a boy with a Qassam rocket, in Sderot, Israel.

a boy with a Qassam rocket, in Sderot, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

















Rockets hit southern Israel towns on the weekend

Palestinian terrorists operating out of the Gaza Strip fired three missiles at the southern Israel town of Sderot on Sunday morning.

Two of the rockets slammed into local factories, injuring two Israelis, causing extensive damage & terrorizing the rest of Sderot’s residents.

One of the factories hit Sunday, was previously attacked from Gaza.

The third missile landed in the same area, but caused no damage or injuries.

Security officials tell us that they were surprised by the accuracy of Sunday’s attacks.

The rockets fired from Israel are usually crude or lacking in sophisticated guidance systems & must be aimed manually.

Either Gaza-based terrorists are getting better at manually aiming their rockets, or have come into possession of better guidance systems.

Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the residents of Southern Israel.

Sunday’s attacks ended weeks of quiet in the region & suggested that the relatively calm summer period was coming to an end.

Gaza-based forces regularly increase their attacks on southern Israel at the start of the school year, when Israeli are more typically congregated in public places, such as schools.

Sderot, a terrorized town

In April, the southern Israeli town of Sderot hosted its annual French film festival, which was an achievement more impressive than it sounds. Sderot is a small town & it is also a poor one; it has only 20,000 residents, many of them immigrants from former Soviet Asian republics.

But Sderot’s biggest challenge may be the missiles. For the past ten years, not long after the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, Hamas has launched thousands of Qassam missiles over the border from Gaza, barely a mile away. Qassams are typically homemade—70 pounds of steel inserted with nails & bolts, as in the bombs used in suicide attacks. When a strike is imminent, a calm female voice announces over loudspeakers, “Color Red, Color Red” giving residents 15 seconds to run to one of the many shelters around town.

Some two-dozen residents of Sderot & the surrounding area have been killed in attacks over the past decade & hundreds have been wounded. But the rockets’ true threat is their ability to terrorize. Much of Sderot’s middle class has left. Thousands of residents have been treated for trauma; a generation of children suffers from stuttering & bed-wetting. Sderot, then, is Israel’s nightmare—the anti-Tel Aviv. Here there is no pretending you can avoid the Hamas & Jihadist siege.

After the Gaza war of 2009, the assaults became less frequent, but missiles still fall intermittently. When that happens, the Sderot Cinematheque moves screenings to a smaller theatre with thicker walls & a steel roof. Invariably, attendance declines, sometimes for days or even weeks. Still, Benny Cohen, the Cinematheque’s director, insists on running the theatre as though it were in Tel Aviv. For him, the Cinematheque is part of Sderot’s battle for survival & so he is constantly devising new projects & inviting foreign directors to town, such as the Coen brothers.

Sderot has long had a history of improbable cultural vitality. “It looks like a dump, but there’s so much creativity here” says Laura Bialis, a documentary filmmaker from Los Angeles who moved to Sderot almost four years ago. “Every teenager I met seemed to want to be a rock singer or an actor”. She decided to make a film about Sderot’s rock musicians & fell in love with one of them, Avi Vaknin, who proposed to her in an air raid shelter. “There wasn’t a Qassam attack” she explains. “Avi was just being dramatic”.

The guiding spirit of Sderot’s rock scene is Chaim Uliel, whose band, Sfatayim (Lips), brought Moroccan music into the mainstream in the late 1980s & nurtured a generation of local musicians. They went on to found bands like Tipex (White Out) & Knesiyat Hasechel (Cathedral of the Mind), which created a fusion between Western rock & Sephardic ethnic music. Don’t just mimic Western trends, Uliel urged his protégés, take the music you know from the synagogue & the home!

Two years ago, however, Uliel left Sderot & moved to a town near Tel Aviv. The news was so shocking that the country’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, devoted the cover of its weekend magazine to an interview with Uliel, “the symbol of Sderot”.

Uliel explained that he’d tried for years to turn Sderot into a Center for Israeli music, but no one had offered help. He spoke bitterly of how Israeli society treated Sderot like a poor relation. Would the government, he asked, have allowed Tel Aviv to be under rocket assault for years before launching a military operation?

Living under constant threat of death is hardly Sderot’s fate alone. The Galilee was hit by a month of rockets during the 2006 Lebanon war. Hamas’s reach now extends beyond Sderot; almost all the recent rockets from Gaza were directed at Beersheba & Ashkelon. The question of Sderot’s long-term viability on the Gaza border is also the question facing Israel: Can a modern Jewish state continue to thrive beside Hamas & Hezbollah & perhaps, Egypt’s new governing party, the Muslim Brotherhood?

Nearly everywhere I went in Sderot, I saw signs of its vulnerability & of its resilience. The government is adding a fortified room to every apartment & house in town. Scaffolding covers squat apartment blocks & cube-like structures are being affixed to red-roofed private homes. The message to residents is “Get used to it, Qassams are your future” says Bialis, who has since moved to Tel Aviv. Many shelters I saw were painted with cartoon murals—the work of New York graffiti artists who came to lift morale. In a playground, long concrete tubes painted to resemble caterpillars double as shelters.

