Sderot mayor quits amid Kassam fire

20 rockets hit western Negev, lightly wounding 3; Moyal hopes resignation will push gov't to act.

Kassam Ashkelon 224.88 (photo credit: )
Kassam Ashkelon 224.88
(photo credit: )
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal didn't wake up Wednesday determined to leave the job he has held for the last eight years. But when pressed in a live interview with Israel Radio midday for his response to the barrage of Gazan rockets that hit his city that morning, wounding three people, the tall, lanky mayor had a surprising response. "I am notifying people now that I am resigning. I am not continuing with my job," he said. Maybe, he added, this would push the government to act. Moyal took a month's leave from his job in September, a day after police publicly launched an investigation against him to explore allegations of administrative irregularities, including accusations of awarding expensive contracts to cronies. There has been no conclusion to that investigation to date. Moyal continues to deny the allegations. Wednesday's decision, which he had slowly pondered for the last nine months, had nothing to do with the investigation, Moyal told The Jerusalem Post. The day started much as any other, with his cellphone ringing to inform of him of the rocket attacks. Then there was the flood of calls from residents who wanted action. "They said, 'Let's do something.' Then I realized that we had done everything already," said Moyal, whose phone rings with every attack. He had marched with city residents to the nearby Gaza border and shaken mock Kassams at nearby Beit Hanun. He had called for Israel to invade or bomb Gaza. He had lobbied Knesset members and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act. Together with residents of his city, Moyal had traveled to Jerusalem to demonstrate. From Hollywood stars to foreign leaders, as the face of Sderot he has brought visitors to attack sites and shown them the city's stockpile of rocket bits. "It didn't help," he told the Post. A native of Sderot, Moyal was elected mayor in 1999. He was the first Likud member to hold that position, and in the 2003 elections, he was the only incumbent Likud mayor in the South to hold onto his seat. In 2005, he was so determined to remain with his city that he turned down an offer by then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom to become ambassador to Paris. Moyal was the kind of mayor one could call on the phone and whose office door was often open to anyone. He could often be found sitting in the hallway outside, wearing jeans, smoking and drinking coffee. For years he has argued with residents who wanted to flee the city. He told them that the best response to the rockets, which first fell in April 2001, was to remain in their homes and to live their lives as normal. It was a stance he held onto even as 10 residents, including four children, were killed by rockets. On Wednesday, when pushed by Israel Radio after the security cabinet decided against a large Gaza incursion, he finally realized that he had a limit, he told the Post. Although he plans to remain in the city and hopes that others do so as well, he no longer wants to feel responsible for the safety of its residents. "I cannot wait, God forbid, for 20 kids to die. This is my worst nightmare," Moyal said. "What if someone who had listened to me and stayed in Sderot, was killed. How could I look into [their relatives'] eyes?" Graffiti on walls throughout the city blames the government for having sacrificed or forgotten its residents. For the next week, Deputy Mayor Oren Malka of Shas will lead the city. After that, the city council will convene to chose a new mayor. Less than two hours after Moyal's snap resignation, the halls of the Sderot Municipality were silent, as if all of the workers had packed up and followed the former mayor home. But on the top floor, in the mayor's office itself, four people stood in the midst of a hubbub of action, answering endless phone calls and drafting Moyal's official resignation letter directed to Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. Secretaries fielded calls from MKs including Rafi Eitam (Gil Pensioners), who called on the mayor to withdraw his resignation, and from reporters and supporters inquiring as to whether Moyal, who is no stranger to headlines and controversy, really meant it when he said that he was going home.