An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in this Israeli Defence Force (IDF) handout image received on November 28, 2017 showing the operationalization of the Iron Dome missile interceptor system firing from navy ship Sa'ar 5-corvette INS Lahav. Courtesy of IDF Spokesperson Unit/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Gaza Rocket Explodes In Sderot


A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Friday, the third one from Gaza in the past couple of days.

The rocket fell onto a street, causing damage to the road as well as multiple vehicles and houses in the vicinity of the rocket. No one was hurt, although three people were hospitalized for anxiety and shock as a result of the fallen rocket.

Ahfad al-Sahaba-Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, an ISIS affiliate, declared that they were responsible for the rocket, as they were retaliating against Hamas for arresting multiple terrorists in the group.

“Oh you cowardly Jews: You don’t have safety in our land,” the ISIS affiliate taunted.

Prior to the fallen rocket, two rockets had been launched from Gaza into Israel, neither of which made it into the Jewish state. One was shot down by the Iron Dome, the other simply failed to reach its target.

Tawhid al-Jihad, an al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for those two missile strikes; Israel responded with six strikes against Gaza, two targeting Hamas and four targeting Islamic Jihad. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 25 people were injured from Israel’s strikes.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) said in a statement, “The IDF holds Hamas responsible for the hostile activity perpetuated against Israel from the Gaza Strip.”

The rocket fire from Gaza amidst the “Days of Rage” protests throughout Gaza and the West Bank in response to President Trump announcing that the United States will now recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Hamas specifically called for “Intifada of Jerusalem and the West Bank’s Freedom” and the Palestinian Authority is organizing some of the protests.

Confrontations between the protests and the IDF resulted in two Palestinians being killed and 98 others injured on Friday.

For Israelis in the western Negev, each day is ‘Russian Roulette’


When the tzeva adom, red alert, screams its siren as Yasmine Parda eats out in Ashkelon at her favorite restaurant, she waits and hopes for the best—no rocket shelters are reachable by foot within the siren’s reported 15-second warning interval.

“We sit in the restaurant and wait,” said the 27-year-old secretary as she stopped for a few moments along Yig’al Alon Street in Sderot on Aug. 14, the morning after a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced.

Paya Amirov, Parda’s friend, described her life as a game of “Russian Roulette”—she can’t know whether the next minute, hour, or day will be quiet or chaotic, with the ever-present possibility of needing to drop everything and run from scorching metal and shrapnel that falls from the sky shortly after being fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Michal Tweeto, who lives on Moshav Tkuma, a community next to Gaza, with her husband and three children, brought two of her kids—Tova, 5, and Avraham, 3—to a massive indoor playground and community center in Sderot so they could enjoy some respite for the day. In recent weeks, the kids have barely been able to leave the house. And even during this ceasefire, there’s no guarantee of safety.

“My kids are afraid. That’s the biggest problem for me,” Tweeto said. “I’m more afraid from the trauma than from the rockets.”

At the $5 million, 21,000-square-foot facility, which was built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 2009, recreation rooms and play areas double as bomb shelters, giving parents like Tweeto the peace of mind that they enjoyed before 2001, when rocket fire from neighboring Gaza became a regular occurrence.

Located in an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Sderot, the facility has basketball courts, a café, computers and a small movie theater. On a recent visit, the happy screams of children playing rang through the air as parents sat at tables and socialized with each other.

This $5 million, 21,000 square foot indoor rec center in Sderot was built by the Jewish National Fund in 2009 as a response to rocket fire.

Just one mile away from the indoor playground, another stark reminder of life here, particularly for children, is made apparent by a large structure on an outdoor playground on Ha-Rakefet Street. Artfully built into the playground, the structure looks like a large friendly snake with a hollowed out interior play area.

This snake-like structure on an outdoor playground doubles as a bomb shelter.

Approaching it, though, a sign on it reads in Hebrew: “When the tzeva adom sounds, you have to enter under my protection beyond the orange line.”

This sign at an outdoor Sderot playground tells children to enter the inside of what is a playful looking snake if they hear the “red alert” siren.

Moshe and Linor Barsheshet, Netivot residents who came for the day to the indoor JNF playground with their two children, Haddas and Yonatan, left home for Beit Shemesh during the war and returned during the first cease fire two weeks ago.

