June 12, 2008
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Those who stay in Sderot feel one of three ways, or sometimes all three: They are proud of their decision, they feel bitter about being stuck or they feel abandoned by fellow Israelis and other Jews around the world.
What they don't feel, not for a second, is safe.
"We want peace," Stav Amar, 12, a sixth-grader at Sderot Elementary School, told me. "We want peace, and the rockets won't stop. They just send more and more."
Four and a half months ago, a Qassam crashed into Stav's home. He heard a noise, then he didn't hear a thing for seven hours -- he'd gone deaf temporarily. He was explaining in Hebrew what was so scary about the Qassams when he used a word I didn't know. By way of definition, his friend reached into his pocket and pulled out every boy's favorite plaything -- a bright blue marble. The crudely made Qassam payloads are packed with marbles like these, which tear through flesh on impact.
"There isn't a person who isn't scared of Qassams," Stav said. "But I want to stay. It's my home."
I met Lior Shiman at the local community center. Shiman was driving his cab three months ago when a red alert sounded. He had 30 seconds to decide whether to leave his car for shelter or stay put. He made a run for a nearby apartment building -- "There," he pointed, across the street from where we were sitting. "Right there."
The Qassam exploded, hurling a piece of shrapnel 150 feet into his right eye.
Shiman, permanently blinded in one eye, had his taxi driver's permit revoked. The 33-year-old father of two -- his youngest was born while he was in emergency surgery -- is now unemployed. The house he paid $500,000 for is now worth, maybe, $200,000. He can't afford to move.
Next to Shiman sat his friend David Peres. Peres' 2-year-old son broke his leg racing for a shelter when a red alert sounded while he was at day care. Now the boy screams uncontrollably at the sound of any siren, and he refuses to go to school.
"He wakes up screaming, 'Red alert! Red alert!!'" Peres said. "The truth is, you never know any second where it will hit you."
Peres, like many people I spoke with, said he could leave, but he chooses not to.
"I can go to a safer place," he said, "but I don't think that's the solution. We have one country."
In Sderot, I was struck by how residents refused to unload their wrath on the Palestinians who bombard them.
Tal Lapidot, from nearby Kibbutz Mefarsim, is a striking, composed 16 1⁄2-year-old whose parents, immigrants from Eastern Europe, moved to the area two years ago. Last month, her good friend's father was killed by a mortar as he worked in his garden. He was 47.
I asked her, as I asked everyone I spoke with, who she believes is to blame for her predicament.
"I wake up and see the buildings of Gaza City," she said. "It's a beautiful view, astounding. I don't hate them. I hear about the people who live there, and I don't have a reason to hate them."
Lapidot will spend part of her summer at a camp in Maine that brings Palestinians and Israelis together.
"What I want is to get people to know how we feel," she said.
"I believe there are a lot of them like us," Shiman said, blinded in one eye. "They suffer, too, they have a lot of suffering."
It's astonishing, really. The people who wrote "An eye for an eye," couldn't seem to work up the bloodlust for the people on the other side of the fence.
"They're miserable," an engineering student at Sapir College, site of numerous attacks, told me. "And they know if they stop firing, we'll just ignore their misery."
When President Shimon Peres visited Sderot Elementary School, he asked for questions from the students. "How can you solve the problem," one of Stav's classmates asked the president, "without hurting kids on the other side?"