Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Tuesday, 22 January 2008

'Wartime' in Israeli border town

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Sderot

Shocked resident of Sderot
Many residents of Sderot find the rocket attacks deeply shocking
The good news, for Or Cohen, is that she has managed to coax people out of their houses in Sderot.

"Everyone is so sad and so anxious," she says. "People told me they were afraid to leave their homes".

In the end, though, a little more than 100 people - mainly residents from Sderot - turned up at the town's new community centre to join in that evening's celebrations marking the festival of Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish "New Year for Trees".

Ms Cohen had organised the entertainment.

"It should be a celebration," she told me. "It is a happy festival."

But at the same time, ask anyone in Sderot, and they will say, as Ms Cohen puts it: "We are living in a war."


For the past seven years, Sderot has lived under a daily volley of rockets and mortars, fired by Palestinian militants in northern Gaza.


Some of the teenagers who have come to the Tu B'Shevat celebrations broke away from the tables covered with dried fruit, soft drinks and wine, to try to explain what passes for normality in their town.

"We hear the alarm," Daniella says. "We run to the shelter, we wait 20 seconds, we hear the boom, and then we go out again."

Bakia says: "It affects everything. I was in Jerusalem the other day, and I heard the noise of something fall off the shelf, and I started running."

Vered says she is counting the days until she can leave Sderot. She is only 17, but already she has decided: "I don't want my kids to grow up here, with the trauma."

Man inspects hole in Sderot wall
When they aim at Sderot, they aim at all of us, at the ability of Israelis to live normally
Ariel Horowitz

Often the complaint in Sderot is that the government and the Israeli public barely notice, let alone understand, what life is like in a community bordering northern Gaza.

Ariel Horowitz insists he is one of those who do sympathise.

He is one of two professional musicians who have travelled down from Tel Aviv to perform at tonight's event in a show of support.

"The war stops here in Sderot and doesn't get Tel Aviv, only because right now the Palestinians can't reach Tel Aviv," he says.

"But when they aim at Sderot, they aim at all of us, at the ability of Israelis to live normally."

That view is widely shared inside Israel. And it has led to pressure on the government to do, well, something.

No easy options

Over the weekend, the blockade on supplies into Gaza was tightened further.

Two rockets are fired from Gaza head towards Israel (May 2007)
Qassam rockets are frequently fired from Gaza into southern Israel

That has now been eased, at least for the time being.

But a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Arye Mekel, said his country in no way shared the view expressed by some UN and EU officials that the blockade amounted to collective punishment.

"It is a message to Hamas, and hopefully the people in Gaza, who by the way elected Hamas as the government, to put pressure on that government," he says.

There are few Israelis who believe there are any easy options with Gaza.

There is a desire for the government to do something to stop the missile attacks but there is no great appetite, even in Sderot, for a large-scale, long-lasting incursion.

We want to live in peace, but what would you say if France or Ireland bombed you?
Gil Kopach

For the time being, the Israeli government is sticking to a combination of intense economic pressure and air and ground attacks against suspected militants.

Gil Kopach, the other Tel Aviv musician to have come to the community centre in Sderot, echoes the frustration of many when he turns on international criticism of Israeli actions.

His question: "What would you do?"

"It's very delicate," he says. "Israel sets itself very high standards. We can't just go and bomb Gaza."

"We have a liability for our situation and for their situation. We want to live in peace, but what would you say if France or Ireland bombed you?"

One refrain you hear time and again in Sderot is: "We have been living under rocket attack for years - how long can this continue?"

The grim precedent in this part of the world is that it can continue for plenty of time yet.


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