Government officials asked residents in the south to return home, expecting that the cease-fire would hold—Hamas broke it on the morning of Aug. 8, firing a volley of rockets over the border and further shattering the confidence of many locals.

“It’s impossible to leave the house,” Moshe said.

Arnold Rosenblum, who came to Israel five years ago from Russia, recently moved to Sderot to enroll at Sapir College. Walking in the downtown shopping area, Rosenblum, 23, sat down for a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

“What can I say?” Rosenblum said, asked how the rockets and sirens have impacted his life. “We are getting used to this. First time is very hard and you really think maybe you should leave Sderot.”

After that initial shock, though, he said, the regular interruptions just become normal. “I say like this: if I made a choice to live here, no Hamas, no someone else can make me change my choice.”

During parts July and August, when classes at Sapir were cancelled due to the war in Gaza, Rosenblum worked at a plastics factory in town. He said that, during work, if the siren rang, people would have 13 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter—he said that by the time the red alert goes off, two seconds have already been shaved off from the 15.

When he is home during the siren, he said his two and three-year-old nephews and nieces panic amidst the rush to get to a shelter.

“Everyone is screaming. Everyone is crying,” Rosenblum said, adding glumly when asked about the current lull in fighting: “It’s very sad.”

Hesitant to offer his opinion on the war and on the government’s decision, for now, to halt its operation, Rosenblum instead offered some dark humor:

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin asks God, ‘What do you think? When is it going to be the end of terrorism in Chechnya?”

“Not in your [presidential] term,” God said.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu asks God,” said Rosenblum. “‘What do you think? When is it going to be quiet in Gaza?’”

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

Amid rocket barrage, southern Israelis told to stay near shelters


At least 15 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel over the course of an hour.

Hours after Hamas’ military wing threatened Israel, Thursday’s barrage struck buildings and caused fires, and a soldier was injured from shrapnel. Residents of Israeli communities near the Gaza border were instructed to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter.

As Israeli troops moved toward the Gaza border, a spokesman for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades told reporters in the coastal strip, “The threat of an Israeli military action against the Gaza Strip does not scare us. It only hastens the hour of our revenge against Israel, and an opportunity to teach it a lesson.

He added, “I promise you that one stupid move by your leaders will be enough to make us turn all of your communities, even those you might not expect, into targets and burning coals,”  he said.

Some high school students in Sderot on Thursday sat for their matriculation exams as the rockets fell on the city.

More than 30 rockets have hit Israel in the 24 hours since Wednesday evening, according to the Israeli military.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the residents of southern Israel for their fortitude in the wake of the onslaught of rockets.

“The strength you are demonstrating allows us to act determinedly and responsibly towards one goal – your security, all our security,” Netanyahu said Thursday evening at an Independence Day celebration at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Netanyahu spoke of two possibilities in southern Israel, including the end to rocket fire from Gaza.

“The second possibility is that the firing at our communities in the South will continue and then the reinforcement forces that are located in the field will act forcefully,” he said.

 

 

Israeli military calls up reservists on second day of Gaza rocket barrage


The Israel Defense Forces called up a limited number of reservists following a second day of rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel.

The reservists — for air defense, according to the Israel Defense Forces — were summoned on Thursday, when 17 rockets were fired at Israel. Seven landed in Israel and two were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The remainder hit Palestinian areas. Another rocket struck southern Israel after the announcement was made but caused no damage.

At least seven rockets were fired at southern Israel shortly after the Islamic Jihad terrorist group in Gaza said it would abide by the cease-fire mediated by Egypt in 2012 amid an Israeli operation to stop rocket attacks.

Four rockets were fired Thursday morning at Ashkelon and Ashdod, with two landing in open fields between the cities and one intercepted over Ashkelon by Iron Dome. Ashdod closed schools without rocket-proof shelters following attacks.

Hours later, Israel’s Air Force retaliated by targeting seven “terror sites” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to respond militarily to the attacks.

“Our policy in the South is clear — we attack anyone who attempts to hurt us and we will react with a powerful force,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning. “I want to clarify that whoever tries to hurt our Purim celebrations, we will respond with force.” Purim begins on Saturday evening.

