It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
--A Tale of Two Cities
3/18: 2, 3/19: 1, 3/20: 4, 3/21: 2, 3/22: 2, 3/23: 1, 3/26: 1, 3/27: 2, 4/1: 1, 4/2:1, 4/3:1, 4/5:1, 4/6:6
--number of rockets fired into Israel by day from Gaza in the past two weeks
It's beautiful, quiet Spring morning in the Northeast. The rivers are receding after the recent Old Testament-style floods. The recent cold snap has ended, the sun is shining and the skies are blue. As I lay in bed with the sun streaming in through the windows and hear the Easter weekend traffic motoring along slowly, it's easy to be almost hypnotized at how peaceful it is. What should I do today? Whatever it is, it has to be outside and on a day like today it seems as though anything is possible...
It's beautiful, quiet Spring morning in Sderot. The heavy rains of the winter and desert flooding are fading into distant memory, the sun is shining and the skies are blue. As I lay in bed with the sun streaming in through the windows and hear the Passover weekend traffic motoring along slowly I think to myself how lucky I am to wake up in such a beautiful town. What should I do today? Whatever it is, it has to be outside and on a day like today it seems as though anything is possible...
...something occurs to me as I get up to pour myself a bowl of cereal, something in the back of my mind...but I push it away...I don't want anything to disturb my quiet haze...what should I do? Walk to the park? Hike along the river? But something keeps nagging me and I can't ignore it...something I forgot...but I really don't want to think about it I'd much rather think about how to spend this beautiful day...
...something occurs to me as I get up to go make myself a cup of coffee...something in the back of my mind...no I don't want to think about that...I won't on a day like today...so what SHOULD I do today, anyway? Go to beach? Ugh, with all the holiday travelers it's going to be packed. Was that what was bothering me? No that's not it...and I'm not going to think about it anymore today...I'm not going to let it disturb this beautiful, peaceful day...Still it's nagging me, but in my just-woken-up haze I can barely remember what it is...
Taxes! TAXES! That's what it was! I forgot to do my taxes and they're due in just a few days! Well no matter I'll just do them later tonight - no way I'm wasting a day like THIS to look at some boring forms! Thank God I remembered though, it could have been a disaster if I had forgotten!
CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN AIR RAID SIREN
Oh that's what it was, I almost forgot...I haven't had a quiet, peaceful day like I was imagining in OVER EIGHT YEARS. Why should today be any different? Back into the bomb shelter for another game of "dodge-rocket" with my family.
Welcome to Sderot, Israel, population approximately 20,000. The scene you just read is one that has been repeated basically on a daily basis since March, 2002. Not-so-surprisingly, up to 94% of the children who live in Sderot suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But in addition to holding the dubious title of "most bombed city on earth", Sderot has been an incredible musical and cultural center for all of Israel. An incredible amount of singers and songwriters hails from this hard-scrabble town, including Kobi Oz of the band Teapacks. You may have heard of them during the "Push the Button" controversy at the 2007 Eurovision contest.
But Sderot isn't just a thumbtack on a google map showing the latest rocket strike in the perpetual hell of Middle East reality. It's a real city with real people that I had the privilege of visiting this past January. Palestinians fired four mortars at us while I was there. Luckily their aim was off and the mortars all landed in their own territory - no code red for me.
The tension while walking in the street however, was palpable and I couldn't help subconsciously looking around for somewhere within 15 seconds to take shelter if the alarm did go off. Most of the bus stops in the area have been converted into bomb shelters and many buildings have them built-in but there were several stretches when it was clear I would not be able to get anywhere indoors within 15 seconds.
Knowing that thousands upon thousands of rockets and mortars have crashed into the very streets I was now walking made me think about the people who stood on the same ground I was now on. Someone, probably several people, had been standing where I was now during a Code Red and had to hope to God or whatever higher power they believed in that they would be spared. This was a sobering thought indeed.
Eventually I arrived at the Sderot Media Center where I met several residents of the town and spoke to them about life in the shadow of Gaza. Without realizing it, the tension I felt when I was in the street left me the whole time I was in their presence. Despite the unbelievable living conditions these people are forced to endure, I was mesmerized by the charm and overall quiet of the city.
The people I spoke to, while obviously upset about the situation, didn't act like they were jumpy or nervous or miserable...the whole place just seemed so NORMAL. Being there reminded me of the sleepy New Jersey town I grew up in...which made it all the more frustrating to know that this quiet calm had just been shattered the day before by a rocket attack and unbeknownst to me at the time had almost been shattered four times while I was there.
If you follow Israeli news you read a lot about traumatized residents of Sderot with PTSD or children that have developed panic attacks as a result of incessant Code Red alerts...but in a way, seeing how relatable the people were, affected me more than reading about victims of attacks. These people aren't superheroes, they're just regular human beings like you and me who want nothing more complicated than to be able to get out of bed in the morning WITHOUT BEING SHOT AT BY A BUNCH OF IRANIAN-FUNDED, OVERSIZED BAZOOKAS.
They have jobs, they drink tea, they send their children to school, they go out drinking (a local pub was selected by Haaretz as serving the "best cocktail" in Israel), they even produce the Bissli snacks - popular with so many American Jews - at the Osem plant right outside town. In short, this could be quiet rural town in South Jersey or Pennsylvania or Michigan or Kansas or Oklahoma or wherever. You could have had the luck of being born here instead of wherever you grew up.
The only difference is that if you had been born here, this what would be falling on your head on a nearly daily basis for the past eight straight years. This is what would have been raining down on you 20, 30, 50, A HUNDRED times per DAY before your government finally decided to act against the perpetrators. This is what the rest of the world would expect you to endure falling on you as you drove to work or waited with your child for the bus or lay in bed considering what to do with your holiday weekend.
