were fired at Beer-Sheva in the span of a week. Through luck and the Iron Dome missile defense system, only a fraction of those actually hit the city.
Throughout the day, the streets remained largely deserted. While there were more cars on the roads than in previous days, the city was a far cry from its multi-lingual bustling self. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the city's largest employer with a student population of 20,000, was practically deserted. Interestingly, the only students on campus seemed to be Bedouin ones, for some reason.
Residents were clearly staying close to home, unsure whether to believe the ceasefire that went into effect the previous night would really hold. Schools remained closed on Thursday and yet, even after a week inside, there were no children playing in the street on their "day off" without rockets raining down.
On the mayor's Facebook page, a lively debate about whether to open the schools on Friday or Sunday developed. Many were leery of sending their children to school before they were sure it was completely safe. On Thursday evening, Mayor Ruvik Danilovich decided to open the schools on Friday rather than Sunday in an apparent attempt to hasten the return to routine.
No rockets fell on Beer-Sheva or anywhere else on Thursday. When I tentatively suggested to someone that perhaps Operation Pillar of Defense had bought another four years of relative quiet as Operation Cast Lead had, she immediately snorted and rejoined, "Don't be naïve."
"They're talking about six months of quiet until Pesach," she said. She and others were under no illusions that the IDF had defeated Hamas. It will be just a matter of time before they rearm through the tunnels, she said.
Those who had fled the bombardment of the city trickled back in on Thursday, with some set to return on Friday or after the weekend.
I returned from sleeping in Jerusalem to work this morning. It was an odd day—trying to pick up where I had left off a week ago. Somehow those emails that had seemed so important last week paled to insignificance today. I spent most of the day inwardly bracing myself for the piercing shriek of a siren to break the silence of the city. A colleague and friend who grew up in Beer-Sheva confirmed that was just part of getting back to routine and urged me to put on a brave front for my children.
While the physical damage to Beer-Sheva was not widespread—several houses and vehicles were destroyed in direct hits—it remains to be seen how long the psychological damage from a week of life under fire lasts.
One open question for me is: Do I turn my bomb shelter back into a storage room or leave it in readiness for quick entry if the howl of the air raid siren sounds sooner rather than later? I guess the answer depends on how optimistic I'm feeling the day I have an extra box in my hand.