Hill of Shame Where Gaza Bombing is Spectator Sport
In times of peace Parash Hill is a beauty spot where Israelis from the nearby town of Sderot come to picnic and enjoy the magnificent view across a nature reserve and bright green fields to distant Gaza City and, beyond, the deep blue Mediterranean.
There are benches for sightseers, a swing, a sculpture of a man on horseback and fences to stop children tumbling down the steep northern slope.
Today the hill attracts a very different sort of visitor — the ghoulish and vengeful, the curious and anguished, not to mention television crews. They come not to enjoy the flowers or birdsong, but for a spectacular panoramic view of Israel's relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip. It is, for those that like that sort of thing, the ultimate spectator sport.
Armed with binoculars and zoom lenses, they watch F16 aircraft streak across the sky, trailing flares, before unleashing their missiles on one of the distant white buildings.
Periodically the air reverberates with the boom of artillery fire and a few seconds later another plume of smoke rises amid the densely packed apartment blocks on the skyline. Apache helicopter gunships attack unseen targets. A whine betrays an unmanned drone circling overhead.
Now and again the fire comes the other way. There is a flash, and a Qassam rocket trailing smoke arcs up towards Sderot, Ashkelon or one of the other settlements of southern Israel. In no time Israeli shells rain down.
The disapproving have renamed Parash Hill the “Hill of Shame”, and some visitors undoubtedly come for the thrill. “People in Israel are addicted to violence,” Eran Shalev, 27, a student, said as he surveyed the crowd on the hilltop. “The way we try to resolve everything with force is not the right way to do it.”
But most have been on the receiving end of the Hamas rockets. Most know people who have been killed, injured or had their homes destroyed by rockets over the past eight years. Most are worn out by the 15-second warnings that send them rushing to shelters several times each day.
Rafi Twitto was watching the offensive yesterday with his wife, Iris. From his belt hung a photograph of his son, Osher, nine, who had a leg blown off by a Qassam rocket 11 months ago. “I'm glad Hamas is being destroyed but sad that women and children are suffering,” he said. “But when they grow up they'll also probably be terrorists. They are taught very early to hate Israelis and how to hold weapons.” Iris agreed. “If I could have, I'd have gone in with our soldiers.”
David Kunin, 26, an ultra-Orthodox Jew with long black beard and coat, had come to the hill to take pictures. He said that a rocket shattered the windows of his home in Ashdod last week. “Of course I'm happy,” he replied when asked how he felt as he watched the bombardment.
“It would be better if innocent civilians weren't hurt, but the ones who co-operate with Hamas - that's their problem.”
Others were clearly distressed. Tanya Zaltzman, 44, a teacher who emigrated from Russia 20 years ago, was there with her boyfriend. One of her students was killed by a rocket last March. Her soldier son had just left Gaza and several of his comrades had been injured. “I think Hamas is a terrorist organisation and there's no other way to treat it,” she said, but continued: “When I see how many people and children are being killed in Gaza I feel very unhappy.”