Israel Resource Review 21st October, 2006


A traumatic synagogue experience in Sderot
Noam Bedein

Noam Bedein is 24. After a year of seminary study, three years of Israel Army service on the Lebanese border and a year's trek around Asia, moved to Sderot to study at the business school at the Sapir College Branch of Ben Gurion University and has started work at the new Sderot Media Information Center for the Western Negev region of Israel.

"Rockets were fired on the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Friday night. No casualties occurred". -- Voice of Israel Radio News, Saturday night, October 21st, 2006

I'm sitting at the back seat of the Sephardic synagogue, a 2 minutes walk from my apartment, on Friday night in Sderot. This is only my second Shabbat here in Sderot, after spending the holidays at my parents' home near Jerusalem.

I'm thinking to myself while the prayers are going on, in a thick Moroccan chant, that it's time to go back to a routine, time to be a student next week, time to resume a weekly schedule with three days a week studying, one morning photography class, a few hours of volunteering with Ethiopian children helping them with there homework, and my new job with the media and information that was just opened up in Sderot. Its purpose is bringing groups and reporters to Sderot to introduce them to the people in this community who have lived and worked under daily artillery bombardment for the past 5 years in this crazy reality.

While my mind is wandering in all directions, as the new prayers are sung, I hear the siren go off . . . 'Tseva Adom' -'The color red' in English . . . We all know that in 15 seconds or less an artillery shell is going to fall . . .

The synagogue is packed with mostly older men and young fathers accompanying their children, most of whom continue to sing out their prayers, and pay little attention to the siren. All this is 'normal', someone whispers -- hearing the siren go off, with 15 seconds to take cover (if you have a secured room, which many don't even have), and hoping that it's not going to fall close to you and your family, which by the way, every single person in Sderot has experienced in the past? Only the day before, only the day before, I went into the office of one of Sderot's chief security officers who showed me a map of Sderot covered with dots -- the places were the artillery shells hit?

The security officer said that he stopped putting the dots on the map 2 years ago, because the map was completely full!!

After 27 seconds, the synagogue shook with a loud explosion?Everyone jumped out of their seats, with children running out of the synagogue to see where the shells fell, maybe on their home, because it sounded so close.

Young children grabbed their fathers' legs. Fathers held the youngest of their kids close to them, to protect them. You could see the horror on a 13-year-old boys' face, with his tears and shaking quite evident. The confusion in the father's face was apparent, as he hovered over his child to protect him with his own body. The father seemed helpless.

I shall never forget those sights. What's going through my mind is what I've heard until now about the investigations currently under way, listening to people describe this traumatic reality.

I would remember the statistics that I heard from the head of the mental health services in Sderot about the city's children, where almost everyone tested as suffering from some level of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Children sleep with their parents when there are nearly 14, wetting beds. Some children can't go anywhere by themselves, even to the bathroom. I won't even mention the fact that children don't go outside playing on swings in the park, and that their entire daily routine is revolved around the rockets - "where is it going to catch me now? I have 15 seconds to take cover, where do I go?" Over 1000 homes here have no secure room?

The questions that you hear on the street do not stop.

"How do I even leave my house? How do I send my children to Kindergarten or a school when half of the classrooms are not protected? How do I answer my son when he's in third grade asking to go back to second grade because that classroom was protected?

"How should I feel even if the classroom is protected, there are children that have been killed in Sderot from missiles in the middle of the road?"

Everyone asks: "When is this going to hit me? Or close to me?"

These are just the tip of the iceberg of the questions that go through ones' mind here in Sderot? The only thing you can do when the alarm goes off is count to 15 and hope it doesn't land near you? A life of Russian roulette . . .

In the end, the artillery shell on Friday night fell 100 meters from the synagogue in the back yard of a family home. All the glass in the area shattered. The windows of cars in the parking lot exploded. And a young boy on the sidewalk was injured from shrapnel that penetrated all parts of his body.

I shall never forget what I witnessed when the artillery shell fell - the shock, the frightened fathers who grasp their children, the cries of the young ones . . .

While writing this, I feel a bit shaky? And the only thing that is going through my mind, is that no matter how I feel from one experience, this is nothing compared to the people here that have been living with this horrifying reality for over five years.

It was even hard for me to fall asleep that night, thinking that the Arab who fired his artillery shell fired from a place where he is protected, taking cover among civilians, firing at homes and synagogues which are not protected . . .

Can this be reality? What kind of civilized country, a western democratic nation, would let this kind of reality to happen?!

Over 5 years? No one in Israel has an idea about Sderot -- not until you've spent at least 3 weeks getting used to waking up at 6:30 in the morning by the siren, getting used to wondering how close the shells will fall -- 3 blocks away or on the other side if town?

Who would believe that there can be a town in Israel where Jews cannot feel protected and have to rely on daily miracles?

Did we forget who we are, and where we come from?

How many people have to get killed before any reasonable solution is found?

After all, since September, 2005, when Israel abandoned Jewish communities near Gaza that were transformed into terror bases, the Israel Civil Defense Command reported that Arabs have conducted more than 1000 artillery attacks.

Twenty-two people have been killed by the artillery that Arabs fire on the Western Negev, which the media often refer to as "home-made kassam missiles" that rarely hurt anyone and make lots of noise.

Except that the media outside of Sderot and the Western Negev do not understand what it is like for 45 communities in the Western Negev to live in an atmosphere of terror.

I got my first taste of that atmosphere of terror this past Friday night in the Sderot synagogue.

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Middle East News Line

Hizbullah has acquired and deployed Chinese-origin cluster bombs.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch asserted that Hizbullah acquired cluster munitions and fired them during the 34-day war with Israel, which ended on August 14. The U.S. group identified the munition as the Chinese-origin Type-81 122 mm rocket.

HRW said Hizbullah fired the Type 81 cluster weapon on July 25 in a rocket attack on the northern Israeli village of Mughar. The group said this was the first confirmed use of the Type 81 submunition anywhere in the world. Israel's military confirmed the HRW report and said 113 cluster munitions were fired into the Jewish state.

"We are disturbed to discover that not only Israel but also Hizbullah used cluster munitions in their recent conflict, at a time when many countries are turning away from this kind of weapon precisely because of its impact on civilians," Steve Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, said.

This was the latest report of Hizbullah's use of Chinese-origin weapons. On July 14, Hizbullah, aided by Iranian advisers, fired the first of several Chinese-origin C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles toward Israel Navy patrols.

The first C-802 slammed into the INS Hanit Saar-4.5-class corvette and four sailors were killed.

Human Rights Watch said it did not know how Hizbullah acquired the Type 81 cluster munition. The U.S. organization said the latest findings "raise serious concerns about the proliferation of these weapons to non-state armed groups, as well as states."

The Type-81 cluster munition of the 122 mm rocket contains 39 Type-90 or MZD submunitions. Each submunition was designed to fire hundreds of steel spheres, with each measuring about 3.5 mm in diameter. China, Egypt, Italy, Russia, and Slovakia produce nine types of 122 mm rockets with submunitions, and Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have stockpiled the cluster weapons.

"Human Rights Watch discovered evidence of Hizbollah's unprecedented use of this cluster munition in the course of ongoing investigations of the group's attacks on northern Israel during the war that lasted from July 12 until August 14," HRW said. "Israeli authorities had until now prevented publication of details of Hizbullah cluster strikes in Israel, citing security concerns."

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