Citizens in Western Negev towns of Israel have been facing the constant threat of rocket fire from Gaza since 2001. Following Operation Cast Lead, Hamas declared a “ceasefire” with Israel, which has not been maintained because 635 rockets have landed in Israel since then. Throughout that time, much of the media turned a blind eye to the rocket fire and instead only focused on delegitimizing Israel through bias and sometimes untrue reports about Gaza. The recent surge in the firing of rockets into Israel last month makes it of utmost importance to ensure that students on college campuses understand the impact that many years of rocket fire has had on Israeli civilians, along with being exposed to the biased media that ignores these attacks and instead demonizes Israel.
Noam Bedein, photojournalist and Director of the Sderot Media Center, has been traveling across the US on his sixth campus tour to get this message to students. His tour was primarily sponsored by CAMERA with ZOA co-sponsoring a couple of tour dates. Over the past few years, Mr. Bedein has traveled internationally to deliver presentations on college campuses worldwide as well as to the United Nations (UN) and government members in the European Union, and on Capitol Hill.
Bedein moved to Sderot in 2006 in order to get footage of the attacks and chronicle the situation on the ground for the international media. He has often been the first one on the scene at locations that have been struck and has a large collection of footage of live attacks. He is passionate about Sderot and the Western Negev and is dedicated towards putting an end to the incredible injustices that have been perpetrated upon its residents. Bedein strives to deliver a message that provides a humanitarian perspective.
One of the key points that Bedein makes in his presentation is that, “97% of the rockets shot from Gaza are fired from within the civilian population.” This is highly emphasized in the presentation because the media rarely presents the situation between Israel and Gaza in a balanced manner. Bedein describes his mission as, “providing tools for students that will help them counterbalance the PR war.” He continued, “Too often are there reports focusing around casualties in Gaza that don’t even mention the suffering in Israel.” In the presentation, Bedein shows footage of rockets being fired from schools and mosques, which is quite useful for students to see who are unfamiliar with the types of situations that Israel faces when dealing with rocket fire from Gaza.
Bedein also addresses the psychological impact that the rocket attacks have on many of the citizens who are suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. “People cannot drive with seatbelts on because they have to live with the fear of making it to a bomb shelter in 15 seconds or less” said Bedein. In the presentation, he also points out that much of the weaponry supplied to Gaza comes directly from Iran, which he refers to as, “Israel’s biggest threat.” For that reason, Bedein’s tour is named Iran in Israel’s Backyard.
Last week, in Washington Square Park, near the NYU campus, another event that highlighted the humanitarian situation of residents in Sderot was put together by the group Artists 4 Israel. For a whole day, a replica of a bomb shelter was set up with demonstrations depicting what it is like to have only 15 seconds to run for your life. Additionally, there was live graffiti being done by well-known artists at the mock shelter.
According to Craig Dershowitz, President of Artists 4 Israel, the bomb shelter exhibit was organized for various reasons. Dershowitz said, “Washington Square Park is the home to many anti-Israel protests. Often times, these protests are full of hate and lies and we believe that there is an inextricable link between that sort of malicious information and the eventual firing of rockets.” In addition to this, the group wanted NYU students to gain exposure to the situation throughout Sderot and the Western Negev.
As the day went on, anti-Israel protestors found their way to the exhibit, where they screamed slogans and held signs which they hoped would cause a disruption. Instead, the display continued and the anti-Israel protestors became increasingly hostile. Commenting on the protestors, Dershowitz explained, “We posed a simple question to them – ‘should or should not children in Israel be bombed?’ They could not answer and instead they did nursery school style chants that referenced things, such as Palestine being ‘from the river to the sea’- a not so subtle reference to destroying all of Israel.”
As the protestors continued to create a disturbance, members of the pro-Israel contingency began to address some of their statements. One of the most prevalent signs carried by the anti-Israel protestors said “Free Gaza.” Dershowitz explained to the protestors that Israel is not responsible for the situation in Gaza. He pointed out that, “There hasn’t been a single Israeli or Jew living in Gaza for more than five years. Since then, Gaza has been completely controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.”
On another note, just this past weekend, Judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the UN fact-finding mission regarding Operation Cast Lead, retracted much of his anti-Israel report. Although damage has already been done, the UN Human Rights Council should act now to rescind the report that practically stripped away Israel’s rights to self defense. The Council should begin to focus on the grave violations of human rights occurring right now in places, such as Darfur, Iran, Libya, Syria, and many other countries between Bahrain and Morocco.
Unfortunately, it is likely that the Council will continue to dedicate a great portion of their time towards condemning Israel. As pro-Israel and Zionist activists, we must continue to educate and inform the public on the humanitarian situation facing over a million Israelis living between Sderot, Be’er Sheba, and Ashdod. Their stories must be heard, rather than silenced.