Following a day tour in Gaza, members of Congress, Brian Baird (D-Washington) and Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) spent an hour in Sderot touring the city with Sderot Media Center director, Noam Bedein and staff on Friday, February 20.
In Sderot, the Congressmen met with the Amar family whose home was destroyed in a Palestinian rocket attack in December 2007. Both US President Obama and Senator John McCain had visited the Amars during their tour of Sderot last year.
Photo: Chen Shwartzman
The Congressmen asked many questions during the visit and showed interest in understanding the full impact of rocket fire on Israeli civilians– including children– living in Sderot.
Dr. Adrianna Katz of the Sderot Mental Health Center spoke with the Congressmen at the Sderot Police Station, where hundreds of exploded rockets have been stored away. Representative Baird, a licensed clinical psychologist, was particularly interested in the psychological impact of the rocket fire. Dr. Katz explained that there is a ‘Qassam generation’ of Sderot children who have been born into the rocket fire.
“These kids, who experienced rocket attacks since 2001, know no other reality other than exploding rockets and ‘Tzeva Adom’ (Color Red) alert sirens. Their sense of peace and security has been shattered,” said Dr. Katz.
“The rocket fire has impacted the economic situation, family relationships– all aspects of life here in Sderot. People live in constant fear and terror that a rocket may strike at any moment. Over 5,000 residents have been forced to leave and relocate elsewhere.”
“Israelis living in Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva and Ashdod are now experiencing that same terror for the first time, ” added Dr. Katz.
Accompanying the Congressmen on their visit, were Dr. Nick Palarino and Dr. Catherine Salsman.
Holding a Hamas-fired rocket at the Sderot Police Station, US Representative Ellison, the first Muslim elected to US Congress, commented on its heaviness. “A rocket explosion can impact up to 300 feet,” explained SMC director, Noam Bedein. “The models become more sophisticated and pack more explosives with each passing year.”
Bedein also pointed out that the Grad-model Katyusha rockets come directly from Iran. “Iran supplies Hamas with the rockets that target major Israeli cities. The rockets were smuggled through the tunnels dug between the Egyptian-Gaza border or by ship, during the last ceasefire.” During the war, the Grad rockets were able to target one million Israelis who still remain under Palestinian missile threat.
Photo: Chen Shwartzman
Both US representatives asked Dr. Katz her view on potential peace with the Palestinians. “Is the hatred towards the Palestinians deep-seeded on the Israeli side? asked Congressman Baird. “There is no hatred for the Palestinian people,” replied Dr. Katz. “Israelis here know that there is an underlying difference between the Hamas government and the average Palestinian citizen.”
The two US representatives filmed the tour on their camera phones to share with relevant persons back in the US.
Congressman Ellison, who represents Minnesota, and Congressman Baird, who represents Washington state, had visited Gaza the day previously. It was the first time that anyone from the US government had entered the Gaza Strip since Hamas took power. Their visit to Gaza, according to Representative Brian Baird’s website, was not officially sanctioned by Obama Administration. However, US President Obama has stated in the past that he intends to improve ties with the Muslim world.
Indeed in a joint press release available on Congressman Baird’s official government website, Congressmen Ellison and Baird spoke primarily of their visit to Gaza and their impressions of the situation there.