Politicians make pilgrimage to rocket-weary Sderot

Politicians across the political spectrum, from left-wing Meretz party leader Yossi Beilin to right-wing Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, flocked to Sderot on Tuesday in a show of solidarity for the southern city that has sustained close to 70 Kassam rocket attacks in four days. Throughout the day they entered the blue plastic protest tent that a small number of residents had pitched on Sunday to protest the more than 3,000 rockets that Palestinians have launched from Gaza into Sderot and southern Israel since April 2001. To highlight how impossible it is to live under these conditions, Sderot parents have called for schools to be closed for a fourth day in a row on Wednesday. Batia Katar, who heads the Parents' Association, said she believes that schools in Sderot are finished for the year and that by next week children in Sderot would be sent out of the city on a daily basis to participate in programs that will be specially set up for them with the help of the government and the Education Ministry. A number of Sderot residents continued the hunger strike they launched on Sunday. Although Tuesday was the first time in four days in which no Kassams fell on the city, hunger striker Alon Davidi said he and the other strikers were holding to their liquid diet until they felt certain that no more rockets would fall on Sderot. There are still many serious warnings for possible Kassam attacks against Sderot, he said, holding a cell phone away from his ear. "I get updates all the time," he added. "I'm not looking for one night of quiet, I want the Kassams to stop," Davidi said. He added that only late Monday night a woman was wounded in Sderot from a Kassam rocket. Davidi said as much to the delegation of Knesset members who sat with residents on white plastic chairs in the small park near Defense Minister Amir Peretz's home. Davidi and others refused to heed a plea by former Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) who asked the group to halt the hunger strike. "Your cry has been heard in the heart of every Israeli, you don't need to strike," he said. His plea upset one protester, Rine Mor-Yosef. Rising in anger she told the group of veteran politicians, "You've determined our fate for six years and have been paid a salary to do so. You have no right to come here and tell us to stop the strike... If you can't guarantee us security, just leave," she said. Mor-Yosef continued to yell at the politicians through most of the meeting. At one point, she quieted down briefly. Sitting in a corner of the group, she wiped away a tear and said, "It just hurts." MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that no one could guarantee anyone full security. But they could promise to support a host of protective measures for the city. In response to calls from the residents for the IDF to launch an air strike against the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanun, the site from which most missiles are launched, Erdan said there were other measures that could be taken. Israel supplies electricity for Gaza, Erdan said. Each time a missile is launched Israel should cut off Gaza's electricity. Beilin said he believes that only an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would bring peace. "I want peace as much as Beilin," said Sderot resident Ya'acov Ben-Shushan. "But they don't want peace with us." Beilin countered this statement by saying that "I don't want to pull the whole country into a war" as a result of the Kassams. Protesters also received a boost from city Mayor Eli Moyal who visited the tent to urge them to keep up their fight. Activist Hava Gad, who had supported last summer's pullout from Gaza, apologized to Moyal. "You said the disengagement was a mistake and that it would boomerang back at us. You were right," she said. Katar told The Jerusalem Post she was upset that out of all the politicians who headed to Sderot to talk to them the only one missing was Peretz, who is a resident of their city and who like them was under threat of Kassam attacks. Among the visitors who slipped into the tent was Benzi Lieberman, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. He said it was one of many trips he has made to the city to offer support over the last five years. "Leaving Gaza didn't help matters, it made it worse," he said. "Their story speaks for itself," he added. Avner Shimoni, director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and former head of the Hof Aza Regional Council, said that having survived many such attacks in Gaza he understands firsthand what it is like to live under a barrage of Kassams. Sderot residents spoke quietly with the settler leaders, but were less welcoming to Likud activist Moshe Feiglin. He tried to set up a large sign outside Peretz's home urging the government to offer compensation to all Palestinians living in Gaza to convince them to relocate. Protesters asked Feiglin to leave, explaining that they didn't want politicians making hay at their expense. As evening set, some 100 protesters headed from the tent to the city's entrance. Holding signs and large cardboard rockets they chanted "stop the Kassams."