Sderot residents welcome ground op after years of rocket-fire

"There's a palpable feeling of relief, even hope"

Moti Yehezkel Roy Uzan 248 88 (photo credit: Haviv Rettig Gur)
Moti Yehezkel Roy Uzan 248 88
(photo credit: Haviv Rettig Gur)
In the working-class Negev town of Sderot, which has suffered 7,500 rocket hits in eight years, residents warmly welcomed the Gaza incursion that began on Saturday. "I don't know if you can stop the rockets this way, but you can slow them down by keeping the terrorists busy," Nitai Shreiber, head of a social work organization in the town, said on Sunday. "You can somehow keep going like this for a month, for six months, but not for eight years. We tried different options, including a cease-fire, but they didn't work. The rockets didn't stop. Maybe this will give them a convincing reason to stop." Shreiber's organization, Gvanim, runs activities for Sderot's youth trapped in bomb shelters by bombardments. As rocket fire has escalated in the past couple of years, his family and nine others, all members of an urban kibbutz, moved to rented apartments in Sde Boker south of Beersheba. "I still come to work in Sderot every day, but I had to take my children out of the line of fire so they can start to live normal life," he said. Most residents, however, do not have the inclination or the means to leave the battered Negev town. "Where am I going to go?" wondered Shimshi Yedid Zion, a mohel who must devote hours each day to caring for a severely disabled son. He insisted he would stay no matter what. According to Dalia Yosef, director of Sderot's Resilience Center, "that's what most people here will tell you - that they don't have anywhere else to go. This is their home." The Resilience Center is on the second floor of the Peretz Center shopping mall, Sderot's largest. The floor has been transformed into a hub for emergency and social welfare services. Signs lining the corridor include: "Property Tax Compensation Hot Line" and "Sderot Municipal Fortification Authority." As the IDF ground operation continued into a second day, Yosef reported "a palpable feeling of relief among the residents, even hope." Though Israel has yet to achieve a strategic gain from the operation, the simple fact that the government is acting is doing much to help residents. "The most damaging psychological scars have been the feeling of abandonment, the sense the nothing happens while rockets rain down on their lives," Yosef explained. "That's being replaced by a sense that something is finally happening." Residents are uncomfortable with the knowledge that their safety can only come at the cost of young soldiers' lives - one was killed in Sunday's fighting in Gaza. But they support the ground incursion, she said, "and are talking about hope for the first time in a long time." Such talk is a good sign, she said. "These are reactions of psychological resiliency. Residents feel they can stand to pay the price for quiet. They feel the Jewish world is behind them, and the rest of Israel." A letter of support from the MetroWest Jewish Federation of New Jersey lies face-up on Yosef's desk. The interview is interrupted by a call from a social worker dealing with the hysterical mother of a soldier. After a quick discussion, they decide to take her to the emergency room, and the social worker is dispatched to a bomb shelter near the scene of a rocket strike only a few minutes old. Sderot sustained 13 rocket hits by Sunday evening, one of them a direct hit on a home. Asked whether she believed the world was aware of the suffering of local residents that drives the IDF actions, Yosef said Sderot residents "are completely unaware of world opinion. We're dealing with a mother who struggles to get up in the morning because of trauma stress, because she doesn't know when and where [the rocket] will fall next. How can we worry about international opinion?" It is not only locals who support the operation, but Israelis visiting the town to express solidarity. Tel Aviv firemen Moti Yehezkel and Roy Uzan, touring the Gaza periphery on Harley Davidson motorcycles to offer encouragement to local fire departments, said the move was long over-due. Both are veterans of the Second Lebanon War, and feel this conflict is being handled better. "Hamas doesn't understand anything else," Yehezkel said. "Why did we wait eight years to take care of this problem?" "Pretty much every Israeli supports this operation," Uzan insisted. Another Israeli who visits Sderot frequently said, "Hamas was stupid to act the way it did. They could have stopped [the rocket fire] at any point in the past six months. But maybe they can't. Maybe if they're not hurting us, they don't have a reason to exist. All we have to do is give them the time to hang themselves." If Israel keeps up military pressure on the Strip, "at some point the Palestinians are going to wonder why they're suffering so much, why they need this. Then this will all end," he said.