Cori Shalit
American lone soldier in Israel

PHOTO ESSAY: The beautiful bomb shelters of the Gaza Envelope

The painted concrete blocks reflect the Jews' resilience in settling the land - even now, when they are stained with Jewish blood
Photo credit: Cori Shalit

I started the @bombsheltersofisrael Instagram account on March 4, 2022, to document the meguniot, bomb shelters” in Hebrew, in the area of the Gaza border. 

I always thought bomb shelters were a symbol — a social commentary on the dissonance between a pretty painting and the eerie reality in which the residents of the Otef (Gaza Envelope) live in. Frequent victims to rocket attacks, people in the Otef are accustomed to running to a bomb shelter when they hear the all-too-familiar Red Alert, warning them that they only have a matter of seconds until the missile — if not intercepted by the Iron Dome — lands in their area. With that said, life in the Otef was beautiful. Until October 7th. 

Bomb shelter in the Gaza Envelope, photo credit: Cori Shalit

I lived on a kibbutz in the Otef and served in the IDF on a base on the border as well. I loved the people in the kibbutzim, and their carefree way of life — parents letting their kids run around barefoot in the serene, and seemingly safe, bubble of the kibbutz. Everyone knew everyone. I lived there among friends, other English-speaking olim, and I reveled in the sunshine, the fruit trees, the simplicity of the way of life, and the nature. 

Kids on a kibbutz on the Gaza border painting a bomb shelter, photo credit: Cori Shalit

I loved taking pictures of the bomb shelters that are, out of necessity, consistently scattered around the area. (You can’t walk more than two minutes without seeing one.) They showed our resilience, and they showed our determination to come home and settle the land of our ancestors, including what is known as the “periphery” of Israel — less popular due to closer proximity to hostile neighbors.

Map of Israel painted on bomb shelter near the Gaza border, photo credit: Cori Shalit

The bomb shelters excited me. Piquing my intellectual curiosity, there were so many lenses with which to look at them, so many ways to actively think about them. They spoke of it all: the price of Zionism, the price of being a Jew in the Jewish state. The price of the Gaza disengagement. 

The fact is that there will likely always be threats to our way of life. (Jewish history tells us it has always been this way, and what’s stopping this prophecy from fating us forever?) But it also speaks of the fact that we will continue to thrive despite these hindrances.

Bomb shelter on Kibbutz Erez. Cactuses are an Israeli national symbol, representing native-born Israelis, tough on the outside and sweet on the inside. Photo credit: Cori Shalit

A life-saving concept, they are a luxury symbolizing the protection we can now offer ourselves. All because we have a state. With a bomb shelter, your life is protected. Unlike life, anything materialistic can be rebuilt, if destroyed. 

The painted bomb shelters spoke of our day-to-day reality, of the security challenges we faced, but they also made light of the situation. Artists and children, kibbutznikim and people who would travel from afar, would come to paint these large, concrete blocks in order to make them beautiful — to create a silver lining.

Or maybe to highlight the real silver lining: that we are home. That the “wandering Jew” trope is no longer. Enough of being kicked out of country after country. The Jew will no longer beg to be accepted, or rely on the pity of others for safety. We have an army now.

Bomb shelter in the Gaza Envelope painted in honor of Rod Keskiner, USA Honorary Special in Uniform soldier. Photo credit: Cori Shalit

No more yearning for Zion; the Jewish people are home.

All that is still true, but my vision of these bomb shelters is now tainted with blood by the October 7th massacre. And not just my vision, the bomb shelters themselves. Stained with Jewish blood. 

When countless Israelis ran to these bomb shelters that Saturday morning, (either under the impression that they were seeking shelter from rockets alone, or, after understanding that they were hiding from a far more personal threat — 3,000 Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated from Gaza with the explicit goal of indiscriminately slaughtering, raping, torturing, and brutalizing as many people as possible), the dissonance between the beautifully-painted shelters and the evil with which their walls bore witness only grew, as they became the places in which these Israelis took their last breath. 

When I posted this green bomb shelter on September 22, 2023, two weeks before the massacre, with a stunning bird painted on it, I didn’t know it would become the sight of Aner Shapira’s great bravery, and death. When Hamas terrorists threw grenades into that bomb shelter, full of young Israelis who had fled the music festival in Re’im, Aner deflected grenade after grenade, throwing them back towards the terrorists. He protected the other civilians in the bomb shelter from seven grenades, until he was killed.

Bomb shelter in the Otef with a painting of a bird, site of death for many on October 7th. Photo credit: Cori Shalit

Here, Nissim Gimmy writes of the death of his girlfriend, Laurie, in a different bomb shelter (click the link for a few photos that show its painting). When the Red Alerts started, the couple took shelter from rockets in a megunit. Soon, Hamas terrorists threw a grenade into the shelter they were in, causing Nissim to faint. Laurie, choking, was murdered when she ran out of the shelter for air. 

Unfortunately, there are many stories like these. Many pictures of shelters taken because they are now part of a war zone. 

Created to protect, these bomb shelters could not save Israelis when terrorists committed unspeakable acts. These heinous, unimaginable crimes happened in an area so many of us considered home, in bomb shelters ironically created with the intention of saving lives. 

Only capable of so much, they’re not designed for the type of evil our eyes were forced to witness on October 7th, the atrocities we don’t even know the extent of. Now stained with the blood of our people, my view of these bomb shelters has changed. But they continue to stand for, and speak of, our resilience. 

Bomb shelter in Ashkelon, a city in southern Israel that is also a frequent victim to rocket barrages. Photo credit: Cori Shalit
About the Author
After graduating from Tulane University in 2021 with majors in Jewish Studies and Economics, I made Aliyah through Garin Tzabar and currently serve as a lone soldier in the IDF's COGAT unit.
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