“All the world’s a stage,” says a famous Shakespeare phrase. I recall this expression from Shakespeare’s As You Like It as I travel down to Sderot, to begin another week working at our Sderot Media Center office. Sderot, a small Israeli city located less than a mile away from Gaza, is in its own right–a stage–for weekly rocket attacks, post trauma victims and visiting politicians.
And the recent ceasefire, which began on January 18, 2009 has not changed anything. Sderot residents are still entering bomb shelters weekly, with the siren alert known as Tzeva Adom or Color Red going off, and rockets exploding across the western Negev. The unilateral ceasefire with Hamas has brought thus far, over 120 rockets raining against Israel– and not a peep of condemnation from any international actor or the UN.
As I sit on the bus, thinking of everything that has come to pass in the recent months, I overhear a Sderot mother speaking to her babysitter back home. It‘s 10:30 at night and a rocket has apparently been fired at Sderot. “There was a siren??” the mom anxiously exclaims. “Are the kids ok? Are they in bed?“ She speaks nervously. “I’m so afraid to leave the house with the kids home, and finally when I do, this has to happen,” says the mom despondently almost to herself.
It’s a Tuesday night in March and the rockets are continuing to strike the hearts of Sderot parents and children. The possibility of a Qassam rocket landing anywhere, destroying any home or building, is just as probable now as it was during the war two months ago.
WHEN I first began working in Sderot almost two years ago, I was innocent to the meaning of terror. I had never personally experienced a suicide attack or a bus bombing in Jerusalem. When the media center director interviewed me for the job, he asked me how I deal with terrorist attacks. I told him I had no idea.
I can write that I now have unfortunately a very firm idea of what terror is and what it can do to you both physically and psychologically. In the past few months, I have witnessed rocket terror attacks that remain imprinted in my mind.
Back in December 2008, the Color Red alarm had gone off one day during work, part of the routine day warning of an impending rocket. Our center had no available bomb shelter at that time, so the staff and I would simply leave the computer stations and crowd in the center of the office, away from the windows. This time around, I didn’t feel like getting up, for whatever reason, but Eliran, our technician forced me to and I joined everyone else.
And then we all heard it together–the shriek of the rocket as it sailed over our center and slammed with a tremendous explosion about 50 meters away. I felt the air stir as the rocket landed, and heard people crying out.
We were all in shock.
I remember just standing there, my mind blank. Inside I was shaking, but then I began working in media mode. The only thing that we can do when this happens is snap photos, film and document the attack.
Miraculously, the rocket did not slam into a building or physically injure anyone. It had found itself an isolated corner, and was buried deep in the ground. However, the impact of the explosion had caused all the office windows in the area to completely shatter. I entered a barbershop, a travel agency, a computer repair shop–crude pieces of broken glass and debris littered the desks and floors.
The barber stood in shock. A woman outside was convulsing–trembling to the point that she had no control of her body. Ambulances arrived.
Everyone had made it in time to the shelter within the 15 seconds of the siren sounding and the rocket exploding. Had anyone remained standing near a window, the exploding glass would have caused some very serious injuries.
I lost my appetite that day.
After that attack, it was very difficult for me to return to work. Each time I entered Sderot, I did so, only by pushing my rational thoughts aside. I began to think that rockets would fall anywhere and that I could very well be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I remember waking up one morning to the sound of the siren and then realizing that I was sleeping in Jerusalem. There was no alarm– it was just in my head.
I call this abnormal. It is abnormal that I have to be afraid. It is abnormal that I find myself racing to a bomb shelter several times a week when I‘m in Sderot. It is abnormal that today close to 1 million Israelis in the southern area of the country are now threatened by Hamas rockets.
TWO weeks ago, two US congressmen came to visit Sderot for an hour, after spending an entire day in Gaza. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and Brian Baird (D-Washington) toured the city, visiting area bomb shelters, protected schools and the Amar family, whom President Obama also visited during his campaign last year after their home was destroyed by a direct rocket hit.
At the police station, against the backdrop of Qassam rockets stored away, the Congressmen asked many questions. As I was the translator, I had the opportunity to get a first hand impression of the visitors. At one point, Congressman Ellison, picked up a Qassam rocket and pointed out how heavy it was. “I could work out with this,“ he joked.
On the surface, I wondered if the Congressmen truly understood the kind of impact that eight years of Gaza rocket fire has on a civilian population. After all, it took me two years to completely understand the meaning behind rocket terror. In any case, in their press release on their visit to the Middle East, Rep. Baird and Ellison spoke primarily on Gaza, barely mentioning Sderot or southern Israel.
I only hope that the world does not ignore the major role that Hamas continues to play on this stage of Middle East Conflict. As rocket fire continues, and Hamas once again rebuilds its military infrastructure and rocket supply, Sderot and Palestinian civilians can only wonder if peace will ever make a permanent appearance in this region.