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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A recent study by NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of War and Terror, found that 28.4 percent of people in Sderot suffered from symptoms associated with PTSD, compared with 5.2 percent in Ofakim, a town in southern Israel which has a similar socioeconomic profile but is not under rocket fire. Overall levels of anxiety and depression were nearly two to three times as high in Sderot, and children here are five times as likely to have sleep difficulties. Nearly 1 in 5 has behavioral problems.Skip to next paragraph
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"It affects every moment of your daily life in some way," Melul says. She points to the bicycles in the hallway, noting that her kids, like their schoolmates, don't take much interest in going out to ride. "The more you're out and about, the more you're at risk."
About a week ago, a Grad missile hit the Ashkelon school where Melul works. The courtyard where her students play took a direct hit. Fortunately, it happened to be a Saturday.
There have been other close calls. About two years ago, a rocket hit her sister's living room. "Everything was broken. You couldn't recognize a thing," she says. They repaired the damage quickly with the help of government support.
Geographically, her closest neighbors are in northern Gaza, where houses have suffered destruction in the recent war that simply can't be compared to the damages done here by Qassam rockets. But that, Melul believes, is the result of the Palestinians' behavior in continually seeking war with Israel, continuing to fire rockets even after Israel pulled out of Gaza in August 2005.
"I thought maybe giving up Gaza, with all of those beautiful greenhouses, was a price we should pay for peace," she says. "But now everyone who supported the disengagement is sorry they did. We lived here by our sword for 60 years, and we said it's enough, we want to live in peace, so we left Gaza."
She doesn't see logic in the argument that Hamas is fighting for Israel to open the border crossings. "Why doesn't Egypt open the border? You have your brothers on the other side – let them supply you with what you need," she argues.
Nor does Melul put much hope in a cease-fire, because she thinks that Hamas will use it as a period of time to regroup and to smuggle in more weapons.
Abnormal becomes normal
Despite the ever-present rocket threat, there has a been a kind of normalization of the abnormal in war-weary Sderot. In school, the boys have learned "The Code Red Song," a kind of nursery rhyme designed to get kids to recognize what to do when the rocket signal sounds – and how to shake off the stress later.
Living in Sderot also means living with the windows open, winter or summer, rain or shine – in order to hear warnings. Sometimes the rockets avoid detection, and fall with no warning at all.
But if there's anytime to try to forget all of that, it's now, during Purim, the holiday when Jews celebrate being saved from destruction in ancient Persia, now Iran. Among their holiday outings this week, Melul will take the kids to check out Sderot's new rocket proof recreation area. The $5 million project, unveiled Tuesday, will serve as a playground, an area for senior citizens, and as a disco at night.
Part of the fun involves dressing up in costume and eating sweets. Timor is decked in a red ninja-like suit as Inuyasha, an action-hero from a Japanese animation series.
"He saves people," Timor explains. Naveh is dressed as a hasid, complete with a furry hat. Dvir is a court jester.
Melul has a booklet of all the exciting Purim events, most of them of run by volunteers from elsewhere trying to raise the spirits of Sderot.
But she hasn't told the kids what's on – a kind of preventive parenting tailored for life in a war zone. If the situation heats up again, and the missiles start coming not by singles but by the dozen, they just might be staying home. "This way," she says, "if some things get canceled, they won't be disappointed."