Monday, March 26, 2007

Sderot mayor wants rockets stopped

Canadian Jewish News, 3-21-07

He knows because as part of his daily routine, he has to bear the brunt of complaints from his constituents in the southern development town of Sderot that more properly should fall in the laps of the two senior government ministers.

Faced with an unrelenting barrage of Qassam missiles from Palestinian controlled Gaza, the residents of Sderot “talk to me and see me like a prime minster, chief of staff or the defence minister,” he said.

“They tell me, it’s your job to do something. When I explain I can’t give orders to the army I stand there and get shouts and criticism in place of the government. I don’t mind, because they can’t see or talk to [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert or [Defence Minister] Amir Peretz.”

Though he tells this story in measured tones, it’s clear Moyal is quite angry at the Israeli government. He feels it has let down the community of 24,000 that is situated only one kilometre from the border with Gaza. As a result of its location, the town, as well as nearby kibbutzim, have been hit with numerous primitive, though deadly, missiles.

“We stopped counting after 4,000,” Moyal said last week following a breakfast briefing for a UJA Federation of Greater Toronto leadership group.

The missiles started raining down on Sderot in 2000 but the frequency increased markedly after Israel pulled out of Gaza in August 2005. Since the Palestinian “ceasefire,” more than 600 have been fired and in the period following the Mecca accord, the average has reached nearly two per day.

So far, seven residents of Sderot have been killed, hundreds wounded and hundreds of homes have been damaged.

Those are the statistics. But what is really affecting the quality of life in the town is the impact the missile attacks are having on children. As for the adults, “we’ll manage,” Moyal said stoically. “We served in the army and we know how to manage. We’re talking about the children, the soft souls.”

In Sderot, as in nearby kibbutzim, many “go into shelters at night.

“We’re talking about traumas and fears of children who cannot sleep. Kids who refuse to go outside after sunset. You have children sleeping in shelters, sleeping with parents, peeing the bed again.”

Others are taking various pills and medicines to help them cope.

“We’re talking about a lot of problems. We’re talking about something that has been studied at Tel Aviv University for the psychological impact on our children.

“One hundred per cent of Sderot children are suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, which is very bad. This is a story nobody has heard about and we’re dealing with it every day.”

While the government has not provided the military solution Moyal is advocating, the response from other Israelis has been heartening. Many psychologists and social workers have visited the town to help the people cope. Respite programs have been put in place allowing residents to leave for a brief vacation.

But Moyal is adamant that what is really needed is a military strike to stop the missiles from being launched and to deter further attacks. The past three Israeli governments, two headed by Ariel Sharon and the current Olmert administration, “did nothing to stop these missiles,” he said.

“They are wrong in their policy. They think by talking, it will end. They think that by giving land to the Palestinians, it would bring some sheket (quiet). They were wrong.”

Moyal pointed out the intensity of the rocket attacks increased after Palestinians were handed all of Gaza. The lesson he learned is plain: “We didn’t react properly in the beginning. We didn’t ask them to pay a full price for shooting on civilians. We accepted it. That’s why it continued.”

Asked what the full price should be, Moyal replied, “I don’t care. My mitzvah (commandment) is to prevent [those] who are trying to kill me.”

Israel “should destroy the places they are shooting from.” Palestinians should be warned and then the Israel Defence Force should “destroy the whole area.” The IDF should re-enter the Palestinian territory and “clean the Gaza and go back home.

“But we didn’t use that [tactic] at the beginning in the right way, that’s why they continue.”

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