As Israel continues its first week of Operation Protective Edge, Breaking Israel News went south to talk to the Sderot Media Center about how the operation is affecting the residents of the city, which lies closest to the Gaza Strip.
“The people of Sderot have been living in this situation for 14 years. At this point nothing really surprises us,” Itzik Horn, spokesman for the Sderot Media Center, said.
The people of Sderot have lived through several close calls with Gaza, including numerous operations against terrorists operating in the Strip such Operation Defensive Shield (2002), Operation Rainbow (2004), Operation Cast Lead (2008), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and now Operation Protective Edge.
Back in October 200,1 terrorists in Gaza started firing rockets at Israeli civilians and have not stopped since in spite of numerous ceasefire agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. With the election of Hamas as the governing body in the Gaza strip in 2007 following the ouster of the ruling Fatah Party, rocket fire has only increased.
Experiencing yet another rocket barrage by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, Israel’s counter-attack has left the populace wondering whether this time there will be an end to the cycle.
Horn explains what Sderot citizens on the ground are feeling: “People here have lost their patience and their tolerance for this situation. The same is true for all of the communities of the periphery of Gaza.”
What is particularly bothersome, according to Horn, is the interruption of daily life in the community. “People don’t spend time outside anymore unless they have to. Here people go to the bank and then go home, they go to the post office and then go home,” he explained. “They don’t drive around, or spend time in parks or at outdoor restaurants. Anything that is outdoors and is unnecessary, they simply no longer do.”
Imagining the effects that the constant threat of rockets has had on the children of the city is a daunting task. “How can you test what the effects are when this is all that the children have known,” said a social worker who works with the Sderot Community Treatment Theater. The theater is responsible for helping children deal with their stress through drama and other artistic endeavors.
“Any 14 year old child and under, has only known life under the threat of rocket attacks, they’ve simply never known what peace is like,” she said.
While the citizens of Israel’s southwestern corner have been dealing with rocket attacks for the last 14 years, an interesting dichotomy taken place among Israeli society. On the one hand frustration abounds: “We here the liftoff and explosions from the rocket launchers, the explosions of the airstrikes from the IDF, the explosions of the rockets themselves, and the Color Red warning sirens, and we try to lead normal lives with all that going on around us,” says Horn.
But at the same time, Sderot is probably the most prepared and well fortified of any Israeli city against rocket attacks.
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Over the past 14 years, the government of Israel has built reinforced security rooms in every apartment in the city and surrounding area. Bus stops are reinforced and can serve as protective areas for those stuck on the street during a rocket attack. All of the schools and kindergartens as well as camps and other play areas for children are reinforced. So too are all public places such as supermarkets, shopping centers and synagogues.
But something is still very wrong.
“People here are very responsible and we’ve become too used to the situation. We have built it into the routine of our lives,” says Horn. A sadder statement is hard to think of.
Over 40 percent of Israel’s population is under the threat of rocket attacks, and the stress that is being felt around the country is palpable. In the time it took to write this article, over 35 warning sirens were heard in Sderot and surrounding cities, including Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Be’er Sheva. Later on in the day, that number climbed to over 80 and the cities expanded to more far reaching places such as Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv, Rehovot, and Jerusalem.
Horn signed off by stating that “the people of Sderot, and in truth all of the citizens of Israel are waiting for closure regarding the Gaza situation. We as well as the people in Gaza have the right to live in peace, and right now no one has that.”