Israel’s security Cabinet met Thursday morning to discuss the escalation in attacks from Gaza.

The previous evening, Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, with 41 landing in Israeli territory, including five in residential neighborhoods. Iron Dome shot down at least three of the rockets. The IDF responded by hitting what it called in a statement 29 “terror locations” in Gaza with artillery fire. Israeli residents were instructed to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter overnight.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and urged restraint from all sides. The U.S. State Department in its condemnation of the attacks said Israel has a right to defend itself.

Wednesday’s attack was the largest on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF said.

Rockets fired on Israel from Gaza for third day


A rocket fired from Gaza struck southern Israel, the third day in a row that rockets have been fired at Israel from the coastal strip.

Several rockets were fired from Gaza on Thursday morning, but only one landed in an open area in southern Israel. The rest exploded within Gaza's borders. No damage or injuries were reported.

On Wednesday morning two rockets fired from Gaza landed near Sderot as children were making their way to school on the first school day since the Passover holiday. Wednesday's attacks came after Israel on Tuesday night struck what the military called   “two extensive terror sites” in the northern Gaza Strip, following the firing of three mortar shells on Israel from Gaza on Tuesday,

Four rockets also were fired on Israel during President Obama's visit last month. One was found Tuesday crashed into the roof of a kindergarten building.

There have been a handful of rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended the Gaza conflict, Israel's Pillar of Defense operation, in November.

Man behind Iron Dome addresses Milken students


Milken Community High School's middle and upper school students and teachers got a unique glimpse into the inner workings of some of the Israeli military’s most cutting-edge technology on March 7.

The best part? It was delivered by someone who had an integral role in bringing it into being: retired Brig. Gen. Daniel Gold, the mind behind the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system.

Speaking with the assurance of a military veteran, Gold smiled with pride as he described to a packed auditorium the mechanics of Iron Dome and the breathing room that it gives to Israeli citizens, soldiers and politicians by defending Israeli cities from most of the rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, as it did in November.

“We have systems, sensors, eyes all over Israel that monitor what is going on in our neighborhood. We know every launch, where the launch point is, where they are shooting from and where the landing point is,” Gold told the audience.

Iron Dome works as follows: Radar units across the country detect incoming rockets and calculate information about their speeds and trajectories. Those data are then relayed to the control center, or “brain,” as Gold put it.

The brain decides which rockets, if any, will hit civilian areas. It sends that information to soldiers in a command center, who in turn launch missiles from one of five deployed mobile launchers, each of which can hold up to 20 missiles. The intercepting missile — receiving updates from the control center and its own internal radar — then launches into the sky, tracking down the enemy rocket.

Gold played video footage of the Iron Dome intercepting rockets in November’s weeklong Operation Pillar of Defense. More than 1,400 rockets were launched into Israel during the conflict, threatening civilian centers such as Ashdod, Sderot and Beersheba. A few even made it as far as Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city and economic hub.

Most of the rockets landed harmlessly in open areas, a handful evaded Iron Dome and hit Israeli cities and many — 421 to be precise — were shot down by Iron Dome missiles before hitting their targets, according to the Israeli military.

As they watched clip after clip of Iron Dome blasting Hamas rockets out of the sky, students and faculty burst into applause each time a ball of fire appeared, indicating that the target was hit.

Although Iron Dome wasn’t implemented until 2011, Gold made clear that it would have been useful during the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, when thousands of Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon killed more than 40 Israeli civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

When Hezbollah terrorists fired rockets from a “civilian area site,” he said it was not the “Israeli way” to send in fighter jets. And a ground operation wasn’t ideal, especially if the rockets were deep into Lebanese territory, because of the risk it posed to Israeli soldiers.

Shying away from aerial bombings and ground operations left an obvious choice — anti-rocket missile defense. Although Iron Dome is now admired as a game changer for Israel, the Pentagon and Israeli military officials at the time didn’t take seriously a science-fiction type machine, one that could simply track down rockets — rockets that travel faster than bullets — and blast them to pieces.

As early as 2005, Gold and his team in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv conjured up the idea that is now Iron Dome. He told a group of Milken math and science students after his speech that when the government refused to fund the research and development, he “bypassed” the Israeli bureaucracy. A 2009 report submitted by Israeli State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss accused Gold of moving ahead with the project without first receiving the required government approval.

