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BATTERED BORDER TOWN FED UP WITH ISRAELI LEADERS

By Michael Widlanski

SDEROT, ISRAEL-MAY 29, 2007 -In this shell-shocked Israeli town bordering
the terror-torn Gaza Strip, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
is not very popular.

“Nobody is doing anything,” declared 54-year-old David Hazzan, standing
in the broken glass and rubble of his home struck by a Palestinian rocket.

“The prime minister stays in Jerusalem, and the defense minister stays in
Jerusalem,” said Hazzan kicking aside some of the broken glass and cement
in what had been-until two days ago-one of the nicest houses in town.

Prime Minister Olmert actually visited the town briefly this month in
one of his few public appearances, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz is
actually an official resident of the town, but most people here-especially
people whose houses have been hit by rockets-are not impressed.

“The house of the defense minister is so fortified that it could take a
direct hit from an F-16 and nothing would happen,” commented Hazzan wryly.

But he and his wife Shula, a 47-year-old worker in a nearby food factory,
know that they are also extraordinarily lucky.

When the Palestinian terrorists fire their rockets, Israeli army
“spotters,” sound a public air raid siren, and the residents of Sderot and
nearby towns, farms and villages, generally have less than 15 seconds to
find shelter.

Mrs. Hazzan was on her factory night shift, but her husband and son were
watching a televised Israeli soccer game when the father thought he heard
the siren alarm call “Tzeva Adom”-”Color Red.”

They scrambled for the basement shelter and just managed to close the
heavy steel door when a rocket skidded just over their front fence and into
their front room, inches from the door of the shelter itself. Had they been
two or three seconds slower and they both might have been killed by the six
to eight-pound explosive rocket charge.

There are signs that most of Sderot’s 23,000 residents do not feel lucky.
“For Sale” signs dot the well-maintained neighborhoods. Four thousand
residents have already moved away permanently, according to reports here,
while another two to three thousand have moved away temporarily to the homes
of friends and relatives beyond rocket range.
“Our neighbors’ house took a direct rocket hit three months ago, and they
just finished fixing it up,” observed Shula Hazzan, but after the spike in
rocket attacks in the last two weeks, “now they, too, have run away to the
tent city of Gaidemak.”

She was referring to a temporary set of tents and shelters set up by
Russian-born businessman Arkady Gaidemak, who has stepped in to fill the
gaps in the Olmert Government’s program of civil defense here-as he did last
summer for Israelis made homeless by the rocket attacks in last summer’s war
on the Lebanese border.

Indeed, the Israeli government is angry at Gaidemak, but it has not
really provided any transportation or shelter, and even in the Magen David
Adom (Red Star of David) health center, the volunteers and paramedics say
that all of their ambulances and special shelters have been donated by
Jewish and Christian supporters from America.

“We don’t have a single ambulance that has been donated by the State of
Israel,” declared Eli Binn, the director-general of Magen David Adom, who
has come to Sderot to supervise the emergency services personally.

“The tension here is very high, and there is great daily stress on our
emergency crews,” said Bin, noting that his organization has increased the
number of ambulances from two to 15-many of them “bullet proof.” It is not
clear whether any ambulance could stand up to a near hit from one of the
rockets which hit the town at all hours of the day and night.

Taxi drivers from nearby towns are visibly afraid to enter Sderot, and
Oshri Oz, a computer specialist who regularly visited the town, was killed
four days ago when a rocket hit his car. It is not clear if there was an
alert or whether he just did not hear it in time to get out of his car and
run for shelter.

Emergency personnel and yeshiva students from a nearby school do not
take any chances, sleeping in concrete shelters during the sweltering summer
heat.

A large blue and white Israeli flag is festooned on a light pole outside
the town’s hospital emergency room, and big black block Hebrew letters
proclaim an angry message: “The town of Sderot-Abandoned Territory. Time to
Wake Up!!!”

Graffiti and stickers all around town berate the Olmert Government for
hesitancy, cowardice and even betrayal.

A sense of abandonment is the common feeling in this community of 23,000
middle and lower class immigrants-about half drawn from Morocco, forty
percent from the former Soviet Union and about ten percent from Ethiopia.

The town has absorbed almost 500 Qassam rockets in the last two weeks
alone as the Palestinians in Gaza have escalated their own internal mayhem
and their indiscriminate attacks on Israel.

The attacks began in 2001 at a rate of one attack a month, but by the end
of 2003, the rockets-ad sometimes mortars-were hitting this town at a clip
of one a week. After Israel’s military retreat from Gaza-and the eviction of
all Israeli civilians-in August 2005, Arab rockets began to strike the town
at a rate of ten a week.

At the start Israeli politicians and many Israeli army officers joked at
the primitive nature of the Qassam rockets, calling them “flying pipes,” but
ten people have already been killed by the rockets-two in the last ten days
alone. Many Israeli officers now say that Israel should have re-invaded Gaza
several months ago and that Israel is wasting precious time in precision air
strikes aimed at leaders of the Hamas terror organization responsible for
most attacks.

Yesterday was a fairly quiet day, and nobody was seriously injured
when the town and its surroundings got hit by ten Qassam rockets fired by
Palestinian terrorists who have publicly bragged on Arab television stations
that they want to scare “all Jews” out of “occupied Palestine.”

That has not happened yet, but the atmosphere is definitely changed from
six months ago. Few people leave their houses, and few parents send their
children to school.

“We won’t run away,” said David Hazzan, who has lived in Sderot for 45
years, “because we will not give the terrorists that satisfaction.”

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