Sderot's shattered windows

Ordinary folks feel their government has abandoned them to the homicidal whims of Gazan terror gangs.

kassam sderot 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
kassam sderot 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
After yesterday's early morning volley of four Kassams, some of Sderot's frustrated citizenry began threatening to "take the law into our own hands." The angry talk reflected rising resentment, exasperation and, most of all, an overriding sense of helplessness. Ordinary folks feel their government has abandoned them to the homicidal whims of Gazan terror gangs. Batya Katar, head of the local Parents-Teachers Association, put it most dispassionately: "Each day we become increasingly convinced that this government has excluded us from the state's territory, from obligations of protection a country owes its population. We aren't part of Israel." Such sensations of abandonment are not unique to Sderot's long-suffering residents. They are not dissimilar to the rejection felt by the long-forgotten Gush Katif evacuees or to what residents of Israel's North acutely felt during the past summer's conflict. Common to all above episodes is the sense of deficient solidarity, in situations of severe and prolonged duress, from those in government. What makes the neglect of Sderot particularly galling is that it cannot be explained away by a wrenching, politically-divisive process or by the eruption of an unforeseen war. Indeed, Sderot suffers during what is portrayed as a cease-fire. Israel has dutifully halted its fire, but the rockets keep coming from Gaza nevertheless. Even our dovish defense minister, Amir Peretz, perceives the absurdity: "We need to hit identified Kassam crews before and after they shoot their missiles," he said. "We mustn't let them roam free... A situation in which we fail to fire on Kassam units, even when spotted in open areas, allows Islamic Jihad members to parade as heroes. I hardly think this contributes to the cease-fire's stability." Peretz wasn't just taking potshots at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, though their disagreement on this issue is no secret. A situation in which IDF troops identify Gazans preparing to launch Kassams while the Israeli side does nothing to preempt potentially deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, is unconscionable, even in the context of a policy of restraint. It has become a curious game of Palestinian Roulette. The rocket that hit a sensitive strategic target near Ashkelon yesterday could have, with a little less luck for Israel, released poisonous chemicals over a densely populated urban center. The rocket that fell in a Sderot nursery school playground could have, with a little less luck, taken the lives of many toddlers. International opinion is not even aware that some 60 rockets have been unleashed on Israel during what's purported to be a cease-fire. Hence Israel's restraint wins no merit points. Local opinion only hears that "little damage was wrought." But even "little damage" can undermine a town's economy, its social fiber and its psychological fortitude. Sderot's nerves are plainly frayed. It's not a question of whether restraint is justified or not. Indeed, decisions that knowingly put a population at risk only increase our national responsibility to address the most basic needs of those who bear the brunt of those official policies. Sderot is neglected even by the most mundane of standards. When we hear that only minor damage to Sderot was caused by a Kassam salvo, it means that window panes in entire apartment blocks were blown in by shock waves. A caring government, even one that has opted for restraint for a perceived wider benefit, should nonetheless rush to repair the damage - especially as winter nights can be chilling in the desert. But, however astoundingly, this is not being done. Perhaps, it is said sardonically in Sderot, because the glass will only be smashed again the next day. Thus infants, children, the elderly and everyone else must huddle in freezing, drafty rooms. Sderot's municipality yesterday distributed blankets to stricken families, but the Property Tax officials who must assess the damage before anything is done about it do not visit the afflicted town as often as Kassams are rained upon it. If this sounds like a trifling peeve, it isn't to citizens left unprotected from rocket fire, wind or rain, and who seem unable to awaken sufficient administrative compassion in Jerusalem. Sderot's shattered windows are Israel's touchstone.