When asked whether he was concerned about getting in trouble, he said confidently that his team completed its mission “very fast” and that he had worked around the bureaucratic process “15 times before.”

One of the advantages of Iron Dome is that in addition to shooting down dangerous rockets, it knows to not bother shooting down the harmless ones, missiles that Israel’s control center projects will land in the sea or in open fields. That becomes significant given that each interceptor missile costs between $50,000 and $100,000 (depending on the size of the purchase).

Of course, Gold told a group of students that there’s more to consider than the price tags or even the money saved by not resorting to an invasion.

“The calculation is not one-on-one,” he said. “What is the damage that you prevent? Because you prevent billions of dollars of damage [to] properties.”

One student asked Gold what role America plays in the Iron Dome. Gold responded by saying that only after Israel completed the research and development on its own did it request American aid to purchase mobile launchers and missiles. Since 2010, Congress and the Obama administration have provided nearly $300 million in Iron Dome funding, with an additional $211 million committed for this fiscal year.

Gold’s time with the students concluded with remarks from Metuka Benjamin, the organizer of the event and the president of Milken Community High School.

“I hope you feel as I do — proud of Israel to come up with such an invention that saves people’s lives,” she said. 

Rockets pound Israel for seventh day


More than 80 rockets were fired at southern Israel in the seventh day since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, including two aimed at Jerusalem.

An air raid siren sounded in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon; two rockets fell in the Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets aimed at Jerusalem.

Shortly before the alarm, a rocket struck a building in the Eshkol Regional Council, reportedly injuring several people. Rockets also hit a home in Netivot and damaged homes in Sderot and Beersheva.

An Israeli reserve soldier was injured by a rocket that fell in the Eshkol Regional Council.

A volley of 16 rockets was fired Tuesday toward Beersheva. One hit the road in front of a bus, damaging the bus, which the passengers had exited due to the air raid siren. A second rocket hit a house and a third hit a parked care. Nine of the 16 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that on Tuesday, it targeted 11 terrorist squads involved in firing rockets toward Israel and planting explosive devices at the border. The IDF also bombed 30 underground rocket launchers and a hiding place for senior terror operatives that was used to store weapons and ammunition, the IDF spokesman said. Overnight, the IDF said it targeted 100 terror sites in Gaza, including underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities.

“The sites that were targeted were positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of several months,” the IDF statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reportedly will land in Israel on Tuesday to encourage a cease-fire. She also will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, but no one from Hamas, Haaretz reported. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders.

Barak: Current episode with Gaza ‘not over’


Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the current episode of rocket fire from Gaza is not over, during a visit to the border with Gaza.

Barak on Tuesday held a security analysis with the Israel Defense Forces chiefs in the area, including Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Mickey Edelstein; Commander of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo; and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh.

“Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are suffering as a result of intense strikes [by the IDF] in Gaza. But it is certainly not over and we will decide how and when to act if necessary.  I do not want to address either timing or means [of operation]; it would not be right to provide this information to the other side,” Barak said, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

“We do not intend to allow – in any shape or form – the continued harming of the day to day life of our citizens.   And we intend to reinforce the deterrence – and strengthen it – so that we are able to operate along the length of the border fence in a way that will ensure the security of all our soldiers who are serving around the Gaza Strip.”

Barak added that even if other Gaza terrorist organizations are shooting some of the rockets, that Israel holds Hamas, which is in charge of Gaza, responsible for all of the attacks. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the security cabinet on Tuesday morning to discuss possible responses to the attacks from Gaza.

A long-range Grad missile fired from Gaza on Tuesday morning struck Ashdod, but did not cause any injuries or damage. Early Tuesday morning, Israel Air Force aircraft fired at and struck a weapon storage facility in the central Gaza Strip, and two launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Gaza terrorists for the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. He also called on Israel to be restrained in its response.

“The secretary-general reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel and strongly condemns these actions,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement. “Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.”

At least 160 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza since Saturday night, according to reports.

Kassams strike southern Israel


At least four Kassam rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel.

