Sderot residents gather to address injustices they say existed long before Kassams began to fall

Seven years after the Kassam rocket fire on Sderot began, residents held a "town hall" meeting Tuesday night to share their experiences. Many came to speak not only about the danger of Kassams, but to discuss the social and economic problems in Sderot they feel the government is ignoring. They said that while media coverage of their plight has not been to their liking, in the last year or two, the Kassam rockets have given residents the platform needed to begin talking about problems they say existed long before the rockets ever hit. "Because of the Kassams, people have finally been listening to us [this] last year and a half," said Sderot resident Mark Ifraimov. "What we are trying to say is that the social Kassam is more dangerous than the Hamas Kassam." The rockets, according to many in Sderot, are compounding existing problems, such as widening socioeconomic gaps between people in the city and those in the rest of the country, and the failure of local institutions to cope with that gap. Sderot resident Michal Lavi, who produced a movie about her family's experience over the last seven years, also spoke at the gathering. She said the Kassams made it even more difficult to send children to schools that were of poor quality to begin with. The organizers of the hearing brought academics, journalists and other public figures together on a panel to direct the discussion, partly to alleviate concerns among residents that they and those in other areas affected by terror were too readily perceived as victims, and partly to assure the hearing would be taken seriously. "We wanted our cause to speak in an academic language so that the discussion would not be about victimization," said Shatil activist Yaakov Mashiah. A fellow Shatil organizer, Shira Eytan, echoed Mashiah's comment: "We aren't speaking about the problems because... we are not victims and we are not heroes," she said. "We are citizens that deserve rights and citizens that demand dignity." But panelist Prof. Yonah Rosenfeld, an Israel Prize winner, said the hearing was important in its own right and not just because it was attended by public figures and academics. Rosenfeld said he was pleased that there was a dialogue with the people of Sderot. Public comment from the hearing as well as other accounts of Sderot residents will be collected and analyzed in a report to be submitted to the state comptroller and other government officials. "In the report, we will ask that the government care for its citizens in Sderot, as well as giving activists the raw material to continue their work," Eytan said.