It’s the small and devastatingly sharp pieces of metal that strike people in the vicinity of an explosion and rip apart their bodies inside and out.

One the words that is often bandied about when it comes to explosions or personal injury is “shrapnel”. It’s a term that tends to pass through our vocabulary without much second thought. It’s a catch-all term to describe all kinds of debris that fly through the air with the velocity of a bullet and cause tremendous damage as the result of an explosion.

Shrapnel doesn’t just pass through our vocabulary with such ease, though. When you actually hold or look at a piece of shrapnel, you can tell that it also passes through the human body with equal ease.

Shrapnel has been the bane of many victims of terrorism over the past decade or so. When the busses were blowing up a few years ago, when suicide bombers detonate their inhuman charge, and when rockets explode in Israel’s north or Israel’s south, it is not the explosion itself that kills most people. It’s the small and devastatingly sharp pieces of metal that strike people in the vicinity and rip apart their bodies inside and out.

406 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from the Palestinian controlled Gaza strip in 2012 (as of June 26). Even if we remove the two rounds of “escalation” in March and June, we are still left with 52 rockets fired at Israel in those six months, or roughly one every three days.

That means one explosion every three days. One shower of shrapnel spraying in every direction with the potential to tear apart human beings in its path.

When will you hear the boom? When will you feel the blast wave? When will that shrapnel fly at you?

These are not theoretical questions for the people in Israel’s south. For 250,000 people in Be’er Sheva, for 220,000 people in Ashdod, for 120,000 people in Ashkelon, for 35,000 people in Kiryat Gat, for 25,000 people in Netivot, for 22,000 people in Ofakim, for 20,000 people in Sderot, for 5200 people in the Eshkol region kibbutzim, and for many others, these are questions that they must seriously consider – every day, every hour, every minute. What if next time, it’s me?

Pini Rabinovich is the southern region case worker for OneFamily. He travels the length and breadth of the south of Israel, attending to families who have already suffered the very painful physical injuries associated with the shrapnel from rocket explosions. He also works closely with the families of those who have been killed by flying shrapnel. And he has had numerous run-ins himself with shrapnel.

“Last week, I had to pull over to the side of the road twice when there were sirens. I had to leave my car and run for cover within 15 seconds,” he said following the latest “escalation”.

Pini reports that now, residents of Israel’s south have a new worry to deal with. “It’s not just the rockets any more,” he says. “Now it’s Iron Dome as well.”

Iron Dome is a defensive anti-rocket system that has been developed in Israel to shoot down incoming rockets. Paired with an incredibly sensitive radar system, Iron Dome fires its own rockets at incoming rockets from Gaza, and hits a sizeable number of them, knocking them out of the air and preventing untold casualties on the ground.

But when the two rockets collide and explode in mid-air, the debris from both rockets has to go somewhere.

As Pini approached the home of a woman in Sderot who suffered serious injuries in a previous rocket attack, he saw emergency crews all over the street and on her front lawn, gathering the pieces of a Kassam rocket and of an Iron Dome rocket that had collided in mid-air over her street.

“Any one of these pieces could have hit someone,” he says. “They are sharp enough to cause a lot of damage even once the force of the explosion abates somewhat.”

“We hear a lot of booms,” says the woman in Sderot. For years, we heard the rockets as they exploded in our streets, in our parks, in our school yards, and inside our homes. And we would hear the distant explosions from Gaza when the IDF retaliated.

“Now, there is a different kind of explosion overhead. We are starting to lose count of which boom is from what. A Kassam, a GRAD rocket, or an Iron Dome shot. Each one is frightening. Each one could be ‘my’ rocket.”

In the media’s eye, it’s all just so much shrapnel. But the sharp truth is that it could mean someone’s life.

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