By the way, these rockets don't just fall from the sky, they EXPLODE on impact and send shrapnel (in addition to ball bearings, nails, screws and other potential projectiles that our Palestinian friends pack into these explosives) flying in every direction. These rockets, "crude" as they may be described in Palestinian mythology, are specifically designed to injure or end as many human lives as possible. That they don't kill more people is a testament to the preparedness of the townspeople to react to these attacks.
For example, take this playground that I saw while I was there...
This is the "Heritage Legacy Park of Good Wishes" - built with money that was donated by Americans. It sure looks like a fun place for kids to play, with colorful caterpillars and castles and everything else an imaginative child could want. In the setting sun it all seemed so peaceful...so normal...until it was pointed out to me by my friend that these caterpillars and castles were actually built as BOMB shelters. This project was part of a $9 million campaign to create bomb-proof places for children to play. Park of "good wishes" indeed...
And this is really a perfect illustration of what's wrong with the attitudes of pretty much everyone who doesn't actually live in Sderot. Everyone I talked to was (understandably) at the point of infuriation that even well-meaning people who are trying to help are actually perpetuating the problem.
After all, rockets rain down on an innocent civilian population and the answer is...to build prettier bomb shelters? Better early warning systems? Teaching people how to manage their lives more effectively as they live under bombardment?? This isn't an earthquake or hurricane zone or an area that's somehow prone to regularly occurring meteor showers! This isn't some natural disaster that people need to learn how to live with better! Just STOP THE ROCKETS.
Imagine if your home was repeatedly the target of armed robberies. You call the police to tell them that your home is being invaded on a daily basis and instead of them coming to arrest the perpetrators they tell you get a stronger safe to keep your jewelry in, so as to discourage the bandits from coming back. Would you tolerate that? Of course not! It's INSANE to expect people to live like this.
No more bomb shelters. No more early warning systems. No more Code Reds. No more fake condemnations by the outside world. No more SILENCE from the Obama administration.
And the announcement of the settlements the very day that the vice president was there was insulting.
Oh my mistake, maybe we're better off when you don't say anything. Do you know what's really insulting though? All this controversy from the entire world that is directed at Israel over...building an apartment building...but while Biden and Hillary were STILL in the process of scolding the Israelis over their evil real estate plans there was yet another rocket attack into non-settlement, Israel-proper.
But hey, no one got killed so no harm, no foul right? ISRAEL on the other hand...how DARE they exercise their sovereignty over territory that they annexed over 40 years ago. And as world leaders raced each other to condemn Israeli architecture in ever more flowery and grandiose language, poor Manee Singmueangphon had the misfortune of working in a greenhouse that a random Qassam crashed into, killing him and injuring dozens other Thai workers.
Singmueangphon had children back in Thailand that he was working in Israel to support
Really though, what other country in the world is expected to endure daily attacks on its own citizens...yet a new housing project becomes an INTERNATIONAL incident? Oh and God forbid if Israel actually eliminates a terrorist mastermind...nevermind rocket attacks, the Mossad stands accused of the high crime of PASSPORT FORGERY. What a joke!
In other news, over 300 people were slaughtered in the Congo over a span of 3 days in December and you didn't even know about it. Oh and 700 children died there today (and yesterday and the day before that...) of starvation due to the fighting. But ISRAEL is on the front pages of every newspaper because they stopped a murderer from killing more people and built an apartment building in their capital! It's complete insanity and yet we all are complicit in it by our silence.
Thankfully the residents of Sderot are imaginative, creative and resourceful enough to take care of themselves. My friends at the Sderot Media Center told me about the innovative programs they have to help the Sderot residents who suffer from PTSD. There are theater, movie, music and poetry programs that encourage children and adults to express their feelings through art. It's not much of a surprise that a city with such a rich musical and cultural history would produce such beautiful art about a decidedly un-beautiful situation. There's also a documentary called Sderot: Rock in the Red Zone about how the Sderot youth are finding ways to express their pain and suffering to the rest of the world.
But why should this be? Why do we need awareness concerts and social media therapy and playground bomb shelters? Why does this situation even need to exist? How can we abandon these human beings...these mothers, fathers, sons, daughters...and allow them to be victimized like this?
We, all of us, need to stand up and make it clear that we will not play by the rules our "friends" try to impose on us as long as these people are subjected to this daily hell. What are we arguing about here, honestly? Apartment complexes? Passport forgeries? These people have been subjected to a DAILY state of terror for over EIGHT YEARS. This is ridiculous already!
You want Israel to sit down at the table and talk with murderers like Hamas? Get them to stop the rockets. You want less restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank? Stop the rockets. You want settlement freezes and "confidence-building" measures? STOP THE ROCKETS. Oh and how about releasing Gilad Shalit (after his 4th Passover in captivity) too?
No progress should be made, no concessions offered, no goodwill gestures, nothing done until they STOP THE ROCKETS. No one should be able to guilt-trip you into feeling bad for the (self-imposed) terrible situation the Palestinians are living under in Gaza either. Even the frequently Israel-bashing Human Rights Watch places the blame for the rockets SQUARELY on Hamas "leadership's" shoulders. I'm sorry that innocent Palestinians suffer in Gaza on a daily basis but you know what? It's not my problem. THEIR government which THEY elected and therefore represents THEM allows this situation to continue.
But if they just STOPPED THE ROCKETS - none of this would happen. Action/reaction, cause/effect, behavior/consequence. Enough with the complaining, the apologies, the demands and the excuses...just STOP
And to the people of Sderot...keep making your movies and your music and know that even though we're very far away, WE DO HEAR YOU.