[ONE WEEK BEFORE ISRAEL’S RETREAT FROM ITS ARMY BASES AND CIVILIAN COMMUNITIES IN GAZA LAST August, ISRAEL MINISTER OF DEFENCE SHAUL MOFAZ STATED THAT ENOUGH FUNDS HAD BEEN ALLOCATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF BOLSTERING CIVIL DEFENCE FACILITIES IN SOUTHERN ISRAEL – DAVID BEDEIN, PUBLISHER]
Worldwide media only fleetingly reports about the current Arab uprising in Gaza that has unleashed a hail of Kassam rockets against Israel.
These projectiles currently have a range of up to 10 kilometers, putting at risk approximately 600 kilometers of land bordering Gaza. According to senior IDF sources, Kassam launches against Israel rose from 62 in February, to 109 in March.
Before the Israelis disengaged from strategically located Israeli civilian communities and military bases in Gaza, Palestinian munitons could not be fired from Gaza into the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Sederot and surrounding towns in Southern Israel.
Rockets are now being fired on a regular basis against these populous Western Negev communities that are contiguous to northern Gaza.
Reuven Ehrlich is head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies. He says that to build credibility, Hamas is not currently involved in the Kassam rocket attacks. At the same time, Hamas is not impeding Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Popular Resistance Committees from shooting them. “Senior Hamas leaders are saying this is legitimate resistance,”says Ehrlich.
Concerning these attacks, Ehrlich says: “We’re facing a new peak. I think that no Israeli government will be able to sit and let these terror organizations put a large Israeli population under threat.
Shar HaNegev mayor Alon Shuster, says his pager is filled with reports of attacks within his jurisdiction.
“After disengagement the Palestinians started shooting north to Ashkelon,” says Shuster. “Also in the south there have been some missiles. The military can identify departure, but they don’t know the destination.”
According to The Israel Civil Defense Command, 46 communities surrounding Gaza are in need of protection. Provisional defense includes individual family bomb shelters, upgraded school and childcare roofing, as well as the Red Dawn warning system that gives listeners five to ten seconds to find cover before an incoming Kassam explodes.
For over a decade, the Israeli government has demanded that every house in the country be outfitted with an attached shelter. Yet many of the homes surrounding Gaza have none. Communal underground shelters exist for use in cases of extended bombardment, but these are generally useless against a single Kassam strike when there is little time to reach them because they are hard to get to and impossible to fill with groups of people in just seconds.
“We need to give these 46 places protection.” says a Civil Defense spokesman.
“But we don’t have the money. We have 135 million shekels. We need 210 million.”
According to the Civil Defense spokesman, only Nachal Oz, Keren Shalom, and Netiv Ha’asara have family shelters being installed in each house. In Nachal Oz alone this process has cost seven million shekels. The Civil Defense reported that a total of ten bombproof roofs have been installed over schools.
Kibbutz Ziqim, just north of Gaza, is slated to receive shelters. “They have 196 houses. We’re giving to each house. Now they have 35 or 36.”
Avi Kadosh, secretary of Nir Am says 220 Kassam rockets have exploded at the kibbutz. Of those, around 14 fell inside living areas. “Some damaged buildings,” he says. “A Kassam also fell in the middle of a house.” He provides a photograph of the house, sh owing a crater where a moment before there had been a living room. “We were lucky because nobody was injured, but the kibbutz doesn’t have the money to build shelters.”
“The range of the benefits is the range of the Kassam,” says Mayor Shuster. He says the 46 communities surrounding Gaza receive a 13% discount on income tax and 80% off on municipality taxes. But this doesn’t help offset costs enough to allow every community adequate shelter.
“In 2005 we were a little tired of all the Kassams,” says Avi Kadosh. “The government put small shelters in the children’s houses. After that we found it was not enough. You have just 15 seconds to find shelter.”
“Last week we finished the last nursery with a [bombproof] roof. Psychologically, it helps,” he says. “But people are always outside. We live on the kibbutz. We didn’t come here to always go somewhere else. This is our home.”
“We have specific problems because of the danger, but the most important thing is to continue our life. We think we know how to deal with it, post traumatic stress disorder is a problem, but professional help costs money.”
“Since the Disengagement, the rockets fall everywhere. Because of the new danger, the government tried to get shelters, but they don’t have enough money. They sent us 11 small shelters. We need something like 110. The media talked about Karmiyah more, so they were sent 40.”
According to Karmiyah head Uri Sella, the Kibbutz was originally promised 61 family shelters. This number was later reduced to 43, and then to 29. He says these shelters went exclusively to evacuees of Gush Katif, the string of Jewish communities withdrawn from Gaza.
Avi Kadosh says this leads to stress between neighbors who are have-nots against those who have no shelter.
When the Civil Defense brought the shelters they did not install them – but emptied each one onto the roadside in front of each respective house. Or, in some cases, the kibbutz parking lot.
That’s when Karmiyah locals found it would be an additional 40,000 shekels to create the official plan allowing attachment of shelters to homes. The money has not been spent, and Karmiyah shelters continue to sit more than a ten second run from most who may need them to stay alive.
“In the meantime there’s no protection,” says Uri Sella. “The Red Dawn warning doesn’t help. It just makes people afraid. You used to have five seconds, but it seems now they’re launching from further away. Now it’s more like eight or nine seconds. The difference between five and eight seconds doesn’t really matter.”
The Ziqim, and Nir Am communities also have shelters stuck in their fields, far from houses.
In the southern Israeli town of Sederot, Rabbi David Fandel runs the Max and Ruth Shwartz Hesder Yeshiva of Sederot. Today it is completely disassembled. He is rebuilding the structure so it can withstand a Kassam.
“We cannot belittle the fear the Palestinians are instilling in us,” he says.
“Last Simchat Torah there was a Kassam altert. We had to sit on the floor – if you can imagine sitting on the floor on Simchat Torah. There has been a growing lack of security since disengagement.”
What security does come is in the form of Israeli artillery being fired into Gaza.
“I think the IDF is doing its utmost to help the local population,” says Ehrlich. “At the end of the day, only if there is popular Palestinian pressure against the Hamas government will there be a change. Maybe after the Israeli shooting, the local population will come to this conclusion.”
Avi Kadosh say that “since the disengagement, we’ve had the Kassams and Israeli artillery. They shoot a lot when they don’t have anything to do. Yesterday they shot all day long. You get tired from that. Any question of a military solution has to be temporary. It can be six months. It can be two years. It can’t be for generations.”
As Rabbi Fandel retrofits his yeshiva, Mayor Shuster remains cool about the rocket threat.
“Some people have a pain in the back,” he says. “Others have a Kassam.”