Three rockets hit Wednesday night, according to the Israel Defense Forces, though some Israeli news reports put the number at five. An additional rocket hit about three hours earlier. No damage or injuries were reported.

In the last month, 29 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, according to the IDF.

Analysis: New Hamas Gaza rocket attacks pose dilemma for Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The renewal of intense Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian areas has put Israelis in a somber mood during the usually festive week of Chanukah.

The new fighting erupted Friday — the day a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel expired and the Islamist group declared it would not renew.

Since then, Hamas has allowed Islamic Jihad militants to bombard Israelis in the towns near the Gaza Strip, including Sderot. The barrages slowed down only on Monday, when Hamas announced that Palestinian factions in the strip were observing a 24-hour lull requested by Egyptian mediators.

Israeli officials are calling for sharp retaliation. The Israeli Cabinet already has voted to hit back, leaving the timing and scope of the nation’s response to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The rocket attacks are a reminder of the Israeli government’s inability to resolve the Gaza problem. Coming in the midst of an election campaign, the deterioration of the situation around Gaza has prompted many Israelis to ask why the government has not yet struck back in a serious way.

Cabinet ministers and leading members of the coalition have jumped into the fray, questioning Barak’s apparent restraint.

Barak, however, refuses to be hurried. He dismisses calls for immediate action as political grandstanding, saying that for the sake of its standing in the region, Israel must retaliate the right way. Barak insists he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

Complicating matters, Hamas’ rockets have increased their range from six months ago, before the cease-fire.

Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shin Bet security agency, told the Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas now could target Israeli population centers within a radius of 25 miles from the Gaza Strip. That includes Beersheba, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and a host of smaller cities and towns.

As the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot put it in a screaming headline, “One of every eight Israelis is in range of the rockets.”

Hamas used the truce to smuggle in tons of new weaponry, including upgraded Katyusha rocket launchers with a 25-mile range. Israeli military planners estimate that in the event of a showdown in Gaza, Hamas would be able to fire hundreds of rockets a day at Israeli civilian centers — much the same way Hezbollah did in 2006.

Hamas also has built Hezbollah-style fortifications and brought anti-tank weapons into the strip.

“For Israel, invading Gaza will not be a walk in the park,” warned Moussa Abu Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas’ Damascus-based leadership.

Israel has several military options in Gaza, all of them problematic. The Jewish state could strike at rocket-launching crews and military installations from the air, but that alone would not be enough to stop the rocket fire.

Israel’s army could target Hamas leaders, but most them already have gone underground. The army also could fire artillery shells at the sources of rocket fire, but since the Palestinian militiamen operate mainly from built-up civilian areas, this likely would cause many civilian casualties and invite international condemnation.

Israel could undertake limited ground operations against rocket launchers and capture the territory from where the rockets are being fired, but this would put Israeli troops at risk in the heart of Palestinian territory.

A large-scale ground operation likely would be more effective, but it would require an exit strategy Israel does not have — or leave Israel responsible for Gaza and the needs of its estimated 1.5 million Palestinians.

For its part, Hamas has much to lose from an all-out war. Its goal in the current crisis is to get Israel to ease its siege on Gaza and lessen the pressure on Hamas militants in the West Bank. But if Israel invades and overruns Gaza, it could lose everything — including its hold on power in Gaza.

On Monday, Hamas showed signs of stepping back from the brink. It ordered a 24-hour suspension of rocket fire to give Egyptian mediators another chance to negotiate a new cease-fire on terms more favorable to Hamas.

Israel, however, shows no sign of backing down.

The standoff with Hamas goes far beyond Gaza, and the outcome will reverberate across the region. It is part of the regional power struggle between Iran and its proxies and between fundamentalists and the moderate pro-Western camp, including countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

While Arab moderates in public have expressed alarm at the escalation, in private some reportedly have hinted to Israel that they would not be sorry to see Hamas and its leaders hit hard. The Egyptians even have hinted publicly that Iran has been fanning the flames from behind the scenes.

Indeed, the Gaza standoff is part of the showdown between Israel and Iran. A powerful Israeli response will send a strong message to Tehran and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon. A failed action or a perceived retreat could encourage the Iran to step up its challenges of Israel.

Barak is keenly aware of what’s at stake and is insisting on detailed planning and thinking through all the strategic implications. This way, if Israel does launch a major operation, it will achieve an overwhelming victory and have a clear strategy for the political aftermath.

