Situated at its nearest point 840 meters from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is synonymous with rocket attacks and bomb shelters.
But a recently concluded NIS 1.3 billion Construction and Housing Ministry fortification project has engendered some optimism in the city, and in 43 nearby communities, that family and friends will be safer in the future.
The fortification project, headed by the ministry and coordinated with the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister’s Office, began in February 2008 and received an extension in October 2012.
According to the ministry, “the project to fortify homes in Gaza-vicinity communities provided 9-sq.m. bomb shelters for 10,140 housing units that previously had no shelters.”
Sderot and four regional council areas – Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon and Sdot Negev – were included in the project.
The Construction Ministry’s goal, which is to “ensure the continuation of normal and safe life” for residents of the so-called Gaza envelope, who number around 50,000, is a difficult one. These communities lie within 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip, and residents have less than 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter or protected area when sirens warn of a rocket attack.
However, according to Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who spoke on Thursday in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony celebrating the project’s completion two years after the last war with Hamas (Operation Protective Edge), the city is doing great.
“I invite anyone who wants to see the image of victory here, to the city of Sderot,” he said.
Davidi praised residents’ resilience and emphasized the importance of opening the train station – fortified against rocket attacks – in 2013, connecting the city with Tel Aviv.
“After the opening of the train station... there is a student dormitory in the city. Ten new kindergartens opened, [as well as] daycare centers, schools, public buildings, parks and, of course, a construction boom including six new neighborhoods,” he said to applause.
Longtime resident Moti Bar- Gil agreed that Sderot was rebounding from the last war.
“The project is an important step forward for the community. Before the housing fortification, a lot of people left the city; now there is momentum and demand for apartments,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
A walk around the center of town reveals construction cranes finishing housing projects, and advertisements for a new apartment building.
Children play in fortified playgrounds, with bomb shelters a few meters away.
Resident Avidan Rakni agreed that the housing fortification project had brought a needed sense of security.
“This is a blessed project,” he told the Post. “It gives me and my family physical and psychological security.”
According to Bar-Gil, the thing pulling residents back to Sderot has been the relative quiet since the major Gaza wars of 2008-09 (Operation Cast Lead), 2012 (Operation Pillar of Defense) and 2014’s Protective Edge.
In 2008-09, Gazans fired 3,278 rockets at Israel. In 2012, they fired 2,248, and in 2014, 450 rockets were launched, according to the IDF.
Despite sporadic rocket fire, since 2014 Sderot has witnessed relative tranquility.
Nevertheless, rocket strikes, like the most recent on July 1, which hit an empty kindergarten, underlie the fears residents face.
As Davidi said at Thursday’s ceremony: “As long as we do not have peace and tranquility, we still have some way to go to achieve the objectives we set.”
Rakni said there was always more that could be done to make the community safe, “but the root of the problem is the rockets.”
Bar-Gil agreed, telling the Post
that locals “take what they can get from the government.”
However, for now, he was happy he did not have to worry about finding a place to take shelter if the sirens sounded during