sderot protest 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Infuriated by the renewed barrage of Kassam rockets against their city, protesters in Sderot on Thursday placed a fake coffin on the grass in the small park near the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
"We are burying our security," said Batya Katar, who along with four others is holding fast to the hunger strike and protest vigil, begun on Sunday, to urge the government to take harsher military measures to stop the rockets.
As head of the local Parents Association, she also called for parents to keep their children home from school on Friday, for the sixth day in a row.
Six rockets fell in Sderot and the surrounding area Thursday, including one that hit a factory in the industrial area around 10:30 a.m. It damaged the roof and lightly wounded an employee. The others caused little damage.
Two of the several dozen protesters who have camped out under a large plastic tent by Peretz's home were treated for shock when a rocket fell nearby around the same time.
To highlight the dangers facing the city and the border communities which have sustained close to 80 rocket hits since Saturday, residents have filled the park with signs blaring statements such as: "Kassams kill."
They have also hung a large black cloth between two trees with a sign that reads: "We are mourning the demise of the Israeli government."
On top of the coffin Thursday they placed a red-and-black makeshift Kassam surrounded by yahrzeit candles.
The five hunger strikers rejected pleas from Peretz and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger to stop their liquid-only diet.
Peretz called the strikers on Wednesday night. At the time, according to the strikers, he sounded hopeful that he had succeeded in halting the rocket strikes with policies that included a targeted killing of three Jihad rocketeers in Gaza (which also killed eight civilians) on Tuesday and a stern warning to the Hamas leadership.
This confidence was strengthened by a sudden calm on Tuesday when no Kassams were launched. And on Wednesday, only one rocket fell harmlessly outside of Ashkelon.
In light of the lull, Peretz called the hunger strikers to tell them there was no reason to continue their protest and invited them to have breakfast with him the next morning. They refused both offers.
Sitting in the park on Thursday, sweating in the heat, hunger striker Alon Davidi described the phone conversation with Peretz to The Jerusalem Post: "He told us, 'There will be no more Kassams; my policy has secured the city.'"
Davidi told Peretz that he was skeptical and would cease his liquid diet only after 72 hours of peace.
After watching the area sustain more than 3,000 rocket attacks from Gaza since April 2001, he and many others have come to believe that only a harsh military strike into the Gaza Strip would stop the violence.
Hanging on the park gate behind him, were two signs: "Recapture Gaza" and "We too are innocent." Unfortunately, he said, his words of caution to Peretz proved to be prophetic.
A rocket fell on Thursday as Davidi spoke to a delegation of politicians from the National Union. The panic caused by the sound of the siren and the resounding boom caused Davidi to faint. A second hunger striker, Sima Hadad, who had already fainted the night before, threw up.
Davidi said it angered him that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was off visiting England and France this week instead of remaining in the country to deal with the threat of Kassams. He said he felt that Olmert was working against their interests by traveling around the world talking about how Israel should return land in the territories. Our experience in Sderot shows that he is mistaken, said Davidi.
Sderot is within the pre-1967 borders, he said, adding "We gave up Gaza last summer and it hasn't stopped the Palestinians from firing upon us."
But not everyone in Sderot was up in arms. Only a short distance from Peretz's home, a small crowd of residents and visitors gathered on Thursday evening to enjoy the city's film festival that opened on Monday.
They were entertained by actors dressed as Elvis Presley and a larger-than-life spider on stilts.
Ella Naiman, a student at Sapir College, said there all kinds of ways to protest the Kassams. "They are frightening," she admitted. But as someone who has a home to return to in Jerusalem, she said, she believed it was important to remain in the city and live life as normally as possible.
Enjoying a festival like this also made an important statement against the Kassam rockets, she added.