The danger of rockets hitting Tel Aviv makes my parents a bit uneasy. Fortunately, the current situation from Gaza is calm and there hasn’t been a single rocket in over 40 days. However, on Friday I glimpsed the life of those Israelis directly in the line of fire. The town of Sderot, in the South of Israel, is 8 miles from the Gaza strip. At this distance the residents of Sderot have about 10 seconds to get to a shelter once they hear the read alert. During conflict, residents don’t use shampoo in case they must run to the shelter, they don’t want the shampoo to obstruct their vision. Families plan their chores so they will never be more than 10 seconds from a shelter. We heard one story of a mother and her two kids, both in car seats. When she heard the alarm, she didn’t have time to grab both kids. She couldn’t choose a child, so she stayed in her car so that at least they would be together.
At the border we saw some condo buildings next to which Hamas launches rockets. They use the buildings as cover, since the Israeli Air Force is hesitant to retaliate and kill hundreds of innocent Gazans. The Israel Defence Forces use more restraint in counter-terrorism than any country seriously battling the issue. Unfortunately, they have decades of experience in this style of warfare, and military leaders from around the world seek Israel’s advice on counter terror. Beyond military expertise, all new (civilian) construction in Israel is required to have bomb safe rooms. The towns closest to Gaza have been completely retrofitted with shelters. Yes, the Israeli government paid for tens of thousands of homes to be outfitted with shelters. In fact, the town of Sderot built a kids playground with bomb shelters as part of the play space.
You can see the exploded munitions in person at the Sderot police station. They keep the rusted old rockets in the back of the station; each rocket is marked with the date and location it was found. Most of the rockets were built from sewage pipes, intended for civilian construction. Amongst the glorified pipe bombs are some more advanced rockets from Iran. In the USA we read about how Iran supplies Hamas with money and weapons, but it seems abstract. To see the rocket from Iran in person is a dose of reality. It’s a cold irony that Israel and the international community provide Hamas with the raw materials to attack Israel. On top of this, most goods which don’t go to military uses, like food and clothing, go to Hamas leaders to distribute. They take what they need then distribute the rest to the community. As we speak, aid is coming in from Israel which will in turn be used to attack it. Adding to the irony, Egypt has closed its’ border with Gaza and the only open checkpoint is from Israel; so those activists who want to end the blockade on Gaza should be focusing on Egypt.
The mood in the South is sour, they expect to have another war in a couple years. Since 2002, there has been a war about every 2 years and nothing seems to help. There was optimism after Israel withdrew the settlers from Gaza in 2005 but that has long since evaporated. Though Israel gains some benefits from it’s constant state of war, like technological advancement and well trained ex-military entrepreneurs, the net effect is disastrous. The kids are growing up with PTSD and millions of dollars are wasted on infrastructure that does nothing to increase commerce. During times of war, human capital is wasted when highly productive members of society are called up to the reserves. And for everything the Israelis suffer, the Gazans suffer ten fold. Our guide told us about an art project he did with middle school students in Sderot. He assumed they would be bitter and hate the Arabs across the border. Instead they painted Israeli flags next to Palestinian flags. Both sides are praying for peace, hopefully the children on both sides of the conflict will get to see it in their lives.