Kassams paralyze Sderot businesses

Business owners in the Kassam-besieged town are mostly pessimistic about what the rockets mean for their livelihoods.

By DANIEL KENNEMER
June 20, 2006 09:54
Kassams paralyze Sderot businesses

kassam drill kids 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Business in Sderot has not been the same since the Kassams began raining down on the town five years ago, and each wave of rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip deals local shopkeepers another blow. "I've had this shop for 10 years," said Rafi, a young but tired looking 60-year-old resident of the city, who owns a women's clothing shop in the city center. "The first five years were great - my wife and I worked in the shop, we had a car. The last five years have been horrible. My wife gave up. There are not enough clients here for her to help. She stays at home." Sales are now only about 10 percent of what they were, Rafi estimated. He put up a sign announcing a "liquidation sale - 50% off" a couple weeks ago, but said that has not brought business back. When Kassams begin falling, "people run away, or are already living outside of the town. Many young people have fled to Tel Aviv," he said. Far from being able to afford a car, Rafi and his family don't even have enough money to buy bread. For 20 years, he had worked in a potato chip factory until it was bought and the new owners laid older workers off, he said, lamenting the idea to open a business thereafter. "All business owners here are full of debts, that's why they can't [close up shop] and leave," Rafi added, pointing to several of his neighbors he said were on the verge of bankruptcy. L., a 76-year-old cobbler who came to Sderot from Tunisia in the early 1950s, also felt his business decline when the Kassams started hitting. "Everyone just sits around. There's nothing to do. Before then, things were better," he said. "There is no demand. The population declined. People left - some even went back to Morocco." Business over the past five years is about half what it was before, and during waves of Kassam strikes, sales dip another 20%, L. estimated. "Sales are always going down," he said, but also rejected the idea of closing up shop. "I'll keep going. I can't be a doctor now, or a director. This is what I have. We have a good country, and need to appreciate it." One woman in her early 20s watching a shoe shop for her cousin said that her family's other business, a restaurant, suffers directly from "red dawn" alerts and Kassam strikes. Sunday night, at around 10 p.m., the alert sent diners rushing into the cement-clad kitchen. Once the Kassam hit, in another part of town, the customers went home and the restaurant had to close early. "People don't have the urge to eat or go out. We make plans to go out, and then cancel them when a Kassam falls. Customers cancel orders and deliveries." Siblings now living in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon refuse to come for Shabbat, she said. Two of her female relatives, she said, left the restaurant to deliver an order last week when a Kassam fell nearby, injuring both. The customers they were going to called to cancel the order when they heard that the Kassam had hit. The town square, normally a bustling social scene for Sderot's senior citizens, is uncharacteristically empty now, she noted. "When I saw the square empty, I was in shock. The pensioners are sitting at home alone instead." H., a 35-year old Sderot native who opened up a convenience store three months ago was still upbeat and optimistic about the prospects for his business. "We're doing fine here, baruch ha-Shem, there is an income. Let no one say that we're not doing well here." But H. conceded that sales were down since the most recent wave of Kassam attacks began. "This past week we've felt a drastic drop," he said, estimating that sales were half their usual level. "But the moment it's calm, people come back. You feel that people begin leaving their houses and buying again." Deploring the town's high unemployment rate, conveniencestore owner H. said "we need investment from outside, for the government to encourage entrepreneurs to come here." "There's no employment here," said Rafi, the clothes salesman. "The factories are small, and there aren't enough of them." Another resident, visibly drained by hunger striking against his doctors' orders, complained that the factories in the town generally pay minimum wage for long hours, and said he would be happy if the Palestinians were to aim their Kassams to "erase" the plastic factories in particular. "You've heard of Silicon Valley? Sderot has become Plastic Valley," he said. Mayor Eli Moyal had a chance to bring Amdocs to Sderot, but did not provide the company with an appropriate site, he charged. Yehiel Teitelbaum, the owner of one plastics factory in town, insisted that the Kassam attacks were not hurting business. Although he admitted that employees occasionally don't come to work because of the attacks, productivity was "not down significantly," he said. "You can't say that the Kassams are hurting business; they are certainly not. It's business as usual. Our answer to the Kassams is that we are boosting exports. When there are Kassams, we do our best to work harder and produce more," he said. Gershon Goldenberg, of Lachish Industries, a Sderot-based producer of agricultural equipment, on the other hand, said that the Kassam attacks deprive workers of sleep and hurt productivity. "The situation is not good," he said. "During every 'red dawn' alert, everyone calls around to check [on relatives.] The tension is very high." "It is also hard for me to recruit new skilled workers. People don't want to work in Sderot," he said, adding that foreign clients may start refusing to visit the facility, as they did for a couple years ending about 18 months ago. Fully 95% of his business is exported abroad, primarily to Western Europe, but also to Australia, the US, China, Japan, South Africa and other destination markets. "It certainly hurts business when clients don't want to come see new developments and new products. In business you have to visit one another, and if clients don't come, that's a problem," Goldenberg said. While Goldenberg has no plans to move his facility to another part of the country for now, he would not rule out the possibility if the situation worsens. "If it won't be possible to live here, then we won't be here. And if I leave, and other factories leave, the residents won't have a livelihood."

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