Not Enough: Israelis Criticize Army's Response to Palestinian Rockets

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Sderot, Israel ( - Israel is taking international criticism for Tuesday's targeted attack on Palestinian militants who were on their way to fire more rockets at Israel. The Israeli missiles not only killed the rocket-firers, but also killed a number of Palestinian civilians.

However, Israelis living in one hard-hit community complain that their government is not doing enough to stop the attacks.

Eleven Palestinians were killed, including two children, in Tuesday's air strike on a car carrying Islamic Jihad members. (The civilians who died had gathered around the targeted vehicle in between the first and second missile strikes, the army said.)

Many of the missiles fired by Palestinian militants land in Sderot, a quiet Israeli community just half a mile from the border with the Gaza Strip. Although the "homemade" Kassam missiles are inaccurate, they have caused extensive property damage here. Five residents of the town have been killed in rocket attacks in the past two years.

In the last week alone, more than 60 Kassams have hit Sderot and the surrounding area. More than 3,000 Kassams have been fired at the area since 2001, said Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal.

"I demand that the Israeli government give up here in Sderot," Moyal said. "Make life in Sderot normal. It's so obvious."

As Moyal sees it, there is no reason for Palestinians to continue to shoot at Sderot after Israel withdrew all its settlements and soldiers from the Gaza Strip last year.

But the attacks have escalated since last August, said Moyal, with an average of 80 rockets a month falling in the Sderot area since the Gaza pullout. "It's not quiet. It's getting worse."

Moyal said he blames the attacks more on the terrorists' hatred of Israel than on the disengagement.

The government should prevent the firing of rockets "by any means" said Moyal, even if it means destroying the Gaza neighborhood of Beit Hanoun, the area from which most of the rockets are launched. He downplayed the idea of reinforcing homes and schools in his town as a solution to the rocket fire.

"The only protection is to eliminate, to prevent those terrorists from shooting on Sderot," he said. Palestinians in Gaza should have to protect their homes, not the Israelis in Sderot, said Moyal. The people of Sderot are not hosting terrorists like those in Gaza are, he said.

Moyal met with journalists in the conference room of the municipality building in Sderot on Tuesday as part of a tour arranged by the army to highlight the situation.

A two-foot-tall tail section of a Kassam rocket was on display there, along with a bulletin board showing the 15 Israelis who have been killed in Kassam rocket attacks both inside Israel and in the former Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip during the last few years. The victims include a number of children.

Children are suffering

It is the children who are suffering the most from the Kassam rocket attacks, said Moyal. "It's almost impossible to raise kids in here, to keep a normal life."

More than half of the children have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress, said the mayor. They sleep with their parents, refuse to go outside after dark, cannot concentrate on their studies and are frightened by every slamming door or backfiring car. Many have been put on medication to calm them down, he said.

Kassam missile damage at Sderot High School.Two weeks ago, a Kassam crashed into a religious high school, smashing a hole in the roof, moving through a classroom and ending up in a bathroom. It was 7:30 in the morning, and the boys who should have been in the damaged classroom were at morning prayers in another part of the school, so no one was injured.

Schools and kindergartens in Sderot were closed this week out of fears for the children's safety. Some residents were out on the streets on Tuesday, taking care of business. But there were very few children outside on what was a pleasant, sunny day.

In a small park on a quiet street, about 10-15 Sderot residents have set up a protest tent and gone on a hunger strike, demanding that the government do something to stop the rocket attacks on their town.

The protest tent is just two doors from the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz -- a long time resident of Sderot.

"I want [the army to] kill them because I'm scared," said Sderot resident Hava Gad, who has joined the hunger strike.

"I'm sure [the Palestinians] have their children and their children are scared, too, but ...they won't let us live in peace. They don't want peace. They want all [of] Israel and they say it."

Ten-year-old 'Ron' holds a sign demanding security in Sderot, Israel.Gad, a mother of three, said her youngest son, 7, has asked her to leave the town. But she doesn't want to go. "I love this city. I love the people and I won't give them (the Palestinians) this land. This is my land," said Gad.

In response to the complaints from Sderot, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev agreed that the constant barrage of rockets on civilians -- both in Sderot and the Western Negev region -- is "totally unacceptable and unsustainable."

"No government can have its citizens like ducks in a terrorist shooting gallery," said Regev. "Either the launching of missiles will cease or Israel will act to neutralize the threat."

One 10-year-old boy, Ron, said he was afraid. "I think that if they will stop the Kassams here it will be quiet," he said.

When asked if he could actually remember a time in his life when rockets were not falling in his town, he replied that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had made a peace deal with former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. When Rabin was assassinated, all this began, he said.

Rabin was assassinated in 1995, when Ron was just one year old.

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