But there is still no agreement among Israel’s three major prime ministerial candidates on what to do about Hamas in the long term. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu say the Hamas government should be toppled. Barak advocates the more modest goal of restoring quiet after dealing a heavy blow to the organization’s military wing.

The way the goal is defined will determine the nature of the military operation and set the tone for the political aftermath.

Quiet ends in Sderot as rocket attacks resume


SDEROT, ISRAEL (JTA) –Elior Levy was trying to get some rest Monday night.

Living in Sderot, the working-class town on the front line of Israel’s battle with rockets from Gaza, Levy is no stranger to having his sleep interrupted by middle-of-the-night Qassam salvos. Usually a Code Red alert gives residents a 15-second warning to find shelter, but at 5 o’clock Tuesday morning, Levy heard a big crash — and this time there was no warning.

Fortunately, the rocket was not close and caused little damage. So Levy, 17, said he took a sip of water and went back to sleep. Some, particularly the town’s younger children, do not return to slumber so easily.

Residents of the hard-hit Mem-Shalosh neighborhood, on the city’s south side, had been sleeping better the last six months, due to the cease-fire with Hamas.

Until about two weeks ago, that is, when the Israeli army blew up a tunnel that Hamas was building. The army believes the tunnel was to carry out another kidnapping operation of the kind that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still missing.

Since the army operation, the region has been hit by a daily barrage of rockets — about a dozen Monday, more than 30 the day before. Sixty have fallen on Sderot alone so far this month, according to the town’s security officer. The situation essentially is returning to what it had been for much of the past eight years.

The residents of Sderot aren’t happy, but they’re also not surprised.

“We knew it would happen,” said Hadas Nir, who lives in nearby Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and attends Sapir Academy. That’s just what life is like in this area, she said.

“We wake in the morning with Qassams,” Nir said, “and we go to bed at night with Qassams.”

The situation is frightening, but she will deal with it.

“I don’t feel I want to leave the area,” she said. “We have to stay here.”

Rotem Yagel agreed. “If we leave, it is a prize for them,” he said, referring to the Hamas terrorists.

Yagel, 28, originally from Beersheba, is living in the Ayalim student village at Yahini, a moshav a few miles south of Sderot. It is a volunteer work-study program run by the Jewish Agency for Israel that also aims to populate the Negev and Galilee regions.

Itay Avinathan, his roommate in one of the caravans erected by the student volunteers, is staying put, too, even though he said the security risk “is always there.” Avinathan, 24, of Haifa said he wouldn’t have changed his mind about joining the program this fall, even if he had known the rocket fire would resume.

But it is the effect of the rockets on the area’s young children that concerns most people. That is why many of the aid programs for Sderot, funded by the Israel Emergency Campaign of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), are aimed at the youth.

Children like Tal Schneior, a 10-year-old with two sisters and a cat, “likes living in Sderot,” she said in Hebrew, “but there are too many Qassams and Code Reds.”

Others are not taking the situation with such equanimity. A 16-year-old named Ligmor told a visiting group of UJC leaders Tuesday about a close friend whose house was once struck by a rocket. Now every time a Code Red goes off at school, the friend cries inconsolably until her father reassures her by phone that everyone in the family is fine.

David Bouskila, who was elected Sderot’s mayor last week, frets that every child born in the town during the past eight years “doesn’t know any other life than this reality.”

During the past six months of relative quiet, “everything starts to be so nice,” he said. But now that calm has been shattered.

Bouskila, who takes office Dec. 2, is critical of how the government, headed by his own Kadima Party, is handling the situation.

“In the case of security, we have no government in Israel,” he said.

The government has initiated a program to fortify houses in Sderot, beginning with one-story structures. There are 1,048 of them, and just 200 have been completed, Bouskila said, adding that he expects the entire project will be completed in two to three years.

Meanwhile, a host of social services, funded partly by businesses and partly by U.S. federation dollars, have sprung up to make the best of a difficult situation. For example, some 5,000 children in Sderot take part in the Jewish Agency’s Enrichment Fund programs, which provide extracurricular activities during the school day. Parents in Sderot want to see their children return safely home immediately after school, so activities after school are not an option.

