The Voice of Israel Radio News reported on Saturday night, Oct. 21, 2006, that rockets were fired on the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Friday night. No casualties occurred. My son, Noam, who was there, wrote me the following letter:
I'm sitting at the back seat of the Sephardic synagogue, a 2 minute walk from my apartment, on Friday night here in Sderot. This is only my second Shabbat here, after spending the holidays at my parents' home near Jerusalem.
I'm thinking to myself while the prayers are going on, in Hebrew in a thick Moroccan chant, that it's time to go back to a routine, time to be a student next week, time to resume a weekly schedule with three days a week studying, one morning photography class, a few hours of volunteering with Ethiopian Jewish children helping them with their homework, and my new job with the media and information that was just opened up here in Sderot. Its purpose is bringing groups and reporters to Sderot to introduce them to the people in this community who have lived and worked under daily artillery bombardment for the past 5 years and bringing home the crazy reality that people here must live in.
While my mind is wandering in all directions, as the new prayers are sung, I hear the siren go off. 'Tseva Adom' -'The color red' in English. We all know that in 15 seconds or less an artillery missile is going to fall.
The synagogue is packed with mostly older men and young fathers accompanying their children, most of whom continue to sing out their prayers, and who pay little attention to the siren. All this is 'normal'; someone whispers -- hearing the siren go off, and with only 15 seconds to take cover (if you have a secured room, which many here don't even have), and hoping that it's not going to fall close to you and your family, which by the way, every single person in Sderot has experienced in the past. Only the day before, only one day before, I went into the office of one of Sderot's chief security officers who showed me a map of the city covered with dots -- the places were the artillery shells hit in the past-everywhere.
The security officer said that he stopped putting the dots on the map 2 years ago, because the map was completely full.
After 27 seconds of alarm, the synagogue shook with a loud explosion. Everyone jumped out of his seat, with children running out of the synagogue to see where the shells fell. Maybe on their home? Because it sounded so close, so very close.
Young children grabbed their fathers' legs. Fathers held the youngest of their kids close to them, to protect them. You could see the horror on one 13-year-old boys' face, his tears and shaking quite evident. The confusion in the father's face was apparent also, as he hovered over his child to protect him with his own body. The father looked helpless.
I shall never forget those sights. What's going through my mind is what I've heard until now about the investigations currently under way, listening to people from the outside trying to describe this traumatic reality.
I would remember the statistics that I heard from the head of the mental health services in Sderot about the city's children. Almost everyone of them tested as suffering from some level of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Children sleep with their parents as old now as 14, still wetting beds. Some children can't go anywhere by themselves, even to the bathroom. I won't even mention the fact that children don't go outside playing on swings in the park here any more, and that their entire daily routine is revolved around the rockets - "where is it going to catch me now? I have 15 seconds to take cover, where do I go?" is a frequent cry. Over 1000 homes here still have no secure rooms.
The questions that one hears on the street do not stop:
"How do I even leave my house? How do I send my children to kindergarten or a school when half of the classrooms are not protected? How do I answer my son when he's in third grade asking to go back to second grade because that classroom was protected?
'How should I feel even if the classroom is protected, there are children that have been killed in Sderot from missiles in the middle of the road?"
Everyone asks: "When is this going to hit me? Or close to me?"
These are just the tip of the iceberg of the questions that go through one's mind here in Sderot. The only thing you can do when the alarm goes off is count to 15 and hope it doesn't land near you. A life of Russian roulette... A life people in the Tel Aviv cannot even imagine, let alone Americans whose children are secure in their classrooms, at playgrounds and at home.for the time being.
In the end, the missile on Friday night fell 100 meters from the synagogue in the back yard of a family's home. All the glass in the area shattered. The windows of cars in the parking lot outside the synagogue exploded. And a young boy on the sidewalk was injured from shrapnel that penetrated all parts of his body.
I shall never forget what I witnessed when the rocket fell - the shock, the frightened fathers who grasp their children, the cries of the young ones...
While writing this, I feel a bit shaky. And the only thing that is going through my mind is that no matter how I feel from one experience, this is nothing compared to the horrifying realith the people here that have been living with for over five years. A reality the outside world does not recognize.
It was hard to fall asleep that night, thinking that the Arab who fired his missile fired from a place where he is protected, taking cover among civilians, firing at homes and synagogues which are not protected...
Can this be reality? What kind of civilized country, a western democratic nation, would let this kind of reality to happen to its people? More important, what kind of world would?
Is it really over 5 years? No one in Israel has an any idea about Sderot -- not until you've spent at least 3 weeks getting used to waking up at 6:30 in the morning by a siren, getting used to wondering how close the missiles will fall -- 3 blocks away this time or on the other side of town?
Who would believe that there is a town in Israel where Jews cannot feel protected and have to rely on daily miracles to survive?
Have we forgotten who we are, and where we come from? Must we always be sitting ducks for those who want to annihilate us?
How many people have to get killed before any reasonable solution is found?
Since September, 2005, when Israel abandoned Jewish communities in Gaza that were transformed into terrorist bases, the Israel Civil Defense Command reported that Arabs have conducted more than 1000 missile and mortar attacks on Israel and Sderot is the current target of choice.
Twenty-two people have been killed by the artillery that Arabs fire on the Western Negev. The media often refers to these altillery as "home-made kassam missiles" that rarely hurt anyone and only make lots of noise.
Except that the media outside of Sderot and the Western Negev do not understand what it is like for 45 communities in the Western Negev to live in an atmosphere of terror.
I got my first taste of that atmosphere of terror this past Friday night in the Sderot synagogue.
* Noam Bedein is 24. After a year of seminary study, three years of Israel Army service on the Lebanese border and a year's trek around Asia, he moved to Sderot to study at the business school at the Sapir College Branch of Ben Gurion University and has started work at the new Sderot Media Information Center for the Western Negev region of Israel.
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