Abandoning Sderot

One might have thought that Olmert's schedule would have been adjusted to accommodate a brief appearance.

kassam incredible 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
kassam incredible 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Those Sderot inhabitants with the wherewithal to do so are abandoning the town to escape the daily rocket-fire. The only recent remedies to the relentless Kassam scourge were 53 reinforced bus shelters positioned around Sderot last Thursday to much official fanfare to protect residents - especially children waiting for school buses. But even these shelters have proved dangerously defective. The nearby Sapir Academic College is currently hosting its annual Sderot Conference on socioeconomic issues, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declined to attend, with his office informing the organizers that he was too busy. That, perhaps more than anything else, underscores Sderot's predicament: It is distant enough from the nation's centers of population and news hubs to be taken for granted. The rest of the country - and most crucially its political elite - apparently expects the town's residents to keep taking it on the chin and not raise a squawk. One might have thought that the prime minister's schedule would have been adjusted to accommodate at least a brief appearance, considering that he was invited several months back. His absence is emblematic of insensitivity and misplaced priorities. He did choose, for instance, to deliver a keynote address this week to the Saban Institute in Jerusalem, alongside US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair. But what a signal of solidarity that conference, and those high-profile dignitaries, would have sent had they relocated to Sderot for the evening. In similar vein, Olmert, a number of MKs charge, is staying away from the Knesset plenum too often. A Knesset appearance might be fraught with challenging queries, just as coming to Sderot could well expose Olmert to embarrassing criticism. As conference president Uzi Dayan asked bitterly: "This is Olmert's test. Dare he present his case in this Negev venue and answer the public's questions, or does he, instead of a dialogue with his people, prefer only posh events in luxury Tel Aviv and Jerusalem hotels?" Olmert may realize that this is not a good time to head down to the afflicted town, whose residents are more incensed than usual, having just found out that the company entrusted (without tender) by the government with supplying the concrete cubicles that were to afford some minor margin of safety potentially jeopardize them even more. Shelter walls are half as thick as mandated (20 cm. instead of 40 cm.) and composed of material that fragments and could cause deadly ricochets. The consequences should one of these contraptions sustain a direct hit could be devastating: What was to afford a semblance of security is likely a death-trap. Raged Sderot's municipal security officer, Alon Davidi: "If it weren't appalling enough that the state doesn't do its duty by us and take military action against Gaza, we are betrayed by double-dealing connivers." Not that the townsfolk are entirely surprised. A local school, supposedly reinforced at great cost, couldn't withstand a Kassam strike. Further exacerbating disaffection is the attorney-general's halting of a minimal anti-Kassam move - curtailing Israeli electricity supplies to Gaza. The irony is that while Gaza enjoys power transmitted without fail from Israel, Sderot suffered a blackout Sunday when a rocket severed a local power-line. Nothing in Sderot is the same as elsewhere in Israel. Last week a resident was taken to court for refusing on principle to don his car seat belt or to buckle-in his children. He explained to the judge that at best 15 seconds are available between the first warning and a Kassam hit - hardly sufficient time to extricate oneself from the belt, never mind three children as well. The judge expressed full understanding and sympathy but maintained that the law allows no leeway. With residents denied the necessary consideration from Israel's high places, no wonder an exodus from town is underway and, along with it, a process of socioeconomic selection whereby only the weakest remain. Surely this is not the outcome the government desires. But it's an inevitable consequence of years of neglect and indifference. No worse message can be relayed to Hamas, and no greater triumph accorded the terrorists, than an emptying Sderot. Its predicament, above all else, should top the priorities of the prime minister and his government. Sderot's challenges must be faced squarely, and quickly, for the sake of its residents - and before incalculable damage is wrought that would impact disastrously on the rest of Israel.