[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2006, 12:20 GMT
Nowhere to run for Gaza neighbours

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Sderot

When Israel unilaterally withdrew its people, and its troops, from the Gaza Strip in summer 2005, critics of the move warned it would lead to more attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli targets around Gaza. Nick Thorpe, in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, says hardly a day now goes by without a Palestinian rocket attack.

A house blown apart by a Qassam rocket
Rocket attacks are an everyday reality in Sderot

Red Dawn.

It sounds like a paperback thriller from the Cold War.

In fact it is the air raid siren in Sderot and the Israeli towns and villages like it around the Gaza Strip.

It is supposed to warn the local people of a Qassam rocket attack by Palestinian militants.

If the system works, they have nine seconds to run for cover.

But sometimes there is nowhere to run.

In a kindergarten in the middle of Sderot, the mere mention of Red Dawn makes one little girl burst into tears.

This kindergarten has lost two children - on their way here in the morning - to rocket attacks in the past few years.

Unlike some kindergartens in the town, this one at least has a reinforced concrete roof and blast-proof windows.

If the children are outside and the siren goes, everyone sprints for the door.

The children reach it first.

Sisterly love

Map of Gaza
Some of Sderot's outlying houses are less than 1km (0.6 miles) from Palestinian towns in the Gaza Strip

The people of Sderot are mostly immigrants, Jews from far and wide coming home to Mother Israel for a cheap house, sunshine and prospects for the children.

Ella was 17 last year - a pretty girl with long dark hair.

Her mother's family came from Iran, her father's from Morocco.

Red Dawn sounded as she was walking home one evening with her younger brother from a youth club.

She hugged her brother to her, to try to protect him.

The rocket landed a metre away.

She was killed by shrapnel to the neck.

He was also hit, but survived, thanks to the sacrifice of his sister.

Rocket attacks

I talked to their father, Jonatan, on the porch of their house.

Qassam rocket

A sandstorm was blowing in from the Negev desert, setting the windchime singing mournfully above our heads.

"I think our government should do more to stop the men who do this," he said.

"We should send the troops back in to deal with them."

But seven months after the full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, it is not an idea which will gain many votes.

As we speak, the sonic booms of Israeli airforce jets echo over Gaza.

In the past weeks there have been precision strikes, targeted killings of militants who have just fired, or are about to fire, rockets.

The accuracy of Israeli intelligence - based both on satellites and informers - is breathtaking.

But for Jonatan it is not enough.

"They'll build bigger and better rockets," he says. "And this is a small country."

'Fruits of victory'

A common argument in Israel today, since the election victory of the radical group Hamas in Palestinian elections, is that the next Israeli government can simply decide to ignore the Palestinians.

Not peace with the Arabs, as the veteran peace activist Uri Avnery described that approach recently, but peace without them.

Israel unilaterally drawing its own borders in the sand.

A day in Sderot undermines that concept.

Steel balls tore through the thin asbestos walls of his temporary home... and into his skull
If the Palestinians remain at war with Israel, however small the area of land left them, they will still find ways to launch attacks.

"Israel won this war long ago," a Palestinian friend once told me.

"All we can do is stop the Israelis enjoying the fruits of victory."

Remarkable survival

A rocket lands not far away, on open ground. No-one is hurt, so we are not very interested.

As journalists, we are only drawn to disasters.

Instead we visit the scene of the latest, near-lethal attack, a mobile home, blown apart by a Qassam rocket at the Kibbutz Karmiya.

The sandstorm gets worse. Palm trees bend in the wind.

Seven-month-old Oshar - whose name means "happiness" in Hebrew - was sleeping peacefully in his cot on 3 February, when a Qassam rocket landed just outside.

Steel balls tore through the thin asbestos walls of his temporary home... and into his skull.

His mother found him covered in plaster and blood.

Remarkably, he and three other members of his family were injured, but survived.

But there is not much left of their dwelling.

'Sick with worry'

Itzhik's grandson
Itzhik has done all that he can to protect his grandson

Their neighbour, Itzhik, has moved his own grandson's cot to the very middle of his home now.

His daughter is sick with worry but they have nowhere else to go.

They were among the 6,000 Israelis evacuated from Gaza last summer.

"Look," says Itzhik, taking me outside. "The garbage cans are better protected than we are." There is a low brick wall around them.

All day, Israeli jets boom overhead.

The Palestinians are firing rockets, indiscriminately under cover of the storm.

They do not care where they land. The target is Israel.

Aluminium girders swing uselessly in the wind from the roof of Oshar's house.

An inside wall is still spattered with blood.

Sometimes the prospects of peace in the Middle East seem to be receding, ever further away.

"Fifteen years ago," said Jonatan in Sderot, "we Israelis used to visit Gaza. The Palestinians have very good dentists."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 18 February, 2006 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific