Sderot students rally in capital, demand Olmert step down

Several hundred high school students from Sderot and nearby kibbutzim demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday and called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign. "This is a war of attrition against the residents of Sderot," Alon Davidi, head of the unofficial "Headquarters for Sderot Security," told the protesters. "The Israeli government tries to wear us down, day after day, hour after hour. They promise to protect Sderot time after time, but they never do it." The demonstrators, mainly high school students and a few parents, wore red shirts and carried red umbrellas. Whenever a Color Red rocket warning siren alert sounded in Sderot or in neighboring communities, a similar alarm was activated in front of Olmert's office and the students called on the prime minister to resign. "Mr. Olmert," Davidi continued, "you asked us last week to be patient, you said we could not solve the Kassam problem with anger, and you were right. We gave you and the entire government a chance to catch your breath, but Sderot and the Gaza-belt towns residents want to be safe." Demonstrator Adam King, a 12th-grader from Kibbutz Be'eri, told The Jerusalem Post, "Being here teaches us a more important lesson than getting ready for the matriculation examinations. Life is more important than a few tests and we are here to tell the prime minister he cannot leave us to our fate." "He needs to reinforce our schools and homes so we can continue with our lives as much as possible," King's classmate Oren Weis said. Odelya Shamai, a teacher at Sha'ar Hanegev High School and a resident of Kibbutz Erez, accompanied her students to Jerusalem. "We don't really want Olmert to resign from his position, we just want him to take care of us, too. These students are so traumatized that whenever they hear something that sounds like the Color Red alert, they suffer severe fear and distraction. They can hardly focus on anything, let alone on studying," Shamai said. Gil Hasson, a 10-grader from Sha'ar Hanegev High School, said she and her classmates studied in a bomb shelter. "Last year we hardly studied because we were attending classes in shifts in the armored part of the school. This year we study inside the bomb shelter and we almost never hear the Color Red alert there, but this is not a solution. The government should do its job and make our life normal," Hasson said, adding that when she grew up, she would leave the area for a quieter place. Hanita Kochani, a resident of Sderot and a single mother of two, went into shock when a Kassam rocket struck near her on February 8; 22 hit the town that day. She left her home on Sunday for the first time since then. "We are tried of living in fear. We know the government does not care about us but we must make our voice heard," Kochani said. "No [other] government would have tolerated this situation for seven years." Kochani added that although she was unhappy with the current government, she would vote for the Kadima party again. "The fact that Olmert is doing his job doesn't mean that everyone in the Kadima party is not doing their job," she said. Tehila Cohen, 10, and her sister Ruth, 12, came to the demonstration and stayed at their aunt's house in Jerusalem. Their mother was born in Kiryat Shmona, grew up during regular Katyusha attacks, and moved to Sderot more than 15 years ago in search of a quiet place to raise a family. "She cannot believe how her children are being forced to experience the same childhood she experienced as a child in Kiryat Shmona," the girls's aunt, Simcah Edri, said. "It is pretty ironic that a country celebrating its 60th anniversary cannot protect all of its citizens."