There is also the Net@ program, a unique partnership with Cisco, a U.S. company, and Tapuach, an Israeli computer firm, to train promising high school students to be computer network technicians. Upon completion of the rigorous and competitive program, they receive certification from Cisco that makes them marketable for high-tech jobs.

The residents of Sderot deeply appreciate the support — both moral and financial — that they receive from outsiders. But they do not want to be pitied or thought of as impoverished.

“We are not a city of poor people,” Bouskila told the visiting UJC delegation that had come from the group’s General Assembly taking place this week in Jerusalem. “We are a proud people that live in terrible stress.”

Sderot welcomes Obama


SDEROT, Israel (JTA) – At the New Age Beauty Salon in a run-down strip mall here, the manicurist and hairdresser swap opinions of Barack Obama, the latest in a series of high-profile visitors to come through this southern Israeli town.

“Is there a chance I’ll be able to give him a hug?” jokes Yaffa Malka, 44, the salon’s hairdresser and owner. “He’s cute, and besides that I trust him. I’m not sure why, but something about him seems genuine to me. He seems like one of us, someone who knows about difficult times.”

Her friend and co-worker Gila Vazana, the manicurist, says Sderot, the rocket-weary town adjacent to the Gaza Strip, can use all the friends it can get — especially if that friend might be the next U.S. president.

“We need America to be with us and for us all of the time,” says Vazana, her long blond ponytail falling down her back.

Soon after their conversation, Obama’s helicopter touches down in the Negev town.

The U.S. senator from Illinois’ first stop is the Amar family home, which was largely destroyed when a Kassam rocket crashed through its roof, injuring the mother with flying pieces of shrapnel. The family members, like many of their neighbors in Sderot, suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A crowd of some 100 people gathers outside the family’s new home during Obama’s visit, and the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. president briefly walks among them to say hello and shake hands.

Tours of Sderot have become part of the unofficial protocol of visits to Israel by both visiting dignitaries and tour groups wishing to show solidarity. Like any site of pilgrimage, rituals have developed.

The usual stops include a visit to a home damaged by Kassam fire, where a meeting is set up with the resident family. The tour then moves to the police station, where a makeshift Kassam museum has been set up with hundreds of the rockets on display, the dates they landed on or near Sderot painted on their sides.

Visitors also often are taken to a hill on the edge of town where they can see into Gaza. It’s nicknamed Kobi Hill after the town’s chief security officer, who rushes there after Kassams land to see from where they were fired.

It’s mostly quiet these days in Sderot following an Egypt-brokered truce deal between Hamas and Israel that is more than a month old. But most of those who live here assume the lull is temporary and that terrible surprises await from Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that rules Gaza.

Reporter Nissim Kanan, who covers Sderot and southern Israel for Israel Radio, says part of the excitement here surrounding Obama’s visit is the sense that he can bring change not just to America but also to Sderot.

Sderot is a working-class town of old-timer immigrant families from Morocco and more recent arrivals from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and many of them see Obama as a man of the people, he says.

“People see Obama as the underdog and McCain as an elitist,” he says, comparing Obama to his presumed Republican rival, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.). “People here like to see people in power that they identify with.”

“Obama? He’s a man of the people,” says Avner Chen, 38, a taxi driver taking his lunch at a falafel restaurant. “I hope he will see Sderot and remember us, what we are living with, and help us.”

During his news conference in the city, Obama seems to answer Chen’s call.

“I will work from the moment I return to America to tell the story of Sderot and to make sure that the good people who live here are enjoying a future of peace, security and hope,” he says.

Next door to the New Age Beauty Salon is the new office of The Israel Project, an organization that works to promote Israel’s security by providing resources to foreign journalists here. Its heavy glass doors and shiny new office equipment stand in stark contrast to the nearby stores, which have broken signs.

“This is a community in crisis, and that people should want to come and show their solidarity here is perfectly understandable and laudable,” says Marcus Sheff, the executive director of the Israel office of The Israel Project.

As Obama finishes his news conference at the Sderot police station, Mayor Eli Moyal brings him a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I Love Sderot.”

The word “love” is represented by a red heart, its Cupid’s bow replaced with a Kassam rocket.

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