Thursday, January 26, 2012


Last Friday eight of my classmates and myself piled into a minibus and went on a tiyyul [trip] to Sderot. Sderot is a small unassuming town an hour and ½ south west of Jerusalem. Along the way we saw some of the lushest foliage I had ever seen, before pulling up first to the town of Sderot, and then to the Sderot Media Center. At the media center a man named Tom who was going to be our tour guide for the day greeted us. Tom offered us all coffee and cookies, and then a warning—if you hear an alarm go off you have 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter.

Bomb shelter?? As I said,  Sderot is a small, unassuming town located within Israel proper [opposed to in disputed territories]. It is also around 1-1.5 kilometers from the Gaza strip.  For the past 11 years homemade ketusha missals have ambushed Sderot. The majority [if not all] of these ketusha rockets are homemade. The supplies that is used to make them, comes from aid given into Gaza from Israel. It is, in essence, as if Israel is indirectly bombing itself.

While we were there we met mostly with people who lived there for the normal reasons anyone would live anywhere. One person wanted to live in a small town, somewhere not too expensive to live. Another lived there simply because it was affordable. Yet, for these people a part of their every day life was hearing a siren go off and having to run to a bomb shelter. During our time there, we joked, laughed, sat with people and had conversations over tea. But there is a tension in the air, of never knowing if the alarm would sound.

There have not been many casualties in Sderot, the effects of the bombings are psychological. Our tour guide told us that as a result of his two years living in Sderot he jumps every time he hears anything that remotely sounds like a siren. Children are raised to not chase a ball that goes rolling down the street for fear of being to far from a bomb shelter if the alarm sounds. Houses when they are built, are built first with a bomb shelter so that should the alarm sound the workers have a place to hide. We heard stories of the alarm going off, and people having to decide which child to take if they had young kids [15 seconds is not enough time to free two children from seat belts and run to safety]. There were stories of disabled people who would just make it to the shelter after it was safe to go out again. In Sderot, everyone has a story.

Everywhere you look in Sderot there are bomb shelters. Every house has a shelter [if it has not been built in such a way that the house itself can be a bomb shelter], every school, there are multiple shelters on the streets.  These shelters have become works of art. Tagged with graffiti so that they don’t stick out so much. And they smell. Of sweat, and urine and God knows what else. During our time there we did a sample bomb drill [after looking at pieces of bombs, painted in different colors so that the Israelis would know who sent the rocket over].

For the last part of our tour Tom took us to a lookout. Before we went up he warned us “if I say duck don’t ask questions just do it. Don’t care if your clothes get dirty just get down to the ground and lay there, flat as you can”. From this viewpoint we had a view of Gaza City. From this view we saw skyscrapers, and buildings that looked like they belonged in any city, anywhere in the world.

After the tour, we hopped back into our little bus and headed out of the quiet, unassuming town, back towards Jerusalem. In the first ½ of 2011 over 180 rockets were fired. While the Israeli government has found ways to protect the cities that are under fire, those firing the rockets have found ways to counter those methods.

Sderot is a small, unassuming town that most people outside of Israel have not even heard of. It’s a town where people want to go about their daily lives. They study, they work, they go out to eat. It is a town where everyone knows someone who has been injured or killed in a terror attack. It is a town where almost everyone suffers from PTSD.  But the people do not move, they do not move because their lives are there.

Sderot is not a town over some line that divides what is from what isn’t [depending on who you ask] Israel. Sderot is properly inside the boundaries of Israel. Yet it is constantly under attack. It is a town where everyone is a victim and everyone suffers, yet no one outside of Israel seems to know about it, and I can't help but wonder why.

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