Sderot mayor: State of Israel has lost its dignity

With blaring siren Sderot seeks solidarity in TA.

Sderot protest 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Sderot protest 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"The State of Israel has lost its dignity. Yes, countries have dignity, too. Any country that allows its sovereignty to be violated 50 times a day will eventually wither and fall," Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said Tuesday, at a protest tent he has established in a corner of Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin.
The tent, a collection of posters, Kassam rockets, two or so volunteers and a sound system blaring out homegrown Sderot rap songs, moved to Tel Aviv this week after spending a week outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.
Moyal said the tent, part of protests against the "government's inability to make either peace or war," was brought to Tel Aviv to get under the skin of the big city's residents.
However, there was only a trickle of visitors who walked into the tent and signed a petition of solidarity on Tuesday.
A businessman in a nearby photography store said he just came out of gym, with its Jacuzzi and swimming pool.
"A bubble within a bubble," as one observer pointed out.
Moyal told The Jerusalem Post outside the tent, however, that there is much support for their cause.
"We've been in the hearts of people for a long time now and I have never met a single person who is not sympathetic to us," he said.
Many of the nearby restaurants bring free food to the few volunteers manning the tent.
Moyal admitted that the protests, while helping to keep Sderot in the headlines, would not serve the ultimate goal of stopping the Kassams.
The army brass, together with the political leadership, have decided that the IDF will not invade Gaza to put an end to the Kassam rockets unless there is the prospect of a diplomatic exit from which Israel can gain and at the same time extricate itself from the fighting.
In closed conversations, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has said the army can go in and extract a heavy price from Hamas, but there would be a heavy price for Israel as well (perhaps 300 soldiers killed, according to some estimates), and that there is no guarantee that once the IDF pulls the Kassams won't start flying again. There is also a fear that an invasion would risk the life of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, held in Gaza since June 2006.
Moyal is not buying these arguments.
"The government hasn't taken a decision to fight the Kassams and the excuse that they won't send the army in until they know how they're going to get out is insulting to my intelligence.
"What's happening between Sderot and Gaza is not part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it is part of the global war against Islamic terrorism. Look at what the Americans did after 9/11. They went all the way to Afghanistan, which is thousands of miles away from them. What we're talking about is less than a mile. I want to hear the government tell the public the truth, that stopping the Kassams can be done, and that it will cost the lives of about 300 soldiers," Moyal said.
If he the chief of General Staff's boss, he would tell Ashkenazi to "take two weeks to come up with a plan to stop the rockets, and execute it."
An older man walks into the protest tent and signs the petition, saying, "Olmert's wife is a leftist, she tells him what to do."
A short distance away from the tent and the words from a Sderot hip-hop band coming from its sound system, the sounds of Rehov Ibn Gvirol drown out lyrics such as "Don't lose your will to live, don't live in fear," "We became fashionable because of the Kassams, but the magic looks different from over here," "You may die or you may become a millionaire," and "When the war reaches you, you feel alone."
The songs ring across the vast, nearly empty square, and once the loop ends, the sounds of Kikar Rabin take over. Construction to expand Rehov Ibn Gvirol has been going on for months and the tractors and drills are now opposite Kikar Rabin. On the busy streets surrounding the city's main square, nobody is really paying attention to the small tent.
A suit-clad Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai pops in for about five minutes.
"You look like the mayor. What are you hoping to achieve with this protest tent," 65-year-old Chicago native Marvin Citrow asks the wrong mayor.
Moyal comes to Huldai's aid: "No, he's the mayor of Tel Aviv and I'm the mayor of Sderot. We're not trying to achieve anything, just being here is important."
Citrow says he and his wife take a bus to Sderot every Sunday - "It's just an hour-and-a-half from Tel Aviv" - to teach English to high school students.
"We'll probably be here until Friday," Moyal tells his Tel Aviv counterpart.
"Stay as long as you need, we're at your service," Huldai replies, as the mayors shake hands, one off to manage the city that never stops, and the other back to his protest tent for a city that has come to a complete halt.
Moyal runs Sderot's affairs from his cellphone, coordinating with his two deputies back home.
Moyal still speaks regularly to residents of the Gaza Strip by phone, especially the farmers in nearby Beit Hanun, who tell him that they have nothing against Sderot but are powerless to stop the Islamists. Moyal asks them why they don't write in their local papers against the Kassam attacks.
"They told me that if they do that, they'll be dead the next morning. There are no two opinions in the Palestinian press, there is no democracy there," Moyal said.
The chain-smoking mayor is writing a book that he says will "blow the whole story of the reinforcement of Sderot wide open." Some day a state commission of inquiry will be established to investigate the failure to properly reinforce Sderot's homes and institutions, he said.
"After seven years, the government was forced into fortifying the homes and spent billions of shekels on it, and will still spend more. So they fortified some homes against Kassams. But that's not enough because the Palestinians [also] have Katyusha missiles. And I know that the government then went back and decided to build protections against those heavier projectiles.
"But guess what they found? The roofs of the buildings won't hold an extra 30 centimeters [of reinforced steel], so the houses will buckle under the extra weight. This is absurd," Moyal said.
In his book, Moyal will argue that the government is playing a double game, saying that there is a solution to the rocket fire, but that it has a heavy price. "So the government says it can be done but it's not willing to pay the price, so nothing is done, except for reinforcing the homes, which just sends a message that the government is asking the people of Sderot to learn to live with terrorism indefinitely," Moyal said.
When his constituents ask him what is his solution to the terror, he has no answers. "I tell them to go ask the people who were elected on promises to bring peace and security; this was not what I was elected for."
For more of Amir's articles, see his personal blog Forecast Highs