Q&A with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi: 13 years under rocket fire

Sderot mayor tells Jerusalem Post Premium Zone how residents of border town cope with constant fire and how he envisions an end to the violence.

We always hear about the "strong home front." Sderot has been dealing with rocket fire for years - is the city able to cope with the barrage of missiles for much longer?

On April 16, 2001, the first Kassam rocket was fired at the city of Sderot. Since then, for over 13 years, the "drip" of rockets has not ceased. It's a complex reality, which no country can allow itself.

Nevertheless, Sderot residents are Zionistic, patriotic souls. It is a very close-knit community, with unique mental strength, that sets an example to all citizens of Israel. Sderot residents love their city and are proud to live here - they do not break in the face of terrorist threats. This doesn't mean that there aren't any difficulties. It doesn't mean that the residents are not afraid, particularly the children. Of course this complex security situation has many implications; but when you examine the impact it has had over the years, you find that it didn’t cause any kind of mass exodus from the city. On the contrary. Sderot is growing and developing, despite all the hardships.
Additionally, I do not know one sane Sderot resident who wouldn't say that he wouldn't prefer to resolve the rocket threat once and for all, not to mention the threat of the tunnels. Happy, family-oriented people live in Sderot, who ask to live normal, peaceful lives. Nobody is interested in a continuation of this situation. Therefore, if you ask Sderot residents if they think that we need to reach a cease-fire agreement, or alternatively, to finish the operation and hit Hamas to its root, you will find that everyone opts for the latter. People want to live and there is no reason to live under constant rocket threat for so many years. I think that today, these are the predominant feelings in all of Israel. In Sderot you will find the same feelings, only more so. After all, people here feel the situation much more intensely than residents in the center.  

Moreover, we are realistic people who understand that the IDF does not have a way that it can ensure lasting peace. The severe blow Hamas has suffered, and along with it to all the residents of the Strip, will certainly result in a few years of quiet. Hamas will not deter us and will not cause us to pack up and leave. We will know how to cope with the threat in the future too. In the end we will win. Also during the Tower and Stockade Period (1936-1939), border communities suffered repeated attacks on their homes for many years. Look what beautiful towns and kibbutzim grew, to the beautiful glory of Israel, during that time.The situation today is not much different. Sderot will continue to grow, flourish and prosper. I have no doubt about that.

How do the residents deal with the situation?

The Sderot residents really stand as a protective edge, (a play on the name of Israel's current offensive in Gaza "Operation Protective Edge") through this volatile situation. We have protected educational institutions, protected playgrounds, we have amazing youth and activities for the children of the city. There is no end of support from the nation. There is a daily flow of artists to Sderot, from morning to evening, who come to perform for the city's residents to provide a few moments of pleasure. Above all, Sderot is functioning. At the end of the day, over 13 years of Kassam rockets on the city did something for the good and the bad in Sderot. From the positive perspective, Sderot residents have learned from experience and therefore they are now able to cope with with the situation better than other Israeli citizens.

However, we must not delude ourselves. There are some residents who are experiencing many hardships. This is true for children, the elderly and disadvantaged populations. This is true for those whose homes do not have safe rooms. It is human, natural and clear. It is precisely for them that we are here, to provide a solution for every problem. We are doing our best to to provide fast responses to everyone, and I think we are doing this quite successfully, firstly because the municipality staff give their heart and soul to the residents, and secondly because of the special close-knit community which shows mutual responsibility. There are many people who are volunteering for the community, including all the youth movements. It's amazing to see.  Thus, you can't put all the residents in one box; but I can say that for those facing difficulties, we have a wide range of solutions to help.

Do you and the Sderot residents feel that the government is doing everything it can to bring you quiet at last?

I think the government is doing a lot to bring peace to the region. The fighting in Gaza continues. Thousands of soldiers were sent to the front to protect the residents of the state, including Sderot. These soldiers are risking their lives for us. Doesn't this indicate the will of the state to restore quiet to the region? Of course it does. Beyond this, we are all united around the prime minister [Binyamin Netanyahu] and the defense minister [Moshe Ya'alon], the chief of staff [Benny Gantz] and our soldiers, and we are sure they will bring the desired result.

Do you feel that the state has neglected you at all?

No, nobody has neglected us. As I mentioned, the state is acting in full force against terrorism. We are dealing with a bitter, criminal enemy who receives support and funding from the worst of our enemies, who cynically uses it children and the rest of the civilian population of Gaza. Many countries in the world have yet to find a solution against this kind of radical Islam. This a complex system and we must show patience, In the end, I am convinced that Israel will know how to deal with the challenges and we'll come out on top.

Are there any special stories that particularly moved you in recent weeks?

First and foremost, the voluntary activities of the city's youth touch my heart. It's simply wonderful to see. Such quality youth, so involved, who possess values and respect. They work day and night for the community, be it for the children or the elderly, be it hanging Israeli flags throughout city or any other help that is needed. We are privileged to have youth like this.

Beyond this, there is an amazing picture of a soldier from Sderot, Matan Adamov, who was photographed on the battlefield in the Strip, carrying an injured friend on his back. I think this picture touched many hearts in the city and has been etched into our collective memory.

Another case which particularly touched me was when youth from Sderot went to visit soldiers in Soroka University Medical Center. One of the soldiers, asked to speak to me and mustered up all his energy to whisper: "I took the bullet, with love for you. Heroes!" His words will be engraved in my mind forever.

Do you think there is such thing as "the state of Tel Aviv" which is detached from what Sderot goes through on a daily basis?

I do not want to go into an analysis about the expression "state of Tel Aviv." It has implications that go far beyond Operation Protective Edge. I can say, that this operation flooded the nation with national unity, mutual responsibility with all of Israel, all over the country, including Tel Aviv. I think that today, more than ever, you can see full consensus of all the people, Left and Right, religious and secular, from all ethnic groups and all sectors, united around the justice of our path, around our fighters and the war on our home. In this respect there is no distinction between Tel Aviv and Sderot. The current round of fighting has also proved that we are all under the threat of rocket fire. Tel Aviv residents too. Therefore I see no reason to disconnect Tel Aviv from what is happening. It is an integral part of the nation.

What do you think is the solution to the conflict with Hamas?

Hamas a radical, fundamentalist Islamic group that wants to destroy us and to instill the rules of radical Islam throughout the region. It's no secret. These are their explicit declarations.

On the other hand, we are not just talking about limited military force, or that if we destroy Hamas we have solved the problem. It is a movement with broad ideals and activities among their population. Therefore, I believe that in the end, we need to work on two main levels. The first - military force that serves them a critical blow, first and foremost to their tunnels and rockets. Simultaneously, on the political level, it is very important to disarm the Gaza Strip. This can be achieved with the help of an international coalition. I am encouraged by the desire of the Egyptians to work toward this. Still, there is no guarantee that we will succeed in implementing this plan. Currently, the most certain way to achieve peace and quiet in our region is through the military. Only in this way will be be able to convince the Hamas terrorists that terrorism does not benefit them, but causes them much damage. We, the residents of Sderot give the army and the government our full backing, and we will wait with patience for them to finish their work.