As 2009 drew to a close and hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at the Erez Crossing, chanting "Katyushas on Ma'alot, Kassams on Sderot," Israeli demonstrators assembled at another Gaza viewpoint in Sderot to communicate a very different message.
"A New Decade for Hope and Peace" was the theme behind the Sderot Rally for Hope, initiated by the Sderot Media Center, a social media organization dedicated to bringing the voices of Sderot residents to the attention of the international community.
More than 300 supporters, including Israeli youths and students from France, Australia, South Africa, the US and Canada, were led by Sderot Mayor David Buskila and Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein.
The marchers, carrying Israeli and international flags, along with signs that read "Children for Hope, Not for War," trekked up a muddy hill to release white balloons with peace messages that children from a Sderot elementary school had written to Gaza children a day earlier.
Edelstein noted that there has been a year of relative quiet following Operation Cast Lead, "with only 286 rockets fired at Israel."
Sderot Mayor David Buskila said on the hilltop that "we want the Hamas leaders, who unfortunately are continuing to prepare for war, to know that Sderot residents come today in peace. And we will never leave this part of Israel."