After three elections, Israel's South is fed up of being under fire

Southern Focus: ‘They don’t give a damn’

A WEEK BEFORE the election, Sderot was a battlefield, with children looking at the damage caused after a rocket landed in a playground, and people running as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets. Will it return? (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A WEEK BEFORE the election, Sderot was a battlefield, with children looking at the damage caused after a rocket landed in a playground, and people running as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets. Will it return?
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Just like in the violent rounds of conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, there was no clear victory in Israel’s third round of elections.
And that doesn’t bode well for the residents of the Gaza border communities, who have spent the last 18 years – 14 of those under the power of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule – under constant rocket fire.
With nearly all votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud Party seems to have the largest number of seats in the Knesset, but he has still failed to secure a 61-seat majority along with the right-wing bloc to form a government. The Blue and White Party, led by former chief of staff Benny Gantz, is still trailing by several seats.
Only a week before they were casting their ballots Monday, residents of the South were once again running for their bomb shelters in the wake of an onslaught of rockets launched by Islamic Jihad  in Gaza. The past year has seen the most serious escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza terrorist groups since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Seven Israelis have been killed and more than 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel in 2019 from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the majority sent during three rounds of conflict with the blockaded coastal enclave. In addition, there have been countless explosive aerial devices (kites, condoms and balloons) flown from Gaza toward southern Israeli communities.
Despite recurring bouts of conflict and thousands of rockets fired toward their communities, support for the Likud remains strong in the South.
In the larger cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod, the Likud received the largest share of votes (43% in Beersheba, 40.5% in Ashkelon and 31.2% in Ashdod), followed by Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and then Blue and White in third (18.8% in Beersheba, 17.3% in Ashkelon and 16.3% in Ashdod).
The college town of Sderot was no different. A longtime Likud stronghold, 6,861 out of 13,513 residents voted for the Likud, versus 1,227 who chose Blue and White.
In the smaller communities, such as Yad Mordechai, Or Haner and Kfar Aza, the results were different. Blue and White had a significant lead over the Likud. Out of a total of 476 votes in Yad Mordechai, Blue and White took 272, versus 29 for the Likud. In Or Haner, Blue and White took 302 of the total of 469 votes; the Likud got a total of 32. In Kfar Aza, Blue and White grabbed 343 votes out of 532; the Likud got 36 votes.
BUT AFTER three elections with similar results, residents are fed up.
The politicians “don’t give a damn” about the South, Tova Karbi told The Jerusalem Post outside the House of Honey & Bees at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
Karbi, who lives in Be’er Tuviya and works in Yad Mordechai, which sits near the Gaza border, did not share whom she voted for.
But, she explained, with the constant rocket fire and now the explosive aerial devices, the economy of the South has been hit hard. Instead of the Darom Adom Festival, “during the time of the year when the anemones are flourishing, we have the Color Red incoming rocket [warning] sirens,” she said. “People are losing a lot of money; there are less visitors.”
It’s not only the economy. The impact of constant rocket fire has had a major impact on the children of the Kibbutz, Karbi said.
“I have a saying that in the kibbutz kids are not crying and the dogs are not barking, because everyone knows each other here and you are never alone. But when you have kids who are completely independent and suddenly he doesn’t want to go to school alone, stay home alone – those are the big damages. It takes a long time to repair it, if ever.”
It’s the little things that get to you, she said. Sitting down for a family dinner and being interrupted by sirens; planning a sweet 16 birthday party for your daughter, but telling her that her friends couldn’t be invited, because there’s no room in the bomb shelter.
“People think it’s the rockets, but it’s not. It’s not the firing of rockets itself. What gets to you at the end is your everyday life,” she said. “There were times where I couldn’t set my own alarm, because the rockets were setting my alarm at 5 a.m.; or I didn’t have the right to choose when I would go take a shower after a busy day, because I knew that between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. there would be rockets. So when I came home after a busy day, I couldn’t do it.”
“These are the real disturbances, and they accumulate. And as strong as we are – and we are, and we are going to keep living here – it gets to you.”
When asked if she had any hope that the South would return to days of no rocket fire, Karbi was pessimistic.
“I don’t see it happening very soon, because they didn’t give a damn before, and unfortunately I don’t see it as a first priority,” she said. “We have what we have; I don’t see it changing.”
Meanwhile, in Sderot, Rachel Ben David was not surprised that Netanyahu got the largest share of votes.
Although Ben David had voted for the Labor Party since she was 18, the moment the party collapsed to six mandates she told herself that there would be no way she could continue voting for that party, and so she joined Blue and White.
“I wanted to join a party that could change our reality,” she said. “I’ve believed in Benny Gantz from the beginning.”
In this past election, 1,217 Sderot residents voted for Gantz, an increase from the previous two rounds. But still, Netanyahu was crowned as the winner in Sderot.
“The moment that someone lives through the rocket fire in Sderot, everyone makes noise and says that the policies of the government need to change. But the moment we have elections, everyone forgets what they screamed about and who they protested against,” she told the Post in the front yard of her home, which sustained two direct rocket strikes.
“I never know when a war will break out, and every round – it’s a surprise. You can be in the supermarket or on the street and all of a sudden there’s a siren.”
“I guess it’s not what makes people in Sderot change their political stances. I have no other explanation, because I know that a lot of people think that the government’s policy has failed, at least we as Sderot residents can say it failed, because we are still getting rockets. And they want to tell us, well, too bad, get used to it; but that’s not possible.”
Playing on Netanyahu’s campaign of a “strong right-wing government,” Ben David said that under his leadership Hamas is the one that has the last word in terms of rocket fire, not the IDF.
“This government calls itself right-wing, but they allow Hamas and other groups in Gaza to decide when we will have quiet, when we can go to the supermarket or sit in a restaurant without worrying when there might be a Color Red incoming rocket-warning siren, when the round will be over.... They decide, they have the last word.
“This isn’t a strong government. We have tried this government for 14 years. He [Netanyahu] didn’t do anything for us so that we could live normal lives in the south. When someone comes and gives you hope and faith, you won’t know until you give them a chance... to see what he can do.”
Ben David told the Post that while the college town continues to grow, she knows entire families that have left, like both her daughters who have moved to the center of the country and her son who is now considering leaving as well.
“I love Sderot, I was born here. And don’t get me wrong, my children are pressuring me to leave as well. But it’s hard for me; I am connected to this place. So even with all the stress and fear, I’m still here.”
Another resident of Sderot, who asked not to have his name published, told the Post that like in previous elections, he and his family and friends all voted for Netanyahu.
“He is a good choice,” he said, adding that “without a doubt” he wants to see him in power for another four years. “Even if Gantz would have been chosen, he wouldn’t do anything. He’s nothing. There’s no one like Bibi, and there never will be,” he said.
The man, a soldier in the IDF’s Golani Brigade, said that he couldn’t even look at the former chief of staff.
“I know, as a combat soldier, that he risked the lives of Golani soldiers. I can’t even look at him. He’s a leftist and he will do nothing for this country.”
When asked if he would be okay for a war to break out, he said that if there are no other options, then he’s ready to go to war with terrorist groups in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
“Rockets won’t stop in the near future, that’s the reality. The best option would be to go to war with Gaza. I’m extreme in my opinions, but we can wipe out Gaza. That’s the best option, to reoccupy them. Maybe it will mean a lot of deaths, but what can we do?”
So what can the South do? It seems that the third time wasn’t the charm for Israel. Fourth election or not, the residents of the South will remain under fire.