Kassam explodes in Sderot factory on 23/06/12, credit: Zoom 77
Another week and another volley of deadly rockets have landed on our communities. As heads of the three Israeliregional councils which skirt the border with Gaza, the 130 rockets that were fired on our region over the last few days constitute a sad but all too familiar scenario. Imagine, rockets were falling on your family, your home, your community? Protecting our children from daily Hamas terror has sadly become our top priority.
The toll from this week’s attacks from Gaza includes several wounded civilians, injured when an apartment building was hit. Ominously, taking advantage of instability in Egypt and an increase in arms smuggling by terrorists in Sinai, rockets were launched from Sinai as well as neighbouring Gaza. The city of Ashkelon, home to 113,000 people, and the capital of the south, Beersheba, were a particular focus for the onslaught. Hamas, backed by Iran and the sole authority in Gaza, proudly took responsibility for many of these attacks on our civilian centres. But none of this is news. Our small region has been the target of 13,000 rockets fired from Gaza in a decade. More than one million Israelis are in range, living under a cloud of constant fear.
The latest bombardment on our homes barely made a scratch on international headlines or the agendas of world leaders. It seems the sheer regularity of attacks has dulled global sensitivities to our communities’ plight. Yet the decline in world attention has not been matched by any reduction in the daily trauma endured by our citizens. In the Israeli town of Sderot for example, 92 per cent of residents have experienced a rocket fall near them, while 49 per cent know someone killed by a rocket. Unsurprisingly, between 74 – 95 per cent of children in this distressed town exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many families must often live in a single, protected room, while the school day and communal activities are routinely postponed in an effort to avoid large-scale civilian fatalities. When they are in class, the first calculation that our children learn is the 15 seconds that they have to find shelter once the rocket alert siren is sounded. Our jobs as regional council leaders should be focused on local services, schools and community centres, but instead are dominated by securing the basic safety of our citizens. We should not allow this most abnormal of situations to become an accepted norm.
Of course, we are not the only ones suffering from the ongoing tension in our region. We fully recognise the difficulties facing Palestiniansin Gaza. But responsibility for their woes rests solely with Hamas. As public leaders, we remember the heady days of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. During that time, we developed co-operative initiatives with the people of Gaza, living just a few short miles away. We have no quarrel with Gaza’s citizens and yearn to join with them once more in peaceful partnership. When Israel voluntarily withdrew from Gaza in 2005, we hoped that Gazans would be able to build their own businesses, develop a successful economy and establish a rule of law founded on basic freedoms. However, having seized power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas instead prioritised the import of weapons with which to attack Israel, developing a complex network of tunnels to smuggle arms from Iran via Sinai. The result has been a conflict which continues to threaten the security of the very civilians Hamas is bound to protect. The people of Gaza deserve better than Hamas.
Each rocket and mortar that hits our towns, villages and communities presents not only a danger to Israeli civilians, but prolongs a destructive conflict. Every time Hamas launches or permits the firing of rockets, the prospect of peace between us and our neighbours in Gaza becomes ever more remote. While we desperately want peace, there can be no dialogue with an organisation which values terror over talks.
Let us not ignore the plight of Sderot, Ashqelon and other towns in southern Israel. We must find a collective voice to deplore Hamas violence. Moreover, if we value peace, then we must loudly and unequivocally condemn each rocket assault and terror attack directed at unarmed civilians. As local Israeli leaders, we share common values with Britain, striving for a future where doves of peace fill our skies rather than rockets of destruction.
Haim Yellin is Head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Alon Shuster is Head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, and Yair Farjun is Head of the Hof Ashqelon Regional Council