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Sderot Voters Frustrated

The largest bloc of voters in Sderot may be the stay-at-home crowd. Residents are fed up with getting attention only when rockets fall.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/9/2009, 11:57 AM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

The largest bloc of voters in the rocket-devastated town of Sderot may be those who stay at home, including 5,000 residents who have fled the city and show no signs of returning. A number of people in the Gaza Belt community said they aren't going to bother to vote this time around.

"A plague on all their houses," one cab driver told Israel National News. "There is no one to vote for. All of them are worried only about themselves," he said, disregarding President Shimon Peres's admonition that citizens must find a way to favor someone in order to "prove that Israel is a democratic country."

Amos, owner of a falafel shop, also is not voting. "[Avigdor] Lieberman sat in the government during the expulsion," he complained, referring to the forced removal of 9,000 Jews from their now-destroyed communities in nearby Gaza. "[Binyamin] Netanyahu voted with the government until it was too late."

More than 10,000 rockets and mortars have rained down on Sderot and surrounding areas since the outbreak of the Oslo War, otherwise known as the Second Intifada. Most of the attacks have come since the 'Disengagement" of Jewish civilians and the military from Gaza despite the government's promise that the policy would end the attacks and bring peace.

The estimated 20 percent of the former 22,000 residents who left included mostly middle-to-upper income professionals whose absence is felt economically as well as socially.

"They went north, live on kibbutzim as non-members and are not coming back," according to Amos.

Other shopkeepers, looking at the many closed stores, some of them damaged by rockets, echo Amos.

Sderot is known as a development town made up of mainly relatively low-income working-class people, but even Knesset Member Amir Peretz, a local who was the long-time leader of the Histadrut national union before he became Labor party chairman, has lost his luster. He was badly stained by his term as Defense Minister when the Second Lebanon War broke out two and a half years ago, and by his failure to stop the rocket attacks in the south.

"Noam Bedein, head of the Sderot Media Center, agrees that the people are fed up, particularly after what many residents feel was a premature end of the IDF Cast Lead counterterrorist operation.

He has no idea how the town will vote but notes that Sderot is a microcosm of Israel, with union workers loyal to Labor, secular right wingers for Lieberman, traditional nationalists for Likud and national religious and Shas voters in the largely Sephardic town that also includes the country's largest Hesder yeshiva.

The government never paid any attention to us until there were rockets," scoffs the manager of an electronic store. "Now the rockets have almost stopped and no one cares, but a couple of hours ago everyone had to run cover when the Code Red early warning siren sounded."

Within seconds, a Kassam rocket exploded at a nearby kibbutz, causing no injuries but resulting in heavy damage to several vehicles.

"When the next rocket hits here, we'll be back in the news again," he concluded.