On Tuesday evening, Michal Shaban-Kotzer, spokeswoman for the Sha’ar Hanegev
Regional Council, sent a beeper message to journalists alerting them of yet
another rocket fired from Gaza.
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“A few minutes ago, a loud explosion was
heard near a kibbutz in the council,” the message read. “The Color Red rocket
siren failed to sound. No casualties or damages.”
Since the end of
Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, around 500 projectiles – rockets and mortar
shells – have been fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza at civilian targets
in southern Israel.
As Israel and the Palestinian Authority engage in
direct negotiations, rocket launchers in the Hamas quasi-state have increased
The vast majority fail to inflict casualties, and are
therefore almost completely ignored by the international
Nevertheless, for many residents of Sderot and the farming
communities of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, the Eshkol Regional Council,
as well as in Ashkelon, the rockets are a terror that threaten their emotional
“Generally, the past year and a half has been relatively
quiet,” Shaban-Kotzer told The Jerusalem Post
. “There are always attacks,
whether they come in the form of attempted infiltrations by gunmen, rocket fire,
small arms fire – there is constant hostile activity.”
But compared to
the era before Cast Lead, she added, things have improved – until the recent
“Our population has grown – more than 105 families moved into
our regional council since 2009. There are no more empty homes available for
rent in the kibbutzim.
There are waiting lists. Our industrial zones are
growing, and new factories are being added,” she said.
All of this
progress is now under threat.
“The problem is that the antibiotic
[Operation Cast Lead] has apparently passed its sell-by date. We’ve had 10
rockets since Rosh Hashana,” Shaban-Kotzer said.
Dr. Adriana Katz, who
heads a Ministry of Health mental health clinic in Sderot, which has been
showered with Kassam rockets for almost a decade, said the recent rise in
attacks could undo years of work to rehabilitate the town’s 4,000 sufferers of
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It was easy for the media to
ignore the tremendous amount of psychological damage suffered by residents from
years of rocket attacks and shelling, she said.
“Blood is easily
photographed, but the soul cannot be captured by a camera lens. Mental healing
is a complex, long-term process which cannot be guaranteed. It’s difficult to
describe the damage in words,” she said.
“The minute we bring a person
back to a normative situation, as far as this is possible, something will occur
to bring the person back to PTSD.
There are still people who are too
frightened to leave their home, there are still youths who cannot leave their
parents,” Katz added.
She recalled how a man selling watermelons wandered
Sderot’s streets during the summer, shouting “red watermelons!” The man’s shouts
reminded people of the Color Red rocket alert, triggering trauma and anxiety
among some, and the municipality was asked by the clinic to get the man to stop
shouting out during his rounds. “If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny,” Katz
“Everything makes us jump. If we see our air force flying
overhead, some people will become anxious. If our army shells in retaliation for
the rockets, it also makes us jump.”
Katz’s clinic is desperately
understaffed, with four fulltime employees and two parttime volunteers treating
6,500 people. Katz described the situation as “scandalous.”
a psychiatrist based in Jerusalem, arrives at the clinic in Sderot once a week
“What we are dealing with here is complex PTSD – a
continuing trauma,” Mandel said.
“This is not like soldiers in war or
victims of a terror attack, who deal with one incident. Here it’s
ongoing. The stresser is not going away.”
He often hears patients
say that their problems begin after they feel that “something gets inside of
They say, ‘Once it’s inside, it’s hard for me to get it out
again.’” Unlike combat soldiers, who are prepared for entering a
life-threatening situation, residents of Sderot are going about with their
everyday routine when a rocket explodes near them.
“Here, they’re just
living their lives when something comes along that can just take their life
away. The sound of a Kassam exploding can shake you up, even if it doesn’t hurt
anyone,” he said.
For children who grow up in Sderot, life under constant
rocket threat is the only reality they know, he said. “I remember an elementary
school teacher saying that she had taken kids on a bus trip to Tel Aviv. The
first question they asked when they got off the bus was where the bomb shelters
are. For them it’s such a basic assumption,” Mandel said.
Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, said his main goal was to ensure
that buildings in his jurisdiction receive rocket-proof reinforcement
protection. He is preparing to petition the High Court of Justice along with
other local authority heads to that end.
Yalin said that the Iron Dome
anti-rocket shield, designed to shoot down Kassam rockets, can only effectively
protect areas situated at least 7 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. While
buildings situated up to 4.5 kilometers from the security fence have
rocket-proof protection, structures located between 4.5 and seven kilometers
from Gaza cannot benefit from the Iron Dome shield, and lack protective
structures, leaving them exposed.
“We are facing a Hamas regime which
does not recognize us and shells us indiscriminately. The question is,
how do you maintain communities in this area?” Yalin asked.
here are strong. Residents are connected to their land.
come to live here for cheap real estate. They come for the education and
the warm community life. No one is alone here. We are close-knit communities of
farmers. But we need government help,” he said.www.yaakovlappin.com