SDEROT, Israel â Less than two months ago, Raziel Sasson emerged from his rocket-proof closet, willing now to sleep just outside it, with the rest of his family, on mattresses circled on the living room floor. But Razi, 13, still wakes his father up three times a night, afraid to walk alone to the bathroom.
Four years ago, Razi was climbing a tree when a Qassam rocket, fired from nearby Gaza, flew over his head and exploded nearby. He remembers the spinning contrail of the crude rocket and its fierce whistle. The blast blew him eight yards to the ground.
Sderot, a working-class town of mainly North African immigrants less than two miles from Gaza, has been hit over the past four years with some 2,000 rockets of improving range and explosive power â 22 in the last eight days. Eight Sderot civilians have been killed by the rockets; Razi has seen 15 therapists.
âHe wouldnât leave the house to go to school for a year,â said his mother, Shula. One of his older brothers, Rafi, 22, used his army exit pay to build Razi a bomb shelter in the living room, a concrete cocoon with a steel door.
Across the border in Gaza, life is wretched for Palestinians. But as President Bush prepares to arrive in Jerusalem on Wednesday for the first time since taking office, to spur peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian president, he will hear a lot about the Qassams.
For many Israelis, Sderot (pronounced stay-ROTE) embodies the fears of what happens when they pulled back from occupied land, as they did from all of Gaza more than two years ago â it turns into a staging ground for attacks by extremist Palestinians that a peace treaty will not stop.
âWhen Bush comes, he should come to Sderot,â said Raziâs father, Moshe, 49, who works as a prison warden in Beersheba.
The problems of Sderot â and of a Gaza run by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States â are at the heart of Israelâs security concerns. But those concerns, like Hamas itself, are present only in the abstract in the American-led peace effort, which features negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who has no control over Hamas or Gaza.