Israeli town copes with return of near daily rockets
In Sderot, Purim holiday fun masks stresses of rocket attacks from Gaza militants.
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Minutes after they set down their suitcases, a Qassam rocket launched from nearby Gaza landed about 50 yards from their apartment building. It crashed into a storage shed and blew apart the sidewalk that leads to the community center around the corner. The center includes a rocket-resistant theater, recently built to give kids and grownups living here a little stress-free entertainment.
But for Ms. Melul, a single mother, the disquiet never really goes away.
"It's always right here," she says, pointing to her head.
Melul could move elsewhere in the country, but to do so, she says, would defeat the purpose of why she moved back here just over six years ago: the support of family and the community in which she grew up. She moved away as an adult, studied special education, and then moved back when she was pregnant with the twins.
"I needed some help when they were born, and my sister was here. Rents are cheaper here, so it was just much more feasible. And apart from the problem, well, a really big problem," she says, as if to correct herself, "it's a great place to live."
That problem: Nearly two months after Israel and Hamas each declared unilateral cease-fires, they have yet to come to an official truce. The two sides communicate with the help of Egyptian negotiators, who expressed disappointment when the talks broke off last month after Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, made it clear that he would not agree to a cease-fire that did not include the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas since June 2006.
In the meantime, the violent volleys continue. Several times a week, Israel strikes at smuggling tunnels and the Palestinian militants in Gaza it says are responsible for launching rockets. Hamas and other groups such as Islamic Jihad send several rockets and short-range missiles into Israel on an almost daily basis.
For Melul, like other residents in this border town, the challenges pepper the day. The trip to and from school is the most unsettling, as most of the Israelis who have been killed by rockets – 28 in the past eight years – were in an unprotected area. Four years ago, Melul had just left Sderot's shopping center when a rocket slammed into the parking lot, killing 4-year-old Afik Ohayon, a schoolmate of her son, Timor.
"It's scary. Well, when we go in the car it is, because when there's a 'Code Red,' there's nowhere to hide," says Timor, using the term for incoming rockets. It was intended as a less alarming alternative to the wailing sirens that are used when deadlier Katyusha rockets are launched from Lebanon and which Israelis remember from the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at Israel.
Today Timor, aged 8, won't let his mother leave them home alone for even a few minutes: He's afraid the "Code Red" will sound and he won't be able to corral his younger twin brothers into the shelter in time. Timor has been having nightmares, Melul explains. The two younger boys, Dvir and Naveh, who are 6, started exhibiting other unusual behaviors and ticks, and are now in therapy for childhood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).