January 15th 2019
Sderot is a former development town in the Southern District of Israel. It is a city of 27,000 resilient people committed to building the State of Israel and the Jewish nation, which they do with vigour. The city, infamously referred to as the “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World”, continues to be a place of tremendous growth, despite the constant threat of terror. Located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip, Sderot has been a major target of Qassam rockets attacks from Hamas.
Dorel Abramowitz, Director of Development for the Sderot Municipality says, “We used to say that life in Sderot is 99% heaven and 1% hell, meaning most of the time it's a wonderful place to live. Sderot is a growing city, has excellent schools and is generally a great place to live. Obviously when rockets are storming down that is not the case. Since Operation Protective Edge it has mostly been very quiet but once in a while we get reminders from our neighbours in Gaza.”
1: How do you deal with the constant missiles and terror?
Since ‘Operation Protective Edge’ at the end of 2014, we have had three years of full quiet. In the last year however, we had numerous rocket attacks which took us back to the years of 2003-2014 when we had rockets on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. During November 2018, we had almost 300 rockets in 24 hours. It is impossible to live under those kinds of perilous conditions and when that happens, we call the Israeli government to do whatever they can to make the Hamas regime understand it is not worthwhile for them to fire rockets at civilians in Sderot and the surrounding region.
2: Has the situation affected you personally?
I work in Sderot but don't actually live there. During the last attack, I was in my car which is the scariest situation to find oneself in during a missile attack. I was stopped at the traffic lights at the entrance of Sderot when I heard the 'red colour' alert go off. I got out of the car and lay down on the floor for 10 minutes until I could find a bomb shelter. Above me I could hear the Iron Dome system intercepting the Qassam rockets. It was obviously not a great experience to be outside during one of those attacks but on the other hand I have to say that I did feel a sense of pride that we have a system like the Iron Dome to assist us during attacks.
3: How do people cope with the threat to life on a day to day basis?
The situation has affected all those living here. The effect of living with this level of terror can cause people to suffer with PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, lack of self-confidence and fear of loud noises. We have a system in place to deal with these issues which includes a team of therapists to support those suffering from the effects of PTSD. I would say that this is the most significant effect of the last 15 years of terror because all Sderot kids are born into this reality.
The truth is people love Sderot and want to bring up their children here because it is an exceptionally warm community. It is peaceful, quiet, very friendly and so diverse! There is a place here for all types. I think that lots of residents understand that in many ways they need to set an example as proud Zionists who are standing at the forefront for the entire State of Israel. It is that responsibility and position that gives them strength and motivation to stay and to live in Sderot, despite the challenges they encounter along the way.
My good friend, Shmuel Ohayon, is a married and a father of two children. He is Director of Operations in the Sderot playground and a local resident who has lived there since he was five years old when his parents made Aliyah from Morocco 55 years ago. He says, “I love Sderot and I have never thought about leaving. This is my home! My family, friends and everything is here. Sderot is a charming place, the Qassam rockets will not break my spirit.”
4: Do you feel the government is supportive of your situation and that they do what they can to help?
Yes, we believe the government does a lot to protect us. We are not aware of all of the action they take but we are sure that the IDF does everything in their power to protect us.
It is obviously more complex than straightforward as the government has many factors to consider when dealing with Hamas and sometimes we have a feeling that political agendas stop the government from defeating Hamas. In the last debacle, it seemed like we were begging for a ceasefire instead of giving back a powerful response.
5: How can Jews in the UK help our brothers and sisters in Sderot?
You can definitely help! I can think of several ways:
6: Would you leave Sderot and move to a "safer" part of Israel?
The people in Sderot love the city and most of them would not consider leaving. In the 'bad years' before Protective Edge, one third of Sderot residents left. By 2012, we were fewer than 20,000 residents which was dramatically less than the 24,000 residents in 2003. But we are very happy and proud that in the last five years, many new people have moved to Sderot and the plan is to more than double the population over the next five years to 50,000 people. Five new neighbourhoods are currently being built – the dream is possible!
7: Are you angry at the people of Gaza?
No, we do not hate the Arabs that live in Gaza as tragically they are under the horrible regime that controls and oppresses them. I am sure they wish they had a normal and successful life. However they basically support Hamas and I'm not sure they are great fans of Israel. They know very well that under Israel they would be much safer and that Israel would encourage them to succeed and to become more developed in comparison to their lives under Hamas rule. The truth is that Gaza is a complicated issue and I do not believe there is anyone out there that could provide a magical solution to the problem.
Shira obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Education and Psychology. She then trained as a Speech and Drama teacher through the Trinity College of London. She has been an educator for the past 15 years, teaching students from nursery to university where she lectured on writing and communication skills. She now teaches English and runs her own drama company called Dramatix where she teaches a broad age group of students. She also works for Chazak where she is the editor of YALLA Community Magazine and is responsible for PR/Marketing and events for young professionals.