June 12, 2008
(Page 3 - Previous Page)No, it became clear the residents of Sderot reserve their anger for their government, and for their fellow citizens.
"We're playing Russian Roulette," Dov Cohen told me, "and the people don't seem to understand."
American Jewry has responded -- belatedly, but even so -- by funding a variety of disaster relief and social intervention programs through the UJC, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Moreover, it's not uncommon to see busloads of American Christian and Jewish tourists in Sderot, commiserating with residents, pumping up the beaten-down economy and driving through the now-deserted streets to arrive at the police station to see racks upon racks of salvaged Qassams, hard evidence of battle.
What Dov is referring to are his fellow Israeli Jews.
"We feel alone when we speak about the rest of the country," he said.
Tel Aviv buzzes with a kind of fin de siècle abandon that all but turns its back on what Israelis call "the periphery." Never mind that Sderot is just an hour south by car.
"People there have no idea," Lapidot said. "That city is a different world."
"It's a bubble," said Niva Bencias, 24, a humanities student at Sapir. I point out to her that just that week Israel's top intelligence officer warned that Hamas missiles, which now reach Ashkelon, will soon reach Ashdod, less than a half hour's drive from the packed discos, bars and beaches of Tel Aviv. "The first missile that falls on Tel Aviv," she said, "then no one will stay so quiet."
So what do they want?
On the one hand, the residents understand that IDF soldiers launch regular missions against infiltrators and rocket launchers -- they know many soldiers have been killed.
Signs of Israel's military readiness are everywhere near Gaza -- the military base at Nahal Oz, with its rows of dust-caked tanks and rooms of advanced surveillance equipment, the high-tech spy blimps floating like hard white clouds above the border.
I spent one night at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, less than a kilometer from the border, and my hosts Dov and Ofra Cohen didn't flinch at the sound of IDF gunfire or the way the ground shook when a single rocket landed somewhere in the distance. "Oh, that was one," Dov said as he sipped his morning coffee.
(That was my closest call -- the luck of the draw. A mortar killed a man at the next kibbutz over the day after I left.)
But the Cohens and others believe the occasional engagement isn't enough. "I hope the government decides to go in there and make order, permanent order," Peres said. "For eight years we've had the Qassams. We have to move them back, distance them from us. No state in the world would allow themselves and their children to suffer like this."
"The thing is, we are raising children who will grow up and themselves become leaders, become our country," Shiman added. "We can't let them grow up in fear."
The government has to calculate how many soldiers it would lose in a Gaza invasion, how long it would have to reoccupy the Strip and whether, even then, the quiet would be permanent. Hamas has had time to mine the roads in Gaza City, one general told our group, so that Israeli tanks would blow "10 feet in the air" crossing an intersection.
Meanwhile, Israel's current leadership verges on collapse, and negotiations among the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Israelis sputter along, with nary an optimist in sight.
But accepting the alternative -- the status quo -- is clearly untenable, unconscionable.
The people of Sderot would prefer peace and quiet.
But if they can't have that, then they want war and quiet.