On the Sunday of Chanukah, I went with the Social Justice class to Sderot. You really can’t appreciate what it’s like there until you experience it for yourself. For those who have only heard of Gaza, Sderot is a small working-class city in southern Israel in view of Gaza made up of mostly immigrants. For the past 12 years, it has been the recipient of literally 1,000′s of qassam rockets from Gaza. These incessant attacks were the primary motivating factors behind Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, which had just ended when we were there, meaning all was quiet for the time being (though according to the Sderot Media Center, Israel has received 19 rockets since the ceasefire was signed). Some of these rockets are kept on display outside the Sderot police station, so we were able to see some of them with our own eyes. Huge rusty bullets made of pipes and nails and power lines and other infrastructure for life Israel has invested in Gaza over the years so that Hamas can spit it back in its face as a tool of death.
Rockets that have fallen on Sderot
Fun Fact: Hamas‘ headquarters is in a bunker under an Israeli-built hospital.
When the siren goes off, Sderot residents have 15 seconds to seek shelter (by contrast, when the sirens went off in Jerusalem during Operation Pillar of Defense, we had a luxurious minute-and-a-half). Thankfully, shelter is not hard to come by in Sderot, since everything there, from bus stations to outdoor staircases, to strip malls, has a roof of reinforced concrete, and even those few areas that don’t have a roof of some sort have one at most a 50-yard-dash away. We saw a playground featuring a giant caterpillar play area that doubles as a bomb shelter.
When you hear about Sderot, it’s mostly as a talking-point, like then-Senator Obama’s statement during a visit there on the campaign trail in 2008 that, “Israelis must not suffer a threat to their lives, to their schools. If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” But until you actually go there, it’s hard to remember that non-hypothetical, real-life daughters and sons really live there, people just like everyone else: The kind couple that run the Moroccan restaurant we ate at. The family that doesn’t use the top floor of their home since from there it takes too long to run to the shelter. All the stories of parents who have to decide which child they will grab and take to the bomb shelter in the 15 seconds they have and which they will leave behind. The mother keeping an eye on her children playing in the bomb shelter caterpillar while speaking with another mother doing the same, as we walked between them taking pictures, slack-jawed at their courage for not only living, but reproducing here, as though they had any other choice. This trip taught me that Sderot has cats in its dumpsters and Shufersals in its shopping centers just like every other city in Israel, and when the city’s denizens aren’t running for their lives, they too wince at the former on their way to the latter. It never ceases to amaze me what can become the status quo.
Less than a week later, the tragedy at Newtown happened and I learned that safety is all relative. Continue reading