Op-Ed: Sderot: Personal Encounters with a 'Ball of Fire'
Since the end of IDF Operation 'Pillar of Defense', through June 30th 2014, 300 aerial attacks have been launched from Hamas-ruled Gaza towards southern Israel.
The fact that many terrorist organizations based in Gaza proudly take responsibility for firing rockets and missiles towards the Israeli civilian population, not necessary the ruling terrorist group 'Hamas' - as the media and Israeli officials continue to emphasize - makes no difference to the families and children of one million Israelis.
Once the siren goes off and they run for shelter and for their lives, they do have between 15 and 45 seconds to ask which terrorist organization is firing from Gaza this time.
But instead, they wonder where the rocket will explode: inside or outside their town.
'Rocket reality' is still a basic way of life in the Western Negev on the Hamas-controlled Gaza border.
Compared to recent years, it has been 'more quiet' than before Operation 'Pillar of Defense', but the Hamas-controlled Gaza threat was not eradicated and it grows each day.
Realistically, the question is not 'if' Israel will have to take action in Gaza, but rather, "when?"
This time, the Russian-roulette reality finally exploded on Saturday night, just after 8 PM, when an entire factory in Sderot went up in flames that were visible from miles away.
Why are there still those who claim that Hamas is interested in maintaining calm?
Have they forgotten the Hamas charter, which openly calls for genocide of the Jews in Israel?
And what about the statement issued by Al-Zadin El Qassam - the Hamas brigade in Gaza - one week before the first cease-fire in November 2006: "We are not going to stop firing at the Zionist settlement Sderot, until the last citizens of Sderot leaves." Sderot has nothing to do with the 1967 War and the Green Line.
People who are blind to the reality that over 20,000 aerial attacks have been launched from Gaza towards Israel pulled all of its troops and Israeli civilians out of Gaza in August 2005.
These "Ambassadors of Tomorrow” firsthand accounts were sent to Sderot Media Center (SMC) by local residents of Sderot on Saturday night. The goal is to turn Sderot residents into local educational guides in Sderot and the Western Negev for the hundreds of international delegations who visit the area through SMC, and to prepare them for on call media activity during emergency situations.
Dov Tartchman, Sderot resident, reported:
"The strangest thing was seeing this ball of fire with this thick smoke…it felt like out of a scene from Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. Not like something that could happen here…"
“Before the end of Shabbat, we sat outside for coffee... The scent of the new week is in the air... and then suddenly the "red alert' siren went off… This is my home, this is my life, and this is how I start the fresh new week… Rockets will continue to fly and explode, the Israeli flag will continue to wave…”
“Saturday, a bit after 8 PM on my way back from a fun and sunny day at the beach, a bit of freshening up after the exam period, my mom calls me in hysterics: "Get home quickly and drive with your windows open, so you can hear the siren going off..." and it starts again. Yes, it's started again. I'm a ten-minute drive away from home and I can already see what mom is talking about… On top of me a huge black cloud, and the closer I got to Sderot, the bigger and more threatening the flames seemed.”
“Shabbat has arrived, and the excitement is very high in our family home on Kibbutz Mefalsim, a kibbutz overlooking Gaza. The whole family arrived, excited about Saturday night: My 12 year-old Rony's 6th grade graduation party, and next year off to junior high in the rocket-proof school in Sha'ar Ha'negev. From one protected school to another…
"The whole day went by very quietly, the family guests didn't feel a thing, or just didn't want to talk about it. I was very troubled and restless. The night before, I had problems sleeping, having nightmares of buildings collapsing and a world that is washing away and I'm in this dreaming always trying to find shelter, and hope for quiet and peace, exactly like in my reality…
"The evening came, the heat wave continued into the evening, but the house was closed with the air-conditioning, letting us prepare calmly for tonight's celebration. We got into the car, and the phones started going off…
"Rony's friend, her age, calls, screaming tearfully, telling Rony that the party was canceled…Rony tries to calm her down, but loses faith in what she's telling her. Her friend's mom was scared to leave the house with her kids. She stayed at home and decided that her daughter, Rony's friend, would not to go the graduation party. At that moment we called the teacher, and she told us that for now, the roads are still open and it is possible to get to the party, it's not really in the area of the rockets…
"We are on our way, couldn't imagine another scenario that once again my daughter wouldn't experience something so normal and natural for her age. The qassam rocket reality has been part of her entire life… My graduation party for Shaar Ha'negev school- On our way an explosion of a qassam rocket.
"Now I'm thinking maybe the party has been canceled… maybe no children will arrive… we're on our way in any case… As we started to drive, we can't believe the huge black smoke cloud. My dad is driving the car…many fire trucks have zoomed right past us to reach Sderot as quickly as possible, to the terror attack scene. I kept on telling myself, it's not in our area and on our way, we keep on driving…
"The closer we get to the Sderot industrial area, the more the scene reveals its horror: no doubt, the terror attack happened here. I try showing strength, to keep on with routine and not to give up on life… Even if this abnormal reality became normal for us… every time this happens, something from the inside breaks…. I pray that the summer vacation will be peaceful, and that we won't need to find different places around Israel to host us, far away from our families…
Noam Bedein is a photojournalist, lecturer and founder/director of Sderot Media Center. He has conducted briefings and tours for government officials, diplomats, foreign press, and students from around the world. Recently he produced a short documentary for the US Embassy- ‘Standing Resilient in Israel’