Analysis: Where has all the panic gone?

Underlying sentiment is that Sderot residents are a bit ashamed about hysteria emanating from town.

May 31, 2007 00:24
2 minute read.
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After the media fest that accompanied the construction of Arkadi Gaydamak's refugee camp for Sderot residents in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park last week, silence now surrounds the initiative's apparent failure. Despite available room for 3,000, only a few hundred Sderot residents left their homes to find refuge in Gaydamak's tents. Where has all the panic of two weeks ago gone? The Kassams haven't stopped falling and nothing has been seen of the massive aid package promised by the government. The IDF is still limited to surgical air strikes and special-unit incursions. But despite no change in the situation, a feeling of relative calm has descended on Sderot. "We don't want to be refugees" is the explanation one hears from the locals. The underlying sentiment is that they are a bit ashamed about the wave of hysteria that emanated from the town a few days ago. Individuals and the community as a whole are making a conscious effort to get back to life as usual, despite the continuing attacks. Most shops have reopened and families are taking walks in an attempt to display a picture of civilian normalcy. For an outsider, it's hard to realize that although Sderot has been under fire, off and on, for seven years, two weeks ago was the first time evacuation was a serious option. No one really understands why it suddenly became a realistic option. Perhaps it was due to Gaydamak challenging the government, or maybe it was just a matter of the Kassam that broke Sderot's back. But soon convoys of buses were taking thousands to Defense Ministry recreation centers. Even though the out-of-town stays were short, they created the momentary impression that the town was being abandoned. By now, everyone who needed a breather has had one, and the people of Sderot are back home facing reality. Belatedly, the IDF has supplied hundreds of Home Front Command soldiers to help in the city's day-to-day administration. But the major boost has been a drive to bring in hundreds of young volunteers from around the country to bolster Sderot's social services. Despite everything, local services are still functioning, according to Elya Tzur, head of Lev Ehad (One Heart), an organization that maintains a database of thousands of volunteers prepared to help in emergency situations. "They are doing a great job," he said, "but no one can expect the local apparatus to cope with a situation where the feeling of terror causes many more cases of people in need." For the last two weeks, Lev Ehad volunteers have been proving to the people of Sderot that Israeli society has not forgotten them. They have been combing the streets and neighborhoods, knocking on doors, finding out who needs help and organizing the delivery of food and medication. While arguments over the appropriate military solution to the Kassam threat continue to rage, civilian society is finally coming up with solutions that enable a resumption of something close to normal life. The historic Zionist policy of not evacuating civilians in the face of armed aggression has been reestablished in Sderot.

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