Posters of candidates vying to be the next Sderot mayor seemed to cover every inch of Sderot including streets, synagogues, and even shwarma and falafel stands.
In a city where raining rockets have become the norm, the expectations of a new Sderot mayor are many. While taxes, education, economy, municipal services, and city maintenance are common issues for mayoral candidates across Israel and the world, the mayor of Sderot must give special attention to an issue central to Sderot residents–security.
For the past eight years, over 10,000 Palestinian rockets have targeted Sderot and the Negev. Close to 45% of the rockets are fired upon Sderot. Almost 90 % of Sderot’s population has experienced a Palestinian rocket exploding on a street or neighborhood.
In such an environment, the mayor of Sderot must decide whether to open schools during periods of intensive Palestinian rocket fire. Indeed, Sderot’s recent mayor of nine years, Eli Moyal, temporarily resigned in December 2007 (before being called back to the mayoral post by Defense Minister, Ehud Barak) because of the security crisis. Moyal cited that it was inconceivable that Sderot residents continue to wake up every morning in order to run to the bomb shelter every time a rocket is fired.
“I cannot take the responsibility to manage a city that is under attack for seven years,” he said. “If 20 children are killed tomorrow from a rocket, I will be asked, ‘why did you open the kindergarten?’ Moyal stated in an interview with Haaretz in December 2007.
However, the rocket situation in Sderot did not deter 20 candidates from vying for the mayoral position at the very beginning of the race a few months ago. Gradually, the number of candidates dwindled down to five. They include Ahlama Peretz, (the wife of former Defense Minister, Amir Peretz), David Buskila, Alon Davidi, Sasson Sara and Rabbi Yihia Elazara.
Ahlama Peretz’s campaign is supported by both Labor and Likud. On the security front, Ahlama Peretz believes that Sderot’s security lies in the hands of the IDF, the Israeli Knesset, and with the Minister of Defense. She believes that that the Sderot municipality must be able to provide bomb shelters for the city and moral support. In Ahlama’s view, the Qassam rockets have both a psychological and moral effect on the city’s residents. She promises to establish a municipal unit that will help Qassam victims receive compensation.
David Buskila, backed by the Kadima party and former Sderot mayor, believes like Peretz, that the mayor of Sderot does not have the authority in matters of security. Buskila does believe, however that the mayor must apply nonstop pressure upon the Israeli government and security officials to ensure the safety of Sderot residents. He also states that the Israeli government must play a more significant role in the protection of Sderot whether it be defensively or by other means.
Rabbi Yihia Elazara also believes that the security of Sderot is a matter for defense experts and that he cannot advise the experts on what should be done. He also believes that faith in G-d and prayers for help, will help Sderot residents endure the Palestinian rocket attacks on the city.
Alon Davidi, who established the Committee for Sderot Security two years ago, places security as a major topic on his platform. Davidi has been on the forefront for raising awareness among Israelis outside Sderot to the rocket situation. He claims to have succeeded in getting the government to provide buffers for schools in Sderot. Davidi plans to expand his campaign for protection of Sderot and government involvement with security issues. Davidi states that although the mayor does not have the authority to give out command to the army, he does have the power to fight for the security of Sderot residents by pressuring the government to act.
David Buskila. photo: short.co.il
Sasson Sara, owner of a local Sderot grocery store, professes that he will pressure the government of Israel to act with maximum effort on the part of Sderot residents. He promises to help provide housing and furniture for Sderot victims whose homes have been destroyed by Palestinian rocket explosions. Furthermore, Sasson plans to devote more time to the hasbara front, communicating with the media and providing information on the rocket situation to the Israeli public. He states that Sderot residents are living like “ducks under target” and that he aims to pressure the Israeli government to take more responsibility for the security and livelihood of Sderot residents.
After several weeks of intense campaigning, David Buskila won the mayoral election in Sderot with 45% of the Sderot vote on Wednesday, November 12. Ahlama Peretz came away with 28% of the vote, with Alon Davidi trailing behind her with 27% of the vote. Sasson Sarah won 3% of the vote and Rabbi Yihia Elazara followed with 2%.
Special thanks to Din Ve’Cheshbon for contributing to this article: *