Sderot survives third day of rockets

Parents keep children home, hunger strikers continue vigil.

Women and children screamed "Kassam! Kassam!" as the Red Dawn siren blasted across Sderot on Monday afternoon warning of an imminent rocket attack from Gaza. The short siren caused a sudden storm of panic among the citizens in the protest tent in the small area outside Defense Minister Amir Peretz's home. Protesters, as well as the police and soldiers stationed there to keep order, ran and crouched against a nearby wall. Others, like seven-year-old Yanay, simply fell to the floor. His mother, Hava Gad, fell on top of him to protect him and tried to calm him down as they waited to hear the familiar thud when rockets land. "Your mother is here," she told him as she urged him to breathe deeply. They stood up only when she realized that the rocket, which landed out of sight, had not caused any damage. For the third day in a row Palestinians launched rockets into Sderot and other Negev areas bordering Gaza for what has been a record number of attacks for a city that has been under fire since April 2001. Subsequently Palestinians have launched some 3,000 rockets into southern Israel. On Saturday and Sunday more than 50 rockets were launched toward Sderot and towns along the Gaza border. One resident, Yonatan Angel, 60, was seriously injured on Sunday and three others were lightly injured in separate attacks. On Monday close to 20 rockets had landed in the Negev and Sderot since midnight. No one was injured. Fed up and feeling like they are "sitting ducks" in an undeclared war, about a dozen residents on Sunday began a hunger strike to urge the government to stop the Kassams. Batya Katar, the head of the city's Parents' Association, on Monday called again for parents to keep their children home from school on Tuesday, for what will be the third day of a school strike. Teachers have been asked to come to school in case children showed up. However, most schools were empty on Monday. Many of the residents believe the only solution is for the IDF to launch an air strike against the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanun. Although he has not joined the protest, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal has personally delivered this message to the director-general of the Prime Minister's office Ra'anan Dinur. All day Monday protesters took turns sitting under a tent speaking to the media and arguing among themselves with respect to which politician had truly failed them. One protester, Rina Mor-Yosef, blamed Moyal and argued that the protest tent should be moved to the square outside his office. His door is always closed to us, she said. Katar told her she was wrong. "What can he [Moyal] do? It's Peretz that doesn't act," said Katar who is among those holding to a liquid diet until the government stops the Kassams from falling on her city. She met with Dinur, IDF officers and the forum of director-generals from different ministries who came to the city on Monday morning. Education Minister Yuli Tamir also visited the city Monday. According to Tamir's spokeswoman the Education Ministry is working to send more psychologists to the city and to provide summer programs for children under areas of attack that are away from Sderot and the Gaza border. Tamir also pledged to fight for schools for all the elementary children that are protected against Kassam rockets. Outside of the kindergartens, most schools do not have that kind of protection. Katar said that the government officials she met with promised to spend more money on defensive measures such as protective rooms to secure the city. She reported that the IDF shared her desire for harsh military measures against Beit Hanun, but that the officers she met with told her it was Peretz who was holding the army back. The government's promises for more funds and defensive measures were nice, Katar said as she sat on a folding chair under the tent, "but what we want is security." One of the protesters yelled out at a soldier walking by the tent, "Are you the one who is going to capture Beit Hanun." The soldier gave the protester a puzzled look and moved on. Hunger striker Shlomo Suissa, who is battling both dialysis and the Kassam rockets, said he felt it was way too early to blame Peretz. "He just took office. What is he, a magician?" asked Suissa, whose one arm was covered with a white bandage from the dialysis needle. Nor did he believe that making a harsh strike against Gaza was the way to go. "It's not realistic to think we are going to destroy Beit Hanun. Thousands of people live there," said Suissa, adding that it's preferable for the Palestinian Authority to police itself and for its police force to be strengthened to stop the Kassams. Parents Hava Gad and Sima Hadad said they had no problem calling for the destruction of Beit Hanun despite of the loss of innocent lives. "We're also innocent," said Hadad. "They don't worry about me, why should I worry about them," she added. When she hears the Red Dawn alert, she said, "My legs buckle underneath me. I can't stand." Puffing on a cigarette, she said, that she had been smoking much more from the stress. Sitting on a bench in the hallway outside his office, Moyal, was also busy smoking cigarettes Monday afternoon. Like the residents of his city, he too feels as if there is little he can do to stop the threat of Kassam rockets. Since Saturday he has subsisted on a diet of caffeine, nicotine and little sleep. He freely admits that he has little to say to the citizens of Sderot when it comes to defending them against the Kassams or even instructions with respect to what steps they should take when the Red Dawn alert siren sounds. "I'm not responsible for the citizens' safety. The government is," he said. It's the government that has failed the citizens of Sderot. For the past three months when the rocket barrage was less intense, he wrote letters to the government seeking help but received no response. Now, he said, everyone is coming, but the government is still not taking the right steps. With respect to Dinur's visit, he said that the prime minister's director-general listened "gently." He added that Dinur's visit left him with the impression, "don't call us, we'll call you." Moyal makes no bones, however, about his belief that the only solution is the destruction of Beit Hanoun with an air strike. "The government doesn't understand that this is a war," said Moyal as he lit another cigarette.