August 23, 2007
Shabbat in Sderot beneath a canopy of Qassams
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Fortunately, the previous few weeks have been "quiet." Marcell uses that term several times and usually follows it with a grimace, as if the Sderot region has been experiencing the calm before the storm.
Quiet, anyway, doesn't mean silent. It still means three to four Qassams coming their direction each day.
Last month, Uzi and Marcell saw one of the rockets fly above them as they swam in the pool after dinner.
"We knew that Gabi was playing soccer and that Mayan was in bed. We were totally helpless in the middle of the pool, and we saw this bomb fly right over our heads," Marcell recalls. "We jumped out of the pool to see where Gabi was, to see if he was still alive."
He was. But the rocket tore off a room in an elderly couple's home. That direct hit followed the Qassam that landed on the kibbutz restaurant, Fauna, and burned the structure to the foundation, which followed the bomb that tore through one of the dorms rented to students at Sapir College. Amazingly, each time, no one was hurt.
"We have," Marcell adds, "so many stories like that ...." ::::::::::::::::::::::::::
The political sentiment in Sderot is easy to gauge. As you approach the area, just read the wooden signs with painted red Hebrew messages that appear on the side of the highway:
"We are staying here because we are connected to the soil. But shortly we will be buried inside. Thank you, Olmert."
In a meeting with journalists last month in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem office, before which the group was told that Olmert's comments were on the record but couldn't be quoted, the prime minister said the attacks from Gaza, which seem even more problematic since Hamas' forceful expulsion of Fatah government officials in June, require continuous and meticulous intervention but not a comprehensive military response.
A major operation, Olmert said, would not entirely end the attacks, and he believes it would come at too great a cost to Israel. He declined to comment on future plans for dealing with Gaza.
In May, this paper reported that most military experts believe that only a major ground operation would eradicate the threat. But they echoed Olmert's sentiment. It would cause, they said, significant "Israeli military casualties, Palestinian humanitarian suffering, [negative] international opinion and economic losses."
"Everything is waiting," IDF Reserve Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari said at Sapir College before a tour of the Gaza border. "Now, you ask me, what will decide about the timing of such an operation? That is what is called the 'strategic Qassam.'"
"The Qassam that will fall on a synagogue in Sderot and kill 10," said Harari, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Media Research Institute. "Or the Qassam that will fall on a kindergarten and kill, I hope not, God hopes not, 10 children. Or the Qassam that will fall here and kill 10 students. That will be the igniting point."
There are countless stories of near-massacres that could have been such a catalyst -- the gasoline tanker that left the station moments before a rocket blew a crater in the driveway, the Qassam that flew through the roof of a synagogue office while congregants were in the sanctuary on Shabbat, the bomb that fell on the playground of Gabi's school the day all the parents kept their kids home in protest.
The gas station attack captured by surveillance video
For now, the Israel Defense Forces have been instructed to target Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who are orchestrating or participating in the Qassam attacks. This past Monday, an Israeli jet fired a missile at a car in the Gaza Strip that was carrying six Hamas operatives involved in rocket launches hours before. All were killed. On Tuesday, three more were killed in a separate airstrike.
"Once you target the head of that area and the head of that zone, the organization is damaged and it limits their ability to carry out the terrorist activities against Israel in the future," IDF Maj. Avital Leibovitch said shortly after the Monday mission.
But many in the western Negev say the government could be doing a lot more. Ari Shavit, a columnist for the liberal newspaper Ha'aretz, lamented in late May that denizens of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and the rest of Israel's core had forgotten Sderot.
"Suddenly, the feeling is that perhaps it has really happened: Perhaps Sderot has been broken," Shavit wrote. "But Sderot has still not been broken. If the rocket attacks cease, most people will return. Without security, without hope, without happiness -- a depressing return to no choice.
"So the basic fact remains: Sderot 2007 is a city that seems cursed. A frontier city with no home front. A frontier city with no aura of heroism. A frontier city that the government should protect, but isn't protecting. A frontier city that the nation should be standing behind, but is not. A frontier city abandoned by the center of the country."
But Sderot has not been forgotten. Thanks to people like Bedein, who keeps the region's story in the news; to Israeli philanthropists like Arcadi Gaydamak, who gives freely to whatever the need is in the region, and to American Jews, who indirectly support Sderot through donations to the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign and other programs.
UJC, through programs administered by JAFI and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, has reinforced buildings, provided trauma counseling, financed summer camps outside the Qassam range for the region's 8,200 children ages 6 to 17 and supported a senior center where elderly residents attend daily continuing education courses in a large bomb shelter furnished as a classroom.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles earmarked $20,000 for new equipment for a youth center computer room. And after matching funds with Temple Isaiah, The Federation sent $35,000 for the Etgarim program for at-risk teens.