Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sderot in peacetime

1-tzeva adom, 2-tzeva adom, 3-tzeva adom, 4-tzeva adom, 5-tzeva adom, 6-tzeva adom, 7-tzeva adom, 8-tzeva adom, 9-tzeva adom, 10-tzeva adom, 11-tzeva adom, 12-tzeva adom, 13-tzeva adom, 14-tzeva adom, 15-


That is the amount of time you would have to get to a shelter to protect yourself from an incoming rocket if you lived in Sderot. Or last Wednesday, Ashkelon. Or Netivot.

I have wanted to visit Sderot for a while, and when I heard that Connections Israel, an organization that arranges for Chanukah and Purim gift baskets for residents in Sderot, and for IDF soldiers, had arranged for a trip to Sderot last Wednesday, I signed up and dragged our friend David along for the ride (I didn't really have to drag him; he was just as interested as I was).

Why did I want to visit Sderot, which has rockets falling on it on a daily basis? I'm not entirely sure. I'm angry that our government has done nothing serious to stop these attacks.* I'm angry that the world isn't unified in its outrage over indescriminate bombing of a sovereign nation. That the masked men who are firing these bombs are referred to delicately as "militants" rather than the terrorists they are. I'm angry that an entire generation of children are growing up with PTSD, where wetting the bed at age 11 is a common occurrence. A generation of children who don't know what it's like to freely play outside in the open in a playground. I've seen videos of residents of Sderot who state that they the rest of Israel doesn't know they exist, and even if they do know, they don't care. I wanted to tell them that we do know they exist, and we do care.

The media distorts everything, so I wanted to see for myself how the people of Sderot live, what Sderot is like. I'm an Army brat; growing up on Army bases you get used to hearing cannons and various weaponry, so I know what a rocket can do. But to read articles about Sderot and the Kassam rockets, one could easily get the impressions that a Kassam rocket is no more dangerous than a mis-aimed bottle rocket. "Homemade." "Inaccurate." "Short range." These are just some of the terms used to describe Kassams.

Let me tell you, "Homemade" "Inaccurate" and "Short range" missiles can kill and maim just as easily as factory-made, computer-guided, long range missiles can. It's not just the physical damage, either. Spending every day with half an ear tuned to listening for the Tzeva Adom alert, half an eye scouting out for the nearest shelter, and having to interrupt what you're doing to run to a shelter every time you hear the alert will make a mess of your nerves. Stress levels are through the roof, and that damages your body from the inside.

We had just a very very small taste of what people here go through. We walked past the firehouse and had to turn around and go back when we heard the first alarm. We continued on our journey, and had to turn around and go back when we heard the second alarm. You don't get very far when you have to keep stopping and going back to where you started. We experienced these life-threatening interruptions just twice in about 4 hours. I jumped out of my skin at the second Kassam that fell close enough to shake the walls of my protective shelter. I can't even begin to imagine what it would do to someone day in and day out.

Yet, when we stopped for lunch in the centre of town, where evidence of fallen Kassams is everywhere, people were out, waiting for buses, ordering food, buying goods at the bakery, standing around chatting with each other. They make sure life goes on. Some people are there because they have nowhere else to go. How do you sell your home to make a new life elsewhere, when bombs are raining down around you? Some are there because they are adamant that Sderot is their home and they won't leave. Still others are there because they believe they are Israel's front line. If they leave, Hamas will just move the bombing further into Israel. I heard this in an interview with an 8-year-old girl. At 8, she feels the weight of the protection of the entire country.

Cars pulled over when they saw us to wish us Kol Hakavod (lit: "all the respect") for coming. Others called us "heroes." I wanted to say that spending 4 hours in their world was not being heroic - I can go home to my safe home, far from falling rockets. The residents of Sderot live with this every day, they struggle with this every day, they drop everything to run to shelters every day, they will have to figure out how to deal with the consequences of traumatic stress disorders on them and their children in the future. They are the heroes.

Speaking of 8-year-olds, the one thing I did not see anywhere during this Chanukah break was children. One of our hosts took us to his home, where we met his some of his children. But outside, where in Modi'in or Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Kiryat Sefer we'd see tons of kids playing outside, running around or riding their bicycles, or mothers pushing their babies in prams, in Sderot, I did not see a single child outside.

It's just not safe enough.

*Today, Israel started Operation "Cast Lead" in Gaza to finally, b"H, put a stop to this bombing. The name "Cast Lead" is from a poem by Hayim Nahman Bialik, referring to a "dreidel cast from solid lead." May G-d keep our soldiers safe and their aim true, and bring them success in this Operation.


Rachel Inbar said...


Throughout the year there have been groups who drove to do their Shabbat shopping in Sderot, to give them some business. I can not imagine what it is like to live that way, especially for such a long time.

Anonymous said...

Kol Hakavod to you and to David.
Showing solidarity the way that you did was, I'm sure, thoroughly appreciated by the people of Sderot.
I agree with all your sentiments.