ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Heather and Roland Martino, the former ten-year owners of one of St. Pete’s premier bed and breakfast operations have released video footage of May’s Hamas attacks against Israel to The Free Press.
In 2019, the couple sold the popular Beach Drive Inn, located across the street from The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club, with many fond memories. Domestic and world travelers shared St. Pete’s downtown holiday festivities and relaxation with the historic comfort of the Martino property.
Amidst bustling crowds of people, big and little dogs alike – including Mo the Shih-Tzu, Jadora, McLovin’ and Angel – would quiver and cling to their masters as fireworks launched and boomed on Tampa Bay at Straub Park.
After the sale of their business, the Martinos traveled abroad for a while, finally settling in Israel until their future return to their St. Pete home. Making Ramat Gan, Israel their second home placed them only 36 miles from Ashkelon where the heaviest showers of Hamas rockets hit the Jewish state. The attacks so terrified the animals that dogs – and even birds – clung to the walls of the city in desperate search for a place to hide.
For Heather Martino, returning to Israel meant recollections of living in Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem for ten years as a child, beginning at age four. For her and her seven younger siblings during the Persian Gulf War, it was the days of wearing gas masks as Iraqui SCUD missile attacks and the threat of mustard gas descended from the sky with only an infant-stage Israeli missile intervention system.
Heather recalled she and her family retreating to “the sealed room,” a room consisting of any doors or windows being sealed with towels drenched in Clorox and water.
Such rooms preceded Israel’s current-day bomb rooms, required in all new construction. Heather said they also had a gas mask crib for the babies. Conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians marred her otherwise great childhood, but never once had she seen a missile or a rocket in the sky. Until last month.
The Martinos were at home when Hamas’ rockets surprisingly attacked Tel Aviv, located just over a mile from their apartment. It was 10:00 in the evening when the sirens wailed for the first time since the couple’s arrival. Those attacks would last three consecutive days.
Heather described her reaction.
“The sound of rockets has always given me an eery feeling inside – in the pit of my stomach – and the sirens – they both make me freeze. When we were first hit near our home, I was in shock. How did they get so close to us (from launches out of Gaza)? I was in disbelief – is this what I think it is? So the May attacks sent me back to my childhood, with some of it that I don’t remember, I suppose due to trauma. But I know the Iron Dome air defense system will intercept most of the rockets launched against us. We had a rocket almost directly above us that was intercepted and some coming towards us that were intercepted, too. But the first rockets were a little too close to home, maybe only a few hundred yards away.”
Heather chuckled when she recounted, “When it all first started, we went to the bomb room on the first floor – we call it “ground zero” here – but it was locked. But we got it open by the second time the sirens went off.”
The Free Press asked Roland Martino his opinion regarding the American people’s awareness and understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. He said, “I don’t think Americans realize the Palestinians use terror balloons once or twice a week to express hostility. They look like they’re party balloons but attached to them are bombs. But the majority of Israelis live in central Israel, so the balloons don’t do much harm (from the Gaza Strip).”
News reports state there has been an escalation of the launch of these balloons in recent times.
Roland then mentioned that rockets Hamas is launching are not target accurate – Hamas can only guess where they think they will land.
He also said that Israel’s population is 25 percent Islamic. “Most Americans realize there are Christians here, but generally believe Israel’s population is more Jewish than it actually is.”
He concluded, making a statement about Palestinian propaganda. “Around 2,400 rockets were launched in May and 600 of them misfired, blowing up Palestinian buildings that they blame the Israelis for. They are accidentally killing their own people and then treating themselves as martyrs. Palestinian parents give their children rocks at a young age, teaching them to hate Israel.”
Videos recorded in the evening were located at the Martinos’ home. Daytime videos captured rocket activity from a friend’s apartment in Be’er Ya’akov, which was even closer to the rocket attacks.
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