In recent years, dozens of religious, Zionist families have moved here to strengthen Sderot. There’s also Migvan, an “urban kibbutz” of 20 families. Migvan’s founder, Nomika Zion, calls Hamas a “terrible regime”.

After a year, Uliel returned to Sderot. The municipality offered to fund a Center for Moroccan Jewish culture & he is once again nurturing musicians. A new generation of aspiring stars rehearses in Sderock, a combined music Center and air raid shelter.

When the Qassams stopped falling on a daily basis after the Gaza war, government subsidies & foreign donations declined, further punishing the residents of Sderot.

One of Uliel’s students, Ran, a guitarist, drops by. Ran began his singing career at age seven, in a choir started by Uliel. Now he plays in a band called Red Out, a play on the “Color Red” alert. “Why didn’t you choose a Hebrew name”? asks Chaim. “The name has a connection to Sderot” Ran points out, a little defensively.

I ask Ran what it’s like to grow up in Sderot…

“Some of my friends are a little crazy” he admits. “It’s hard for me to write happy music”.

But he insists that the siege has invigorated his generation. “Sderot has freed us in a way” he says. “It’s much easier for my generation to talk about emotions, to write songs with intensity. And here you’re part of a musical tradition. I’ve grown up being taught & encouraged by some of the best musicians in Israel. It’s much better to be a young rock musician in Sderot than in Tel Aviv”.

In Closing A Few Points to Consider!

1) Since the beginning of 2008, over 1,600 rockets & mortars have been fired from Gaza into Israel


2) The rockets wreak terrible psychological damage, particularly on children. We heard – among other things – pre-school children who are clinically depressed & teenagers who still wet the bed at night. The rockets dominate every aspect of their lives & upbringing – they even play “educational” games which simulate rockets falling.

3) Why don’t people leave? For starters, a number already have. At the start of the attacks, the population of Sderot was around 24,000. Now it stands at 20-21,000. For those who remain, the primary obstacle to their departure is that they can’t afford it. I guess property in a town-turned-war-zone isn’t particularly popular, so it’s difficult for current residents to sell up & move on. Some people do remain out of choice – because they grew up in Sderot, because it’s their home, etc.

4) There have been three generations of “home-made” Qassam rocket, the latest of which carries a 5kg payload a distance of 19km. Hamas have also acquired some military-made Grad rockets, although they use them much more sparingly. These carry a 7kg payload around 21km. This means that it’s not only Sderot which is affected – some 267,000 Israelis are in range of rocket attacks from Gaza.

5) Hamas are tearing-up Gazan infrastructure to ensure the rockets keep falling on Israeli heads.

Why are there no traffic lights in Gaza? Because the pipes which support them are being cut up & made into Qassams. Why is the Gazan drainage & sewage system so substandard? Same reason.

6) Since the rocket attacks began in 2000, 13 Israelis have been killed … 345 injured & 1000s treated for shock.

7) According to the local police spokesman, Hamas & their jihadist associates concentrate their attacks at 7am-10am & 3pm-6pm.

Why? That’s when people are up-&-about & when children are going to/from school.

8) The most astonishing discovery of the visit was the feeling of solidarity that the residents of Sderot have towards the majority of the Gazan population. There’s a real sense that the two groups are in this together; that their suffering is shared. One resident told us: “We’re hostages … we’re trapped in the same situation … and we know that’s true for the people in Gaza as well … we cry when their babies die”

Why no anger?

Because the Gazans are regarded as distinct from the Gazan leadership: “I believe the ones running Gaza [i.e. Hamas] are the ones who want to destroy Israel” … Not Gazan’s or Palestinians!

Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel. Over one million Israelis are currently living under threat of rocket attacks.

In 2011 alone, 627 rockets from Gaza hit Israeli towns. That’s an even higher number than in 2010, when 231 rockets hit Israel. Since 2001, more than 12,800 rockets and mortars, an average of 3 attacks every single day, have landed in Israel.

Hamas is the ruling entity of the Gaza Strip and recognized as a terrorist group by the US, UK, EU and Israel. (Read more about Hamas.) In recent years, Hamas has been increasing the size and capabilities of its rocket arsenal.

Hamas Rocket Infographic

More than half a million Israelis have less than 60 seconds to find shelter after a rocket is launched from Gaza into Israel. Most rockets launched from Gaza into Israel are capable of reaching Israel’s biggest southern cities:

Hamas Rocket Ranges

Although Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, terrorists continued to launch thousands of rockets into Israeli cities and communities. After exhausting non-military moves and diplomatic overtures to hinder Hamas’ rocket attacks, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. The military operation was successful in destroying Hamas’ rocket launchers and terror infrastructure.

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