On the 'Ceasefire' Front

During this week of what has been described as a 'ceasefire,' Sderot residents hesitated to leave their homes. People with cars have started to shop in Ashkelon.

Noam Bedein

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Late Thursday night, November 23, the people of Sderot were awakened by a missile fired from Gaza into the mercantile center of Sderot. The news reported "no casualties" and the people of Sderot went back to sleep.

However, the marketplace in Sderot the next morning was that of a bombed out scene from a Spielberg movie set. Everything within a fifty meter radius was hit. Merchandise was scatted all over the place. Ten stores were damaged. Five stores were completely gutted.

Looking at shrapnel, the demolition experts were saying that "we had better stop calling these rockets 'Kassam'. This missile was much more sophisticated than that."

When most people hear the word "Kassam," they think about a rubber or metal hose that, somehow, children are able to put together. "Kassam shmassam," as Shimon Peres said last June. Or as a United Nations official described it, "homemade," so as to downplay its lethal danger.

The owner of a clothes store for children that was completely destroyed, a single mother, told me that instead of working in the store and making a few shekels that Friday morning and preparing for the Shabbat, she was cleaning up the remains of her store that had been operating for over 30 years. This would be how she received the Shabbat, with no time to cook or shop, with only some bread and cheese in the house.

What will she do now? How is she going to bring food to her home now? These were the questions she was quietly asking.

And for whatever reason, no TV cameras were there when the store owners cleaned up what had been their livelihood. After all, the radio had reported "no casualties". As they say in the press, "Only when it bleeds, it leads."

The stores that reopened on Sunday were still waiting for their glass display windows to be replaced. Who is going to pay for and fix all this damage? What is the repair process?

There was time for this reporter to do a little investigation, and to listen to how these merchants described the compensation process. First, an appraiser comes to evaluate the damage. Then, the Israel Tax Authority representative arrives; and then the owner is told that he can repair the damage by himself and bring the receipt to the Israel Tax Authority representative.

The owner of a building where several of the stores were damaged asked a simple question: Where is he supposed to raise 300,000 shekels for repairs?

The same goes for the families whose homes have been badly damaged. The owner is told that he can repair the damage by himself and bring the receipt to the Israel Tax Authority representative.

An Ethiopian Jewish family in Sderot whose home was hit badly three weeks ago by a Gaza missile told the Israel Tax Authority representative that they have no way of putting up 60,000 shekels. Their home remains in a shambles, with some of the rooms uninhabitable. The Israel Tax Authority representative simply shrugged his shoulders and repeated that he waited for a receipt for the repairs so that he could help this immigrant family.

That family is still walking among the rubble of their home.

A woman who has tried to operate her damaged store, Michele Kriza, has been waiting for more than a week for the appraiser to tell her what to do about the damage. Meanwhile, she operates her store with her windows completely shattered and debris all over the place, because she does not have the funds for repairs.

In preparation for this article, this reporter wrote to the Israel Tax Authority to find out why the government will only help people who have cash to repair their homes and businesses. The spokesperson for the Israel Tax Authority wrote back immediately that the procedure has changed, and that the government would be pleased to allocate funds to help do the repairs, in accordance with plans that the merchant or homeowner would present to their representative on the scene. Except that no one in Sderot knew about this change of policy, including the Israel Tax Authority. Now they do - because of one letter to one reporter from the Israel Tax Authority.

All the more reason why towns like Sderot need an emergency clearing house where all the residents would find what do to and where to go for help when a missile hits, while at the same time finding out how they can get emergency mental health support (particularly in a town of 20,000 people with six psychologists). And since so many people in Sderot do not speak or read Hebrew, the authorities much reach out to them in their own language at a time of crisis.

During this week of what has been described as a 'ceasefire,' Sderot residents hesitated to leave their homes. People with cars have started to shop in Ashkelon. Many store owners say that if this situation goes on for another month, this town is going to be a ghost town. Shops that have been around for decades will close down, too.

All week long, what people on the streets were saying was that a lull in the missiles should be used to build a clearing house, to start a trauma center, and to finish the reinforcement of all the schools, kindergartens and shelters, and to gets more than the six psychologists on staff today in Sderot.

On an encouraging note, in a special session on the situation in Sderot last week, the Israeli cabinet did allocate funds to buttress the mental health services of Sderot and to create clearing house information centers throughout the city. The question remains as to how long this will take to come to fruition.

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, two missiles hit near Sderot. People on the streets were again terrified and ran for cover. However, no one was killed or injured. Reports of these missiles made the 9:00 am news casts of the Voice of Israel and disappeared from the news by 11:00 am. After all, only when it bleeds does it lead.

The spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry was asked if this does not mean that there is no ceasefire. His response: "We prefer to see this as a violation of the ceasefire."

The Foreign Ministry does not seem to know that this is not a ceasefire. It is a hudna, which in Arabic lore is tantamount to preparation for the next round of war with the infidels. And no one hides the fact that the Arabs in Gaza are getting ready for the next round.