Sderot gets hit so frequently and relentlessly with Kassam missles and mortars that people often forget that it is not actually part of the Gaza Strip.
700 rockets have fallen on this town since 2001 is to almost surely place Sderot somewhere in that volatile area.
But that placement would be in error.
Sderot is as much a part of territorial Israel as Tel Aviv or Haifa. It is a town that was founded not after 1967, but in the mid 1950’s, with over 20,000 strong. But for all those numbers speaking up on behalf of this place, there is one number that puts all 20,000 in danger every day, and that number is 800. Sderot, though it is within territorial Israel, is only 800 meters from Bet Hanun, an Arab city in the Gaza Strip that, hundreds of rockets later, still can’t seem to satisfy its itchy trigger fingers.
And with the disengagement from Gaza less than two months away, many fear the situation will greatly deteriorate as the Arabs try to take the upswing after an Israeli withdrawal. The likely possibility of a worsening state of affairs presented a backdrop, though, which brought to Sderot an unexpected visitor last week. Ambassador Ramiro Cibri’in Uzal of the European Union came to City Hall as a guest of Mayor Eli Moyal, while admittedly not amid much fan fair, as no journalist formally invited to come to his press conference actually showed up.
Despite this, Mayor Moyal himself was still intent on letting the Ambassador know the effects of the attacks on his city. “Parents don’t send their kids to schools…a lot of kids in Sderot cannot sleep at night,” he told him. “We need psychologists. If you really want to help this area, we need a trauma center.” Uzal then offered to “see what he could do” about getting EU funding for the idea. He also offered to bring several of Sderot’s children to Europe during the month of August for a summer camp program if he was able to do so.
Uzal suggested at the meeting that Israel give the Palestinian Authority more small arms in order to fight the terrorists launching missiles from Bet Hanun. If put up against Hamas with their current arms load, “…according to my information,” he said, “the Palestinian police could sustain fire for ten minutes.”
Moyal did not agree. “This is de ja vu. We had this in Rabin’s days,” he said, referring to the agreement under the 1993 Oslo Accords to supply Yasser Arafat’s PA with guns. “If you ask me, there is no law and order in Bet Hanun. I believe the terrorists are running the town,” he continued. “Why shoot at Sderot? It’s inside the border. They are not interested in a state. They are terrorists,” he said.
Also present at the meeting was former Israel Defense Minister and current Sderot local Yitzhak Mordecai, who also had what to say to the Ambassador. “I think the EU has a responsibility here…I know the Gaza Strip better than my own house. If they deploy one police force in Bet Hanun, there will be quiet in Sderot,” he said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Ambassador was brought to a vantage point and shown a view of Bet Hanun with the UNRWA Jabalya refugee camp off in the distance. Asked what the EU’s policy was toward Israel if she were to get hit by more missiles from that area after the disengagement takes place, he equivocated. “I hope it will not happen, but if it happens, ask me then,” he said. “This is like asking what will I do if the European Union disintegrates. I say I hope it will not.”
Further asked if it were not relatively more likely that Sderot get hit by Kassam missiles and mortars after the disengagement than the European Union disintegrating, Uzal said, “I do not think so.”