I have just returned from the 2013 March of the Living to Poland and Israel. As I write this, the people of the United States are still in shock at the horrific bombing in Boston. May God comfort the bereaved families, provide healing to those who are injured and bring to justice the terrorists and their handlers who were responsible for such a tragedy!
On the day of the bombings, our group visited the town of Sderot. Sderot is a town of some 20,000 people which sits very near the border with the Gaza strip. In the past ten years, Sderot has been hit by hundreds of Kassam rockets fired by terrorists in Gaza. These bombs are very primitive. They lack any guidance system and are made of plumbing and utility piping. The propellant and the explosive charges are made from sugar and phosphate fertilizers. The piping, sugar and fertilizers are all provided to Gaza by Israel as a part of the 300 truck loads of supplies which pass through Israel to Gaza on a daily basis.
By the way, Sderot is too close to the border for the Iron Dome anti-missile system to be effective.
In addition to firing these primitive weapons of terror towards Sderot, the terrorists in Gaza have also aimed them at the Ashkelon power station. It is by way of this power station that the people of Gaza receive electricity. The Hamas government in Gaza does not reimburse Israel for the electricity which is provided.
For the terrorists in Gaza, the most favored time to fire rockets is between 7:00-9:00 a.m. when people are going to work and children are being transferred to schools. The most favored day to fire rockets in September 1 which is the first day of the school year.
Sderot is not a military town – rather it is a town of Israelis, many of them immigrants who work in various factories. They are not living in the occupied territories. Until ten years ago, they had fairly good relations with the people in Gaza. In 2006, the Israeli army withdrew from every single inch of the Gaza strip. Two days later the rockets began to be fired at Sderot.
I asked our guide Sivan who was a very articulate 23 year old woman why she did not leave the city. Her answer was that her parents had immigrated to Israel and settled in Sderot from the former Soviet Union. She had lived in Sderot all of her life and was studying for her BA in a local community college. Simply put she said, Sderot is her home and she has no intention of leaving.
We passed a high school which Sivan told us was the largest bomb shelter in Israel. There were no windows in the high school and all of the walls and the roof were made of thick steel reinforced concrete. On the side of one of the walls, there was a large black stain. The stain was the place where a Kassam rocket had hit the school.
We asked Sivan about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She told us that the term really did not apply to the people of Sderot because of the word “post.” She described what the citizens of Sderot were facing as “On-going Stress Disorder.” To illustrate this, she told us that a group of kindergarten children were shown a picture of a snail and were asked the question as to why the snail has a shell. Unanimously, they answered, “to protect him from Kassams.”
Our visit coincided with Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its soldiers and victims of terror. During the visit, we passed a memorial garden for those who had been killed by the rocket fire. The garden had 50 names in it. Doing a little math, these fifty victims of terror would be equivalent to 600 victims in Guilford County. I cannot imagine how we in Greensboro would respond were we to have to live under such a threat.
Another way to look at such numbers is to consider the fact that from 2001 to 2003 during the second intifada, 1,057 Israelis were killed by terror and more than 6,000 were injured. Proportionally speaking, in the United States these figures would be equal to 47,685 dead. Again, I cannot imagine how we as a nation would function in such a situation.
Israelis were deeply saddened by the news of the Boston terror incident. For them however, their feelings were more than those of “sympathy.” Rather, their feelings were more of those of “empathy;” empathy for the people of Boston and for the people of the United States, their closest ally in our mutual and ongoing battle against terror. There was almost a, “been there and done that attitude.” At the same time, Israelis, like all of us, hope and pray that what happened in Boston is not the beginning of a trend. As I write this, it is not clear who was behind the bombing. Was it Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran, North Korea, or some other misguided soul?
On our trip, we learned about the worst and best of humanity. The bombing in Boston represents human beings at their worst. May God help us all as individuals and a society to respond to this latest terrorist incident with courage and compassion, demanding justice for the perpetrators, but above all working to preserve values of peace and dignity. Terror will never defeat us any more than it has the people of Sderot! May our response bring out the best of what it means to be an American and a human being.
Rabbi Fred Guttman is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.