Soccer & Sderot

Retaking northern Gaza and creating a security zone in the area would restore life to normal for residents of the Negev.

They scamper up and down the field, energetically pursuing their goal like hungry lions stalking prey. Kicking and thrashing each other, the competitors battle tenaciously over every inch of turf. Reveling in the tussle of it all, the occasional score seems to come almost as an afterthought. Punches are thrown and insults fly, with passions running high. The stakes are big and everyone knows it, so just make sure not to get in their way. I'm not referring to the World Cup tournament taking place in Germany, nor even to this week's World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. But there's a lot one can learn from a watching a soccer match involving nearly two dozen six-year-olds - not so much about the game per se, but about Israeli society. It is clear that, at such a tender age, the concept of teamwork has yet to sink in. Though all might be wearing the same uniform, each player is in effect a team unto himself, with little regard for the niceties and rules that go along with being part of a larger group effort. And so, not surprisingly, wherever the ball might go on the field, a crush of players descends on it. Paying little heed, each tries to steal the ball from whoever has possession of it, even if that person happens to be on their own team. SURE, IT might be fun to watch, even entertaining, as the youngsters swarm over the ball with unrestrained glee, but this lack of team spirit is painfully, almost agonizingly conspicuous. It almost makes you want to stand up and shout: Don't you realize what you are doing? If they focused on the greater good, if they looked beyond their own innate desire to grab the ball, they would be doing their team, and ultimately themselves, a much greater service. If they took all the energy they expend on battling their own teammates and directed it against their foes instead, their chances of victory would increase tenfold. Of course, expecting such things from a group of six-year-olds is expecting too much. They are still young and immature, and have yet to grasp the importance of working together. BUT FOR Israeli society there can be no such excuse. This is especially true of the grown adults who govern this country and inhabit its positions of power. More often than not, they manage to outdo even the six-year-olds on the soccer field in their lack of maturity and wisdom. Take, for example, the scandalous disregard that has been shown for the fate of those Israelis living in the Negev, adjacent to Gaza. Communities such as Sderot, Nahal Oz and Kibbutz Alumim have been targeted by over 500 Kassam rockets launched by Palestinian terrorists in the past 10 months. That averages out to nearly two rockets per day, every day, for nearly a year. And yet, it appears, no one really seems to care. Dozens of kindergartens and schools in the western Negev have yet to be reinforced, budget outlays for enhanced security in the area have been caught up in red tape, and residents' pleas for greater action have gone largely unheeded. AS IF that weren't enough, Vice Premier Shimon Peres decided to add insult to Sderot's injury on Monday by downplaying the significance of the attacks. "Kassams shmassams," he said. "We will survive, and we aren't going anywhere." Peres, of course, lives in Tel Aviv, which (for now) is out of range of the Palestinian projectiles he so callously pooh-poohs. Where is the uproar and the outrage, where is our collective sense of indignation at the government's inability, or unwillingness, to stop the attacks? If the same thing were happening to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa, would we be equally silent? IT ALL GOES back to what was taking place on that kindergarten soccer field. Instead of viewing Sderot's residents as fellow teammates, requiring help and support, they are seen as just another guy vying for the ball. They might be wearing the same outfits as the rest of us, but their right to security gets in the way. Our leaders have failed them for the simple reason that they are so focused on their own personal or ideological interests that they brusquely push aside the greater national good. And so the option of retaking northern Gaza, and creating a security zone in the area that would restore life to normal for residents of the Negev, is roundly dismissed. That, after all, would mean admitting, implicitly at least, that the retreat from Gaza had failed to bring Israel greater security. It would also undercut the conceptual foundations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposed retreat from much of Judea and Samaria, and underscore yet again the futility of turning land over to Palestinian control. That is something Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz simply will not tolerate, even if it means continued rocket attacks on the people of Sderot. More worrisome, though, is the emotional and communal disconnect at work here, signifying a dangerous trend toward the splintering of Israeli society. INSTEAD OF standing with each other in times of duress we view attacks on Sderot as a "local" matter rather than an all-encompassing, national one. And it is this attitude that enables our government to get away with showing such apathy, on this issue as well as on others. If we're already on the topic of sports, it is worth recalling the words of Vince Lombardi, the famed American football coach, who once said: "Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Judging by our nonchalant reaction to the attacks on Sderot, it would seem we still have a lot to improve. The writer served as an aide in the Prime Minister's Office to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.