Anger in the Square (Extract)

Qassam-plagued Sderot residents argue unequivocally for extreme action against the rocketeers of Gaza. For the pundits the issues are not so clear-cut.

20 sderot (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
20 sderot (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
Extract from an article in Issue 20, January 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. For full story please subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here to subscribe. Driving into the beleaguered southern border city of Sderot, a sense of cognitive dissonance sets in. The wide tree-lined avenue, the sculpted musical instruments on the well-spaced traffic circles, the sprawling sports center donated by Italian Jewry, the glitzy new shopping center and the hub of daily business give no inkling of the lurking threat of Qassam rockets primed in Gaza, less than five miles away. Other buildings do. The old cinema has been converted into a trauma center and one of the larger public shelters, fitted out with phones and computers, has just been inaugurated as the operational center for coordinating emergency services. It is an unseasonably bright and warm day in late December. Round the corner from Sami Shimoni's driving school, in a square in the old city center between Eli's steakhouse and Shofan the hairstylist, a group of unemployed men are enjoying coffee in the sunshine. As soon as the subject of the seven year-long Qassam war of attrition is raised, they break into animated conversation, cutting into each others' words, determined to share their pain. They are bitter and angry, and feel the government has abandoned them. "The terrorists have beaten us, because they have found a way to destroy the life of a city," says Noam Amram. "We should have been hitting them hard, no holds barred, and doing whatever has to be done to eradicate terror everywhere in Gaza. It is time Israel started behaving like a self-respecting state." The silver-haired, highly articulate Amram, 61, a former bus driver, is suffering from post-traumatic stress. A year ago, a Qassam exploded a few meters away from him as he was leaving the nearby parking lot for the shops. "Luckily for me, it fell on the other side of the wall," he says, pointing. "But the blast affected my hearing and I can't pick up anything lower than 50 decibels. So now I sit here all day. I don't work anymore. Sometimes I have anxiety attacks. And, at my age, after fighting four wars, I shouldn't have to wet myself at night." "Gaza should be wiped out. That's what should be," interjects Eliyahu Peretz, 65, a tall, gaunt man with a gold chain on his wrist. He says his wife and children have all left Sderot and he lives there alone. "I want security for Sderot, just like Tel Aviv or anywhere else. I should be able to live here with my family." None of the men in the square believes in the current talk of a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza, or in the government's policy of stepped-up targeted assassinations of militants, or that a large-scale Israeli incursion into Gaza will stop the rockets. They all see just one simple antidote for the Qassams: When Gazans fire indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, Israel should fire back indiscriminately at them. Dark, wizened Yitzhak Ohana, 58, front teeth missing, spells it out: "Let the whole world scream. They will forget it in a month or two, and we will be left in peace." The anger in the square followed the latest escalation in the Gaza-Sderot standoff. After a 17-rocket barrage on December 12, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal resigned, claiming he could no longer accept responsibility for the fate of the city's 20,000 inhabitants. From that point on, events moved very quickly. Defense Minister Ehud Barak persuaded Moyal to retract; the IDF stepped up its aerial assassinations of Hamas and mainly Islamic Jihad operatives, killing more than 30 militants in two weeks; Hamas put out feelers for a cease-fire; talk of a prisoner exchange involving Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the abducted Israeli soldier held in Gaza since June 2006, resurfaced; and the Israeli government considered easing criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners. All these issues came up in a late December meeting between Barak and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh, fueling speculation about an impending three-part deal: a cease-fire, a prisoner exchange and tightened policing of the Philadephi route along the Gaza-Egypt border, across which vast quantities of war materiel have been flowing through underground tunnels into Gaza. Putting all the elements of the package together would be difficult enough. Making it much harder is the government's reluctance to commit to any cease-fire with Hamas, even if it would give the embattled citizens of Sderot temporary respite. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert fears the radical militias would exploit a lull to build up their military capabilities the way Hizballah did in Lebanon between 2000-2006. The main worry stems from recent technological strides Hamas has been making with its rockets. Israeli intelligence sources say they are increasing the range, the accuracy, the payload and the production capacity of the Qassams - putting cities like Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat and more than a quarter of a million Israelis in the line of fire. "So if Hamas is simply able to use a cease-fire to replenish, remold and re-arm, that's no solution for us. That's an illusion, just kicking the can down the road," a senior official told The Report. Extract from an article in Issue 20, January 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. For full story please subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here to subscribe.