Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Effect of the Terror

I was glad we could bring smiles to some weary faces, and the people in Sderot were definitely glad to see us. Still, the visit makes clear the limited effect of solidarity. At the onset of Shabbat, we wove our way through apartment complexes and homes to a shul (synagogue) on the opposite side of the city, one of many in town which had been converted from a bomb shelter. Along the way, the town looked relatively normal, with rows of clean stucco houses, playgrounds and parks. But once and a while one would see a house with a wall having been completely blasted off, rubble strewn in the front yard. And the playgrounds were empty. The background was filled with the sound of thumping helicopters and buzzing unmanned areal surveillance drones. Occasionally, the thumping and buzzing was punctuated with the popping of high-caliber automatic weapons fire. We all looked to David, our resident Army veteran.
"Qassam?" someone asked.
"Nope, someone's shooting."
"Now that was a Qassam."

The nine of us arrived a few minutes late. Ten are required for a minyan, a quorum of Jewish men necessary to recite all the prayers, but only three men from the neighborhood showed up, so they had waited. The Gabbai (the guy who runs the shul) explained, "We used to have a minyan, but people are leaving, one by one."

Helicopters fly by overhead, dropping flares to confuse potential surface-to-air missiles.

"They don't make any difference. Helicopters do nothing. Do you know how much it costs to keep a helicopter in the air for an hour? Thousands of shekels."

I guess that's where the 100% car tax on the Mazda 3 goes.

"Last week, our rabbi left. He was almost hit by a missile. Everyone wants to leave. We can't send our children to school here any more."

Israel's latest crop of Post-Zionist leaders are completely incapable of solving this problem. There is a reasonable fear that if Israel sends a brigade of foot soldiers into Beit Hanoun, they won't come back out. There is also a fear that the most effective tactic, siege combined with areal bombardment to depopulate the town, will result in an international outcry which would outweigh any political pressure they might feel domestically. The best that Israel's rulers have come up with so far is "rocket-proofing" the town, building massive walls around school houses and nurseries. Of course, so far, all fatalities have been people walking in the open, not indoors, so even if they had already completed all these projects years ago, they would not have saved any lives.

It's unnerving how skilled the Arabs have become at the art of inflicting psychological warfare. It's not the actual danger, so much as the constant exposure, which grinds down the nerves. Since the Arabs began rocketing the Jewish civilians of Sderot seven years ago, ten have been killed. That would be an average number for a successful bus bombing during the Intifada. Israelis became so experienced with the in-your-face sudden-death terror that they learned to recover quickly. After an attack, medical teams and repair crews came to clean up, and the scene would be under control within hours, unrecognizable as the site of an atrocity within one day. Buses kept running, shattered windows were repaired, and the survivors continued with life as best they could.

Sderot is a town that was left behind by the Intifada, stuck in the fear of 2000. If Israel's ruling class is going to do something, they had better do it fast. Life in Sderot is like one continuous, seven year suicide bombing, and people are starting to pick up and leave.

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