Friday, February 25, 2011

The Most Shelled City In The World

A couple of articles from The Most Shelled City In The World.
1 million Israelis are asking: "Who's next?"

Last night, Wednesday the 23rd of March, was the first time since Operation Cast Lead that an Iranian Grad missile exploded in Be'er Sheba, 40km from Gaza.

Arriving at the scene of the rocket strike Thursday morning, in the Northern neighborhoods of Be'er Sheba, brought me back to the terror scenes in Sderot of the past few years. For several years, rocket attacks were part of my daily routine living and working at the Sderot Media Center. When the Tzeva Adom (Code Red) sounded, I would go to the neighborhoods where the rocket exploded and film the scene. The next day, I would return, documenting the 'the day after, listening to the stories of residents on what occurred to them the day before.

In Be'er Sheba, I saw the same scenes I'd witnessed in Sderot: shattered car windshields; the shrapnel holes making "windows" on the homes; the radius of damage from where the missile exploded; the 'cover up' of the missile hole; like nothing happened and expecting the people to go back to normal; the holes in the iron doors; the Shabbat candles standing among shattered glasses; pictures of Rabbis hanging untouched on what remained of the walls; frightened and excited residents of the damaged or destroyed homes who just want to share their personal experience with the world; hearing story, counting the amount of times I heard the words; Luck, coincidence, and miracles.

Photo: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center

Be'er Sheba resident Chen Saban, a Sapir College student in her early twenties whose house was hit, described how she and her family were lucky enough to reach the secured room on time, saying she never expected her home to be hit. She said it was ironic because she goes to Sapir College, which is only a few km away from Gaza. Chen, who is supposed to get married in the next 3 weeks, is no longer certain about her future in Be'er Sheba and how she ill be able to plan her life living there.

Photo: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center
It was amazing to hear all this because it took me 45 minutes to drive from Sderot to Be'er Sheba, which is 40km from Gaza, with residents having 60 seconds to run for the shelter once the siren goes off. And still the same reaction and comments of the frightened and traumatized people.

Today, the more than 1 million Israelis who live in the range of 40km from Gaza are not feeling as secure as they did yesterday, asking themselves "who is next?"

Yitchak Akli a resident of the Be'er Sheba neighborhood said: "We should learn from
Photo: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center

the experience of 'cast lead'' that this would happen, they have (missiles) and hiding them, to launch and fire them at the right time, on any target in Be'er Sheba. It's a matter of time. They've learned our capabilities and they've learned us".

Since the last "cease fire" 530 rockets and missiles have been fired towards the South Western, past of Israel.

The Iranian Grad missile exploding in Bair-Sheba is a reminder how that a few months ago the Shin-Bet reported that there's a stack of over 5,000 Iranian missiles in Gaza, all of them having a range of 40 KM.

This is especially troubling because, in November 2009, Hamas test-fired a missile test towards the Mediterranean, reaching 60 KM, which is the distance from Northern Gaza to Tel-Aviv.

In November 2010, the ITIC reported that Hamas has missiles with an 80km range.

Almost everyone in the Western Negev knows not it's not "if'" but "when"' the next missile escalation starts, leading to the next Gaza war.

After living in Sderot for the past 5 years, watching the construction of 5,000 new bomb shelters, you don’t have to be a prophet to understand that the highest authorities in Israel know there has not been a permanent end to the rocket fire. Being realistic, Israel has to be prepared for many more years of conflict on the Gaza border.

Photo: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center
While Iran is certainly a threat for Israel, the biggest delegitimization threat for Israel, is with no doubt Gaza. Add to this the uprisings in Egypt and North Africa, bringing to power groups that have already declared they will end the "peace treaty" with Israel.

The harsh response that Israel received from the world media and many governments during and after Cast Lead, after the Flotilla incident, and right up to today is actually a modern-day version of a very old demonization of Jews and Israel. A tremendous effort is being made to delegitimize Israel, with the goal of eliminating the Jewish state. How Israel will deal with this threat?
How should Israel deal with this threat?  Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amatzia Chen believes that the current  policy has failed.
"In all of the previous wars, starting from the 1956 Suez Operation, through the Six Day War and in the Yom Kippur War as well, the IDF took the fight into enemy territory," Chen recalled. "The security concept was that of fighting the war we choose, and seizing the initiative. But since 1982, after that rally in Rabin Square, Rabin and Peres decided, for political reasons, that the strategy needs to be changed and that we should only go to war when there is no choice - i.e., when the sword is on our neck."

