It is Thursday morning, February 26, 2009. After a beautiful trip from the northern part of Israel, through the Negev, I arrive in Sderot a town of about 18,000 inhabitants and situated approximately 10 kilometers from the border with Gaza. Sderot and the surroundings have been hit by kassam rockets on a daily basis for a period of more then eight years. During the Gaza war this was news, before and after the war, it is hardly being mentioned in the media. I have an appointment with Noam Bedein, initiator of the Sderot Media Centre, a news agency. It was founded with the goal to keep the story of the people in Sderot and the western part of the Negev alive and to give the human trauma a face. When I arrive at nine o’clock in his office two kassams just had fallen down in the middle of town. “It is more then a month ago that they agreed on a so called cease fire”, says Noam, “but still, every day we get hit, it is a huge human disaster here”. Noam, 27 years old, was born in Israel. His parents are immigrants from the United States. During his studies at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, he was being confronted with the daily rain of rockets. Two years ago he decided, together with some other students, to start the Centre. It is a non-profit organization and not connected to any institute whatsoever. He calls himself a simple soul, who feels that he should do something for the Israeli society, as a Jew and as a human being. “Our main problem at the moment is money. We do not have it and to keep the Centre going we need it. Fundraising is a problem. It is easier to ask and receive money for a playground for kids. That is something that you can see and touch, and it is easy to understand that there is a need for it. But in order for this kid to continue playing, we have to show the world what is going on here and that costs money”. During our conversation Noam stops talking, listens, and then continues talking every time we hear strange noises, “This is the reality of Sderot. In this part of Israel one million people live in constant in fear.
A generation of children is growing up knowing little more than running for their lives”. The kassams fall almost every morning around nine o’clock. That is the time the children go to school, the parents go to work, and the shops open their doors. The Centre takes care of a daily update of everything that goes on in the area and wants to bring balance to the endless stream of stories. On their websites you can find videos, pictures and stories. All information is free to download. The Centre has welcomed over 4000 guests during the past few years, among them are people from media, diplomats, and students. They show them around with only one aim: to show the reality of Sderot. That reality is that over 10,000 kassams in eight years have wounded hundreds of people, have traumatized many thousands of people and have destroyed an endless number of houses and properties. That reality is also that an entire generation is growing up with trauma and that these children will have to take care of a second generation suffering from trauma. Noam: There is no country in the world that would tolerate that a city is being attacked over such a long period of time, not one country”. During the morning of our meeting Noam has no time to show me around, so I decide to walk around in Sderot by myself. I find a square with some shops. There are some women sitting there and I decide to join them. When they see my camera they ask me what I am doing in Sderot. I tell them that I am writing for a Dutch newspaper. From that moment on I do not say anything anymore. They do not want their picture being taken, but they do like to tell their stories. They are still all shaken up from this mornings bombing, even after eight years. “You do not get used to it, never. Why did we go into Gaza, why did we have a war… nothing has changed at all. We cannot leave. We have our houses here. The value of our houses declined at least 50%. Beautiful houses, but what can we do with them. We cannot even use the second floor, because if something happens we will not have enough time to run to the shelter. That is 15 seconds for every single person in Sderot. If someone would give me an attic in Tel Aviv with only one room, I would move today. We are all a little insane. We live, already more then eight years, in absolute hell…”. One of the women is telling me that her grandchildren, who live in Tel Aviv, have never been in her house. “What should they do here? Why should we bring them here? To make them crazy as well”? Another woman has a bandage around her arm. She fell a few weeks ago after running for her life to a shelter. Her son’s leg was amputated after he got hit. “That is the reality of our life, we will never ever get used to it, never”. I decide to go look for the house which was hit by the kassams that morning.
That is not difficult, everyone knows the way. The house stands between lots of other houses. When I stand in front of it, I witness the total devastation and do not know where to look. The damage is enormous, inside, as well as outside. The owner of the house was hanging out her laundry when the kassam fell just in front of her house. She is in the hospital with a shock. Her son is too. The laundry was blown away; some of it is hanging in the trees. An old washing machine was outside. It turned black and nothing is left of it. The huge impact of the kassam blew part of it towards the neighbor’s house and made a hole in the roof of that house. It is impossible to describe what I see. Nothing is in one piece anymore, everything is scattered around the place. The husband was not at home when it happened, but he came home immediately. He is in shock as well and can hardly talk. When I see him, I walk up to him, give him a hand and a hug and have no idea what to say. “I thought that after the war in Gaza Peace would be coming, but it did not and I do not believe in it anymore”, is what he stumbled with tears in his eyes. His brother shows me around the house. Everywhere are pieces of broken glass. “It is a miracle that nobody got really hurt”. Everything in the house is upside down; part of the roof is charred. The only thing that hangs straight as if nothing had ever happened is a picture of their deceased parents, the mohel of Sderot. “This is a miracle, a real miracle”, the man says. I realize that these people need to hold on to miracles otherwise they will not be able to survive. Later on that morning I meet Noam again. “The pictures of Gaza appeal to the world. Even though, we are dealing there with terrorists.
Crying children, blood, dead people… that is what people like to see. Thank G’d the percentage of real wounded people here is very low. But that does not mean that there is no damage. The psychological damage is huge. And it is very difficult to explain that to the world. I have no idea how it happened and I do not want to hold a political talk, but for one reason or the other, the world, and also Israel, find it very normal that one million people live in constant fear. That they have 15 seconds every time to run for their lives. Try to do it. Try to run to the shelter in 15 seconds and that during eight long years”. One of the projects the Centre is working on at the moment is a theatre program. Forty young traumatized girls receive therapy, theatre therapy, to learn to talk about their feelings and problems. A psychologist, a social worker, and a theatre producer help them. The girls write their own script. The aim of the project is to show the public what is happening in Sderot. They plan to travel around the world. The show will be in English and in Hebrew. In the afternoon, when I drive home, I can hardly order my thoughts. When I come home I read the news on internet. The attack in Sderot of that morning is described as follows:
“… A kassam, fired by Palestinians from the northern part of Gaza, Thursday morning, exploded in a garden of a house in Sderot. There was no one wounded. A mother and her son are being treated for shock at the hospital, the houses were lightly damaged…”.
When I have finished typing this last part I realize that it took me exactly 15 seconds to type it!