Israelis mourn rocket victim – and unite against Hamas

Some 16 miles from the border with Gaza, the town of Ashdod is mourning the loss of a mother-of-four who was killed in a rocket attack
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The Independent Online

Prayers by a rabbi fused with the anguished moans and sobbing in front of the corpse of Irit Shetreet. Her death from a rocket attack on the town of Ashdod has reinforced a sense among Israelis that the country is waging a just military campaign in Gaza despite the scale of the death and destruction on the other side.

"Ima, Ima," (mother, mother), Chen Shetreet, 20, one of the dead woman's four children, cried as the remains of her mother – killed by shrapnel while on her way home from a fitness centre – were borne yesterday to burial area number 57 of the Ashdod cemetery.

Ms Shetreet was one of four Israelis killed by rocket fire since the bombardment of Gaza began on Saturday. Yesterday, the funeral for Israeli soldier Lutfi Naseredin was also held in Asefia. He was killed by a mortar shell fired on his base near the Gaza Strip.

More than 360 Palestinians have been killed in the attacks. The stated purpose of the Israeli bombings, which have been overwhelmingly backed by the public despite the emergence of calls for restraint on the left, is to stop the Hamas rocket fire against southern Israel. But the onslaught has been met by determined efforts from the Islamic militant group to show that it can still deal painful blows on Israel.

Some Israeli politicians on the left are cautioning that Israel must avoid a ground offensive. "Now we need to declare an immediate and unilateral ceasefire," said Zehava Galon, an MP from the opposition Meretz party.

The renowned Israeli writer David Grossman is also backing a unilateral ceasefire. "A line of restraint and awareness of the need to defend the lives of innocent Gaza civilians must be preserved at this time, especially because there is no limit to Israeli power compared to theirs," he wrote yesterday in the Haaretz newspaper.

Uri Dromi, a former spokesman for the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, attributes public support for the bombing campaign to a sense that "enough is enough" in the face of rockets from the Strip. "For Israelis not to do anything in the face of a danger or challenge is not accepted. It's in the Israeli mentality to do something. You don't just let it happen."

The eulogies for Ms Shetreet, a school secretary whose body was wrapped in the blue and white Israeli flag emblazoned with the Star of David, were short because of fear of further missile strikes. Hamas's range yesterday expanded to the environs of Beersheba, the Negev desert capital 25 miles from Gaza after hitting Ashdod, nearly 16 miles from the Strip, for the first time on Sunday and again on Monday. Ms Shetreet was the first ever fatality from a rocket in Ashdod.

"We are in an unsimple situation," a police officer announced to the hundreds of mourners. "There could be a siren now." He urged mourners to crowd together so that a spillover of people outside the funeral parlour could also take cover under its roof.

Shimon Azra, the dead woman's uncle, said he had been visiting her shortly before she was killed. "I was at her house and she served tea and cookies. We spoke, we joked, and then she said, 'I'm going to the fitness centre'. On our way home, my wife and I heard there was a rocket in Ashdod and we telephoned her, but no one answered. It was only in the morning that we found out she was the one who had been killed."

"She was in her usual mood, she wasn't hysterical because of the situation. She and her husband were a little worried because of all the talk about the rockets reaching Ashdod."

What the eulogies lacked in length they made up for in anger and sheer grief as rabbis and politicians layered the death of Ms Shetreet with religious and nationalist significance. Rabbi Yosef Sheinin, the chief rabbi of Ashdod, described Ms Shetreet as a martyr. "She died in order to sanctify God's name. She died because she was Jewish," he said.

In his view, the death was the latest manifestation of millenniums of anti-Jewish hatred. "We have been pursued for 3,000 years because we are Jews and because we accepted the Torah [old testament]. Orit is the sacrifice of the nation of Israel to the bottomless hatred of wild beasts." He closed by saying: "May our enemies fall in front of us."

The Industry Minister, Eli Yishai, from the ultra-orthodox Shas party, said: "May God avenge her blood."

The Ashdod mayor, Yechiel Lasri, said of the Gaza bombardment: "We are acting correctly but we are paying a dear price. Such is the nature of a war like this."

He said the conflict which took Ms Shetreet's life had not started on Saturday, when sirens sounded in Ashdod for the first time. "It has been going on since the start of Zionism more than a century ago. It is a war on behalf of normalcy for Israel and Ashdod, a battle for our desire to live normal lives just like peoples of other nations," he said. "The quarter million citizens of Ashdod are not broken."