SDEROT, ISRAEL—MAY 29—In this shell-shocked Israeli town bordering the terror-torn Gaza Strip, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not very popular.
“Nobody is doing anything,” declared 54-year-old David Hazzan, standing in the broken glass and rubble of his home struck by a Palestinian rocket.
“The prime minister stays in Jerusalem, and the defense minister stays in Jerusalem,” said Hazzan kicking aside some of the broken glass and cement in what had been—until two days ago—one of the nicest houses in town.
Prime Minister Olmert actually visited the town briefly this month in one of his few public appearances, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz is actually an official resident of the town, but most people here—especially people whose houses have been hit by rockets—are not impressed.
“The house of the defense minister is so fortified that it could take a direct hit from an F-16 and nothing would happen,” commented Hazzan wryly.
But he and his wife Shula, a 47-year-old worker in a nearby food factory, know that they are also extraordinarily lucky.
When the Palestinian terrorists fire their rockets, Israeli army “spotters,” sound a public air raid siren, and the residents of Sderot and nearby towns, farms and villages, generally have less than 15 seconds to find shelter.
Mrs. Hazzan was on her factory night shift, but her husband and son were watching a televised Israeli soccer game when the father thought he heard the siren alarm call “Tzeva Adom”—“Color Red.”
They scrambled for the basement shelter and just managed to close the heavy steel door when a rocket skidded just over their front fence and into their front room, inches from the door of the shelter itself. Had they been two or three seconds slower and they both might have been killed by the six to eight-pound explosive rocket charge.
There are signs that most of Sderot’s 23,000 residents do not feel lucky. “For Sale” signs dot the well-maintained neighborhoods. Four thousand residents have already moved away permanently, according to reports here, while another two to three thousand have moved away temporarily to the homes of friends and relatives beyond rocket range.
“Our neighbors’ house took a direct rocket hit three months ago, and they just finished fixing it up,” observed Shula Hazzan, but after the spike in rocket attacks in the last two weeks, “now they, too, have run away to the tent city of Gaidemak.”
She was referring to a temporary set of tents and shelters set up by Russian-born businessman Arkady Gaidemak, who has stepped in to fill the gaps in the Olmert Government’s program of civil defense here—as he did last summer for Israelis made homeless by the rocket attacks in last summer’s war on the Lebanese border.
Indeed, the Israeli government is angry at Gaidemak, but it has not really provided any transportation or shelter, and even in the Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) health center, the volunteers and paramedics say that all of their ambulances and special shelters have been donated by Jewish and Christian supporters from America.
“We don’t have a single ambulance that has been donated by the State of Israel,” declared Eli Binn, the director-general of Magen David Adom, who has come to Sderot to supervise the emergency services personally.
“The tension here is very high, and there is great daily stress on our emergency crews,” said Bin, noting that his organization has increased the number of ambulances from two to 15—many of them “bullet proof.” It is not clear whether any ambulance could stand up to a near hit from one of the rockets which hit the town at all hours of the day and night.
Taxi drivers from nearby towns are visibly afraid to enter Sderot, and Oshri Oz, a computer specialist who regularly visited the town, was killed four days ago when a rocket hit his car. It is not clear if there was an alert or whether he just did not hear it in time to get out of his car and run for shelter.
Emergency personnel and yeshiva students from a nearby school do not take any chances, sleeping in concrete shelters during the sweltering summer heat.
A large blue and white Israeli flag is festooned on a light pole outside the town’s hospital emergency room, and big black block Hebrew letters proclaim an angry message: “The town of Sderot—Abandoned Territory. Time to Wake Up!!!”
Graffiti and stickers all around town berate the Olmert Government for hesitancy, cowardice and even betrayal.
A sense of abandonment is the common feeling in this community of 23,000 middle and lower class immigrants—about half drawn from Morocco, forty percent from the former Soviet Union and about ten percent from Ethiopia.
The town has absorbed almost 500 Qassam rockets in the last two weeks alone as the Palestinians in Gaza have escalated their own internal mayhem and their indiscriminate attacks on Israel.
The attacks began in 2001 at a rate of one attack a month, but by the end of 2003, the rockets—ad sometimes mortars—were hitting this town at a clip of one a week. After Israel’s military retreat from Gaza—and the eviction of all Israeli civilians—in August 2005, Arab rockets began to strike the town at a rate of ten a week.
At the start Israeli politicians and many Israeli army officers joked at the primitive nature of the Qassam rockets, calling them “flying pipes,” but ten people have already been killed by the rockets—two in the last ten days alone. Many Israeli officers now say that Israel should have re-invaded Gaza several months ago and that Israel is wasting precious time in precision air strikes aimed at leaders of the Hamas terror organization responsible for most attacks.
Yesterday was a fairly quiet day, and nobody was seriously injured when the town and its surroundings got hit by ten Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists who have publicly bragged on Arab television stations that they want to scare “all Jews” out of “occupied Palestine.”
That has not happened yet, but the atmosphere is definitely changed from six months ago. Few people leave their houses, and few parents send their children to school.
“We won’t run away,” said David Hazzan, who has lived in Sderot for 45 years, “because we will not give the terrorists that satisfaction.”