Chen said that since that decision was made, Israel has lost its deterrent capability. "Our enemies understood the dramatic change in Israel's security concept as a position of weakness. In any case, they had ceased threatening us with regular armies and turned instead to the weapon of terror. They murdered hundreds of Jews inside Israel, but controlled the bloodletting so as to enable Israel's leaders to maintain the concept that one does not go to war as long as there is a choice."

"Every Israeli citizen knows that the Israel of today is not the Israel of pre-1982."

Chen said that artillery fire on Gaza is not a proper response to the missile attack on Be'er Sheva. "We are a nation that wants to live, and there is no point in fair play when it comes to terrorists. That is not how terror is defeated. The State of Israel is a sovereign state that needs to formulate a proper strategy. Unfortunately, the strategy today is that if you are fired upon you fire back. We are, in effect, signaling to the enemies that they can continue using the same method in the future, too."
There is great anger in Sderot, a city with more bomb shelters than playgrounds.

By Dave Balson

Like everyone else on the planet, I have heard about the "complicated" situation in the Middle East my whole life: promises to fix it, hopeful negotiations that crumble behind closed doors, rockets, wars, treaties, stalemates, etc. Round and round it goes until, exasperated, I figure both sides are unwilling to reach the type of tough-but-straightforward agreements that brought peace to Ireland and South Africa, and I give up. "It's complicated" is a Facebook status, not a diplomatic agreement.

I spent the last two weeks in Israel. The trip was free, as it is to any Jew, through a program called "Taglit Birthright." To any students who come from a Jewish background, I suggest checking it out. It is a free trip to Israel, if nothing else.

Last Wednesday I visited Sderot, a town of about 20,000 people in the western Negev desert, less than a mile away from the Gaza strip.

Sderot has been the target of more than 10,000 rockets fired from Gaza since 2000. Gaza is controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas. Sderot is the only town in the 21st Century where rockets are being continually fired at a civilian population.

To deal with the rocket attacks, the town has a siren that gives residents a 15-second warning to get into a bomb shelter.

Stop for a moment and consider how far you could get in 15 seconds. Could you get to the nearest bathroom? The nearest car? The nearest stairway?

Sderot is the bomb shelter capitol of the world. Every house has a bomb shelter. Apartment buildings have bomb shelters crawling up their sides. Every bus stop is a bomb shelter and others are spaced in between; there is a bomb shelter about 15 seconds away from most places.

If you are a child in Sderot, you should hope you are in school when the rockets come. Older schools have been retrofitted with huge steel shields on their outer walls and roofs. Newer schools are literally giant bomb shelters, their paltry playgrounds nothing but dust and three safe cubes awaiting the siren's call.

Other parts of town have the type of playgrounds we grew up on: ladder up, slide down, monkey bars and the wall with a clear bubble that never made sense. They have painted a castle a nice shade of purple, and made two long concrete snakes look so vibrant and fun, you could almost forget they, too, are bomb shelters. Between 70 to 95 percent of children in Sderot have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.

So why are people still living in this god-forsaken place? There are a few reasons. For one, housing is much cheaper there (feel free to guess why). For another, Sderot has one of the most lively and productive music scenes in the Eastern Hemisphere. The town is home to more chart-topping bands than any other in Israel and rivals any in Europe.

But the real reason people stay is because they feel they must. Sderot is internationally recognized as part of Israel. If they leave, if they give up, what happens to the next town? And the next? Rockets from Gaza can hit Israel's economic and cultural centers - Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, respectively.

I saw all this from Israel's side of the border, so I cannot speak with objective moral authority on who is right or wrong, victim or oppressor. I know everyone I talked to in Israel wants peace more than anything, and would give up land if they thought it would achieve it. I also know that people suffer in Gaza and struggle for a homeland in the West Bank.

As a commentator, I am supposed to speak in shoulds and should nots.

No one should have to live like the people of Sderot. That's all I've got.

It's complicated.

Dave Balson is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at 581-7942 or
I always allow the people of Sderot to speak for themselves.  This is their story, their struggle, their battle. What is happening in Sderot, Beer-Sheva, Ashkelon, the Negev, is the price for living in Israel.  For Sderot's residents it is the price of living on the frontier.  If they surrender their city, it will only encourage Hamas to conquer the next city, then the one after it.  Until they have conquered the whole nation.

You are not on the frontier, the front line in this battle, but you can help. The small donation that you give to the Sderot Media Center goes to help the people, especially the children of Sderot. Just a bit of your spare change will help.  To donate click here.

Children of Sderot Just Want A Little Peace

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