Life in Sderot: ‘Bomb shelters are here to give us a normal life’

SDEROT, lSRAEL – Ariel, 9, wrote a note to the children of Gaza. Beside the note, he drew a picture: the Palestinian flag and the Israeli flag under the arc of a beautiful rainbow.

“For the dear kids of Gaza: I understand how you feel,” the note said. “Also in Sderot, Qassams are falling. I know you think we are monsters but we are suffering also.”

Ariel, like the other childreSderotmapn and adults of Sderot, lives under the constant fear of rocket attacks.

Sderot is a place most Israelis shy away from. The small, working-class town is situated 2.5 km from Gaza and is an easy target to launch missiles at, commonly called Qassams, by Hamas, Gaza’s ruling entity. Since 2001, more than 12,800 rockets and mortars have landed in Sderot and the Negev area, according to the Israel Defense Forces website.

With a population of 24,000, it is no surprise that “everyone here, either has felt it or knows someone who has,” says Noam Uerad, 23, a student at Sderot’s Sapir College and also a volunteer at the Sderot Media Center.

According to data from the Sderot Media Center, between 2001 and 2009 Qassams killed 28 Israelis (9 from Sderot) and more than 600 were injured. These numbers may appear low, and that is because Sderot has an estimated 10,000 bomb shelters scattered across town. Bus stops have bomb shelters, apartment buildings and houses, and even playgrounds have bomb tunnels, designed in colorful patterns to keep children safe during an attack. Fifteen seconds is all they have after the siren to make it to the nearest shelter.

“After a Qassam explodes, it gets cleaned right away and fixed so everyone, especially kids, can go back to their lives,” Uerad says. Despite this, a NATAL (Israel’s Trauma Center for Victim of Terror and War) survey shows 86 percent of children between the ages 12 and 14 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

So why live in Sderot? Housing may be cheaper in Sderot, but for Sivan Hanukayev, 24, Sderot is where she calls home. Her grandparents emigrated to Sderot long before the Qassams came.

“It is home. All my family is here,” Sivan Hanukayev said. “I want to be the one to stay here and show people it’s okay. I’m staying because I know it’ll end. If I leave it’s because I don’t see any hope for peace.”

Noam Uerad is not a native of Sderot but made the choice to move to the south.

A bomb shelter disguised as a giant caterpillar on a playground in Kibbutz Mefalsim

A bomb shelter disguised as a giant caterpillar on a playground in Kibbutz Mefalsim

“I think it is important not to abandon Sderot. The people of Sderot need support as well,” she says.

Uerad was born in Lehavot Habashan, a kibbutz (a small agricultural community) in the north of Israel near the border with Lebanon. There, too, Uerad and the residents of Lehavot Habashan experienced missile attacks from Hezbollah militants.

“The question is not whether to live in Sderot or not,” she says “but to live in Israel.”

Another transplant to Sderot is Bar Kiassi. Kiassi, 23, is a journalist and blogger. She moved to Sderot two years ago. In nearby Kibbutz Mefallsim, Kaasi qassam1volunteers at the children’s summer camp.

“The sound of the bomb is what calms them down,” Kiassi says. “They hear the explosion and know it’s over. It means it has fallen somewhere else. You’re praying that it won’t be that loud because it won’t be that close.”

At the summer camp, the children were in high spirits. Two boys were crowded in front of a computer playing Super Mario, while the younger ones gathered around a wide table doing crafts. They each had a Qassam story and yet loved Sderot all the same.

Roni Tarnovski, 11, spent her last birthday party in a bomb shelter.

Alon Cohen, 11, was having dinner with his friends when a Qassam fell on his house. There was no bomb shelter nearby so they hid under the table and covered their heads to avoid getting hit by shrapnel, he explained.

Despite these life-threatening experiences, Roni says, “When I grow up, I really want to stay here. I love this place.”

David, 12, who could speak in Hebrew, explained why he would not leave Sderot. “If I leave and think someone else will stay, the next person will think that and on and on until no one is left,” Uerad translated. “If we leave, it’s like they’ll have won.”

There may be several hardships in Sderot, but Hanukayev says she feels even worse for the Palestinians in Gaza.

“At least I have a government that would protect me. They are suffering much more than I am. The bomb shelters are here to give us a normal life.”

See A Town Takes Shelter for more images from Sderot.

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