This year, Jewish residents in the Israeli city of Sderot celebrated the holiday of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah built out of steel Qassam rockets. The rockets, which were stored away at the Sderot Police Station, are some of the thousands of Palestinian rockets that have exploded on the Israeli city in the past nine years. It was a symbolic act; one that reflected the strength of spirit that has come to define the city’s inhabitants.
For some Sderot residents, however, the celebration of Hannukah, which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish people’s defeat of the Syrian Greeks over 2,000 years ago, brings back more recent memories of hardship.
Aliza Amar lights the candles of her family’s Menorah with the face of a mother who has weathered a great deal in the past year. It is a cold and windy night in Sderot, as the Amar family gathers together to celebrate the seventh night of Hannukah.
Photo: Noam Bedein
It was around this time two years ago that a Qassam rocket directly struck the Amars’ home, injuring Aliza and leaving the family homeless for almost a year. The rocket attack took place on the eighth day of Hanukkah, Dec. 13, 2007, and only the Amars’ Menorah and Jewish holy books were found completely intact.
“All the memories from that difficult period come flooding back during this holiday,” says Aliza, a mother of four children. “The Qassam rocket that destroyed our home, destroyed our way of life. It was a terrifying time. My husband and I had to relocate our family to a tiny apartment temporarily, get the kids into therapy, and find time to recover from the initial shock and injuries. We are still reeling from the impact of that attack to this day.”
Amar points to the entrance to the front yard which was only completed in the last month. “I haven’t had a front yard with a garden for almost two years. The first thing we had built after the rocket explosion was a new bomb shelter. All the other repairs had to wait.”
“We’ve invested almost $80,000, from our own savings and taken loans from the bank in order to rebuild our home, “ Amar tiredly explains. She says she doesn’t expect the government to reimburse her family for the reconstruction of their home.
Since Operation Cast Lead ended on January 18, rocket fire has significantly decreased, giving Sderot and area residents some time to breathe. But the Amars do not believe in the permanence of the ceasefire. “We all know that this is the quiet before the storm,” says Pinchas, Aliza’s husband.
Aliza is quick to point out that the rocket fire has not stopped completely. “ A week doesn’t go by without one rocket attack. Although the media does not report these rocket attacks, Hamas is still firing at Sderot to remind us what they are capable of.”
“Even if we hear the Code Red siren go off just once a week, and not five times a day as in the past, it is still unnerving,” adds Aliza. “Especially for the kids.”
Photo: Noam Bedein
Hamas announced last month year that it had reached an agreement with other Gaza militant groups to stop all rocket fire at southern Israel. However, during the week of Hanukkah, four rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip were fired at southern Israel. In the last attack, which took place on the fifth day of Hanukkah, December 17, rockets struck an open area in Sderot, sending residents racing to shelter.
Although the ceasefire has brought back better economic tidings to Sderot; the price of real estate has gone up about 30% as many residents have returned, the post traumatic stress disorder symptoms(PTSD) still affect a large majority of the population. According to the director of the Sderot Mental Health Center, Dr. Adrianna Katz, the quiet periods bring more Sderot residents seeking therapy.
“The number of patients keeps growing every day and the occasional rocket attack and siren only exacerbate the PTSD symptoms,” Dr. Katz says. People who felt they were fine during rocket escalations suddenly discover that they are not.”
Indeed, Aliza Amar’s daughter, Shavit, 15, is one of the countless teenagers in Sderot who still has trouble sleeping at nights.
Both Aliza Amar and her husband light up when I ask about US President Barack Obama’s visit to their home during his presidential campaign in July 2008.
“When President Obama was here, he seemed very empathetic to our situation,” says Aliza. “I believed in him then. He listened to what we had to say and he even said that we deserve a future of security, peace, and hope.”
“I just hope that President Obama does not forget us now because we still feel like targets in Hamas’s hands.”