Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 11:42 UK

Uneasy recovery for Sderot and south Israel

Ayelet Modoh, sister of rocket victim, Ashdod
Ayelet says she lost a best friend as well as a sister

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Sderot and Ashdod

"They say time heals, but each day is more difficult than the last," says Ayelet Modoh, 37.

Six months after the Israeli military operation in Gaza, her sister Irit Shitrit's death in a Palestinian rocket strike is still sinking in.

Leafing through a photo album, she describes how the missile exploded as the two sisters headed home from the gym in the port town of Ashdod.

Rocket victim Irit Shitrit with her youngest son Tal
The youngest children can barely speak of the loss of their mother (left)

The siren sounded, they got out of the car, discussed where to lie on the ground because they could not find a shelter, started sending text messages to their children. Then came a faint whistle, followed by a massive blast and a deadly wave of shrapnel.

Ms Shitrit, 39, was one of three Israeli civilians killed in similar attacks during the 22-day January operation in Gaza.

Israel said the operation was aimed at reducing the rocket fire that had plagued southern Israel for years.

Ten Israeli soldiers died during the conflict, while between 1,100 and 1,400 Gazans are estimated killed, although views vary as to how many were civilians.

During the conflict, rockets fired by the militant Hamas movement reached ever further into Israel - to places like Ashdod - putting hundreds of thousands more Israelis in mortal fear.

Yaser al-Wadiya, factory owner, Gaza

The family are now rallying around Ms Shitrit's four children, aged 11, 13, 17 and 20.

"The older ones can cope," says Ayelet Modoh, "but it's harder for the little ones, they don't speak about it much".

Ashdod residents were not used to the frequent sirens and the few seconds to dash to a bomb shelter, which communities nearer Gaza, such as the town of Sderot, have endured for years.

"I want to apologise to the people of Sderot," says Ms Modoh. "They were under fire the whole time, we would see it on the news and just flip the remote."


In Sderot, the rockets have waned, but recovery is also slow for Avi Maman, 47.

He picks at peeling paint as he wanders through the ruins of the single storey house where he grew up and raised his three children.

Debris and scraps of insulation hang from the hole in the roof left by the rocket that landed on it on 30 December.

Avi Maman in his ruined house, hit by a Palestinian rocket, Sderot
Avi says he still bursts into tears over the loss of his home

He says the house had already lost about a third of its value since 2000, as the rocket fire pushed property prices down.

And quotes he has had suggest it will cost about three times the 130,000 shekels ($33,000) the government has so far given him to rebuild.

He is launching a legal battle against the Israeli authorities, who have insisted the compensation options - including an offer whereby the government repairs the damage for free rather than paying compensation - are sufficient.

Avi Maman's mother Freha, 86
Avi's mother Freha, 86, has been put on tranquilisers since the attack

The family are now renting. Mr Maman, who works as a fire fighter says he would like to leave Sderot, but cannot afford to.

The experience has taken its toll. Freha, Mr Maman's blind, disabled mother, has only recently stopped breaking out into screaming fits.

"It's very humiliating. You feel detached from your usual surroundings… sometimes it makes me burst into tears," Mr Maman says.


The sleepy town in Israel's baking south is, however, showing signs of recovery, says Mayor David Buskila, whose own house was hit in the run up to the conflict.

"The atmosphere is different, people are living their lives as usual, the roads are busy," he says.

The ceasefire is not indefinite. We are still afraid in our hearts
Galit Abitbol
Sderot school teacher

A barrage of 50-60 rockets per week on Sderot during the height of the conflict has dropped to about one a month, but even so, he says, the remaining threat means "you can't really feel it's over".

Israel pulled its troops out from Gaza unilaterally in 2005, since when there have been three ceasefires punctuated by two major conflagrations.

The recent conflict ended with Israel and Hamas both announcing unilateral ceasefires.

But attempts to broker deals that would establish a lasting truce, unite the divided Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, end Israel's blockade of Gaza and secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have so far failed.

But despite uncertainties about the future, there are signs that residents who have left over the years are returning, Mr Bukila says, pointing to new competition for plots of land that were hard to sell last year.

Like many living within rocket range of Gaza, the mayor supported the Israeli operation, but felt it did not happen soon enough.

The offensive - widely criticised by human rights groups as heavy handed - was "excellent", he says, even though it left thousands of Gazan families homeless and grieving.

"We don't hate the people in Gaza," he says, "we feel pain for them, but we have to remember they don't suffer because of us, they suffer because of their leaders."

Children play in Sderot swimming pool
The swimming pool was closed for four years because of the rocket attacks

At Sderot's open-air pool, screeches and high-pitched laughter fill the air.

Children splash with their classmates a day before the summer holidays begin.

Fourth grade teacher Galit Abitbol, 36, is delighted the pool has reopened after four years of closure due to the rockets.

Slapping hummus onto bread for a bikini-clad nine-year-old, she says her pupils are still sometimes sad and afraid at school, or restless from months of being cooped up in homes and shelters.

Her eldest son, Ron, eight, is in therapy after he became too scared to leave the house.

While this could be the calmest summer in Sderot in years, she still believes the future will bring more rockets.

"The ceasefire is not indefinite. We are still afraid in our hearts."

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