Generations ago, Arabs used knives and bullets to murder Jews in Israel. Today they prefer bombs and rockets.
While all of Israel faces menaces like Iranian nuclear aggression and Syrian gangsterism, many Israeli areas are relatively tranquil. As Charles Bukowski once wrote in a poem, it's not war all the time.
Unless you live in Sderot.
The words "Sderot" and "Qassams" go hand in hand, and with good reason. It is an atrocious reality that Sderot—an Israeli city no less than Tel Aviv or Tiberias—is a place where citizens of Israel have suffered thousands of rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip.
In November 2006, one of these Qassams murdered Yaakov Yaakobov, a husband and father of two sons. In a demonstration of Muslim solidarity, another Qassam murdered Muslim Fatima Slutsker as she crossed a street in November 2006.
Israel under Ariel Sharon may have "disengaged" from Gaza, but Gaza has not disengaged from Israel.
With death never far from their minds, residents of Sderot do not lead normal lives. Longtime Sderot resident Haim Kuznits has remarked, "When we take our son to school we are afraid of what might happen. We call it our Russian roulette."
With comfortable detachment from life in Sderot, perpetual Israeli politician Shimon Peres trivialized the attacks last year as "Qassams shmassams."
After yet another Qassam attack, Sderot’s mayor resigned on December 12. Eli Moyal had been mayor since 1999.
"Perhaps this will get the government to undertake action for the sake of the residents’ lives," Moyal commented, disgusted with the Israeli state’s failure to protect Israelis in Sderot. He then withdrew his resignation at the request of defense minister Ehud Barak, who declared a "special situation" in Sderot.
Municipal policy has also endangered Israeli lives in Sderot. Consider the case of Dr. Boris Singer, who suffered extensive shrapnel damage from a Qassam in 2006 and almost died. At the time of the attack, he was in a legal battle against a regulation that prohibited the construction of shelters in homes.
When you have to break the law to protect your family, your society has some serious problems.
Another distressing aspect of Sderot’s bombardment is how it reenacts a form of aggression Israel endured after 1948.
When Israel attained national liberation in 1948, the Arab world did not suddenly accept Jewish sovereignty and move on. Prior to Israel’s 1956 war with Egypt, it faced a continuous, demoralizing, and lethal threat in the form of Arab infiltration.
From 1948 to 1956, infiltrators killed nearly 300 Israelis and wounded between 500 and 1000. (To put this in demographic context, Israel’s population in 1956 was less than two million.) Infiltrators also inflicted massive economic damage through theft and sabotage. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion called this a "guerrilla war" against Israel supported by Arab states.
Sderot was founded in 1951. In December of that year, a report about a community west of Jerusalem called Mishmar Ayalon noted, "In the evenings the women are afraid to remain in their homes, and they gather together with their children in a number of houses in the center of the settlement." In 1953, residents of Mishmar Ayalon continued "to join 4-5 families in one room [at night], so that there’s a feeling of security."
Constant aggression by infiltrators caused other communities to be abandoned. Historian Benny Morris notes in Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001:
Some half dozen moshavim [cooperative agricultural communities composed of individual farms], populated by new immigrants mainly from Muslim countries, were completely deserted during this period [1950-1953], and more than a dozen others suffered major population depletion. In large measure this was due to depredations by infiltrators. The departure of some families inevitably increased the guard-duty burden of the males who remained, further undermining the settlers’ staying power.
In the early 1950s, Israel did not have the military sophistication and power it has today; but it still responded to the attacks. Writing about this period in The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force, military historian Martin van Creveld observes, "[N]o state can tolerate a situation whereby its borders are violated hundreds of times a year by thousands of people, particularly if some are armed and attack property and citizens."
In 2007, Israel’s borders have been violated thousands of times in Sderot; and Jews die or escape death with maimed bodies and traumatized souls. Why is this happening?
Demography might provide a despicable explanation. Sderot’s population largely consists of Jews from Morocco, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. It is not an affluent city.
One wonders: If Hamas and Islamic Jihad were firing Qassams into wealthier cities like Rishon LeZion and Herzliya (named after the very European Zionist, Theodor Herzl), would the Israeli government be as derelict? Or would the government use its vast military resources to stop the aggression?
Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty states, "All persons are entitled to protection of their life, body, and dignity." In Sderot, the Israeli government has abandoned its primary duty of protection.
Every Qassam that hits Sderot is an indictment of that government.