Sderot under siege: 'Our miracles won't last forever'

It's just after 7 a.m. on Friday and three homemade Kassam rockets interrupt Sderot's false quiet. Ten minutes pass, and an ambulance searches for the impact site. No wounded this time, perhaps due to the early hour or to the fact that many people have already abandoned the community. Local authorities say 8,000 of the town's 23,000 residents have left, some temporarily, and some permanently. Alongside the road from Sderot to Kibbutz Mefalsim, two tanks slowly make their way near the border with Gaza. Two helicopters circle above, firing bursts of gunfire and flares. The sky is clear; from here, Gaza City is perfectly visible to the left, as is Beit Hanun to the right. At 9:40 a.m., another rocket hits the road near a downtown gas station and a cafe/market where locals often gather. Again, no one is hurt, but the panic is building. People rush to the scene, including paramedics and police. A local woman in her early twenties loses control. She sits on the ground and cries: "I don't want to stay here anymore! Take me out of here!" Elderly patients at Clalit Health Services clinic next door exit the building through its broken windows and stare at the tumult in silence. Two minutes later, another Kassam scores a direct hit on a home in Rehov Ha'ela, a few streets away. Only Hanan, one of the six college students who normally live there, was inside at the time. His housemates have already left the city. "It was a miracle," said Hanan, refusing to say more. The next-door neighbor, Sarah Mevorach, was also home alone when the rocket hit. "I heard the siren and rushed to the bomb shelter. The moment I closed the door, I heard the explosion. If we hadn't had this bomb shelter I would have died today," she says, her tears betraying a mix of panic and despair. "They keep saying there is no solution to the Kassam rockets in Sderot, but there is one: bringing down all their [Gaza residents'] infrastructures - water, lights and electricity. I call on Sderot's residents to go out and block roads until the prime minister and the mayor are kind enough to spare our lives," says Sarah's husband, Yosef, who was at the market when the rocket just missed his home. "Our miracles won't last forever," says Yair Elbaz, whose father owns the house that was hit. "I don't care if the prime minister, the defense minister or the foreign minister were here yesterday or last week. My grandfather was here 40 years ago and what good has come of it?" he asks. "The government should respond with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and attack terrorist targets, even if they are located among the Palestinian population." Elbaz adds that luckily, ever since the Kassam attacks were renewed a week ago his family's tenants have been sleeping on the first floor, in a "fortified space." After a few hours, things calm down on the streets of Sderot. Little by little, downtown comes alive as residents find the courage to go out and shop for Shabbat. Business owners say they could tell that many residents had left for the weekend by the small number of clients. "I should have been the first one to leave this town, but I didn't," Danny, a street vendor selling snacks, tells a client. "My house was hit once and yesterday another one fell right next to our home. Maybe it's okay to send the kids away, but we, the adults, have to stay and act as role models for them and for the world." Steak house owner Haim Cohen opened his doors to photographers and reporters. "What else can I do? Usually I am swamped with work but nowadays I sit outside of the restaurant and do nothing. At least the media cares about us," he says. "For an entire month I was busy planning our [Sderot] high school class reunion that was about to happen this Saturday night here in my restaurant. It took us a month to locate 40 classmates who lived and studied here 26 years ago, and then we had to cancel. "I sent my children and wife away from here and I don't want to be responsible for other people's lives," Cohen says. He says that although he had no intention of leaving Sderot, he would join his family, "only for this weekend," sounding almost apologetic. After a relatively quiet night, when only four people were treated for shock following several rockets that hit open areas, another siren announces two more Kassam rockets on their way. This time a fire destroys 20 percent of a wheat field belonging to Kibbutz Nir Am. Twenty kilometers to the south, an IDF artillery unit is getting ready for its first "live fire." After endless preparations and training, a soldier shouts, "Careful, shooting," and the first shell was on its way to the Gaza Strip, accompanied by cries of bravado.