This Week in History: The first Kassam hits Sderot

For 10 years, Israelis have lived in a constant state of fear, been injured, and nearly two-dozen killed by crudely built rockets from Gaza.

Kassam rocket being fired from Gaza Strip 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Kassam rocket being fired from Gaza Strip 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
On April 16, 2001, the first of many thousands of rockets was fired from Gaza at the western Negev communities straddling the Strip’s border. On that early spring day, the residents of Sderot had their first taste of the terror that would come to define life in the previously quiet town for the next 10 years.
The rockets have proved to be a true source of terror for the residents of Sderot and other border-region communities. Several years ago, the first victim of a Kassam attack described to The Jerusalem Post how she lives in a bomb shelter and for months at a time and often times finds herself too scared to take her small children to school. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.
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Kassam rockets are named after Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Kassam, who was killed by British Mandate Police in 1935. Born in Syria and transplanted to Haifa, Kassam led terrorist attacks against Jewish residents of Mandate Palestine and British forces until his death. He has since become a lasting symbol for Palestinian terrorists and the namesake of Hamas’s armed terrorist wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades.
Palestinian terrorists began firing Kassam rockets at the western Negev in 2001, but it wasn’t until the 2006 Gaza Disengagement that rockets began falling on Israeli communities in the massive terrorizing barrages of thousands of projectiles a year that we know today. Prior to the Disengagement, Israeli settlements and military bases in Gaza had been much easier targets for terrorist elements in the Strip.
After the disengagement, it became much more difficult for Hamas and the other terrorist groups in the Strip to attack Israelis. With a constantly-patrolled fence and considerably more distance between them and their targets, the Kassam rocket proved to be the perfect weapon.
Kassams rockets are cheap and relatively easy to produce using readily available materials and are small enough to be moved undetected much of the time. Additionally, they have proved to be nearly unstoppable. Even the newly introduced Iron Dome anti-rocket system is helpless against shorter-range Kassam rockets targeting border communities like Sderot.
In a sense, however, the development and adoption of Kassam and other rockets are a testament to the successes of Israeli counter-terrorism activities, but unfortunately also to the limits of its capabilities. The Israeli security services have generally managed to eliminate the more traditional terror attacks emanating from Gaza, but in order to compensate for the operational constraints, Hamas and other groups adopted the Kassam rocket as their primary terrorist tool.
Kassam rockets have undergone extensive development since their introduction in 2001. The first generation of Kassams had a range limited to three kilometers and carried a payload of half a kilogram of explosives. The third generation in use today has a range of 10 km and carries a 10 kg payload. In addition to Kassams, since the Disengagement and Hamas’s ensuing seizure of power in the Strip, the group has added standard Grad-model rockets to the Strip, which have a much longer range and can target more distant cities such as Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba.
Unguided and usually crudely aimed at Israeli civilian populations, the rocket fire clearly constitutes a war crime on the part of the terrorist groups responsible for them. Over 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets since 2001, most of whom were civilians.
The rockets have created a constant state of terror for the Israeli communities in the border region. Even with an early warning system, named “The Color Red,” residents have only a few seconds time to reach protected rooms and areas. Without state funding of protected rooms, many residents of the western Negev are left unprotected, adding to the unbearable rocket terror.
It is believed today that Hamas, which has exercised relative restraint considering the assumed size of its arsenal, is capable of targeting Tel Aviv and other civilian population centers deep into Israeli territory. The restraint, however, only emphasizes the threat and effectiveness of the small and cheap projectiles.
This week marks 10 years of rocket fire terrorizing Israeli communities in the western Negev. For 10 years Israelis, young and old have lived in a constant state of fear, suffered from shock and have been injured and nearly two-dozen killed by the crudely built rockets manufactured in Gaza basements and workshops.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.