Fifteen seconds in Sderot, Israel

What life is like in the line of terrorist rocket fire

  • Since 2001, Sderot has fallen victim to over 12,000 rockets launched from Gaza, like the ones seen in this picture. – Ashley Faintuch

This past August I happened to find myself in Sderot, Israel, a city located one kilometre from the Palestinian territory of Gaza. At first it seemed like a normal Israeli city, but I quickly realized there was no one walking the streets, there were very few cars driving and the playgrounds were empty.

One had to wonder where all the residents were. I quickly found out that life in Sderot is not like life here in Winnipeg.

Residents of Sderot live in constant terror. This is because they know that any second the “tzeva adom” (colour red) siren can go off, giving them just 15 seconds to find shelter before a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza hits.

A Qassam rocket is made out of plumbing pipes filled with shrapnel, creating a deadly rocket that fires blindly and inaccurately, intentionally aimed at civilian targets in Sderot. The colours the rocket is painted represents the terrorist group that has made it: yellow and green represent Fatah; red and green represent Hamas; and a pipe in the middle represents Islamic Jihad, all of which are known terror organizations.

Behind the Sderot police station, I saw a collection of hundreds of remains from Qassams fired from Gaza into Sderot. I could not believe my eyes. Each rocket had a chalk marking from the police with the date it was fired and the location it fell in. Since 2001, Sderot has fallen victim to over 12,000 rockets. Over 230 of those have fallen since the latest ceasefire began in mid-January of this year.

While walking around the city, I noticed that the bus stops were not a mere bench and a sign like we are familiar with here in Winnipeg. Instead, each bus stop was basically a bomb shelter. I could not imagine how a person could live like this. It is disheartening to know people live in such terror and fear.

Some residents I spoke with do not even sleep in their bed, but instead in their living room so they can run for cover faster if the dreaded siren goes off. One of the many shocking sights I saw was a rocket proof playground, built last year with safety in mind. At this playground, there are two large caterpillars, hollowed out on the inside. Each of these caterpillars were meant for children to play in them, but also doubled as a bomb shelter.

Residents of Sderot live in constant terror. This is because they know that any second the “tzeva adom” (colour red) siren can go off, giving them up to 15 seconds to find shelter before a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza hits.

Elsewhere, the children’s soccer field was equipped with a bomb shelter on either side of the field.

This is the way of life for residents of Sderot. Even U.S. President Barack Obama was appalled by the situation in Sderot when he visited the city in July 2008.

Many Sderot residents suffer from psychological disorders due to the conditions they live in. One of the most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is extremely prominent among the young children.

However, all is not bleak in Sderot. The Sderot Media Center is trying to help. They have a community theatre program through which 40 high-school-aged girls have worked together to produce a play – Children of Qassam Avenue – which is based on their experiences growing up under rocket fire. Not only has theatre been an effective form of therapy for these girls, helping them cope with their experiences and daily reality, it has also allowed others to understand what life under the constant threat of rocket fire is truly like.

During my time in Sderot, I was always made aware of my surroundings and the location of the nearest bomb shelter. The biggest fear was to hear the dreaded “tzeva adom” alarm and then having only seconds to locate the nearest place to hide. Being there made me feel thankful to live in Canada, where I feel relatively safe and my life is not threatened by rocket fire from heartless terrorist organizations just a kilometre away.

I cannot imagine living a life in constant fear, knowing that a mere 15 seconds could decide my fate.

Ashley Faintuch is a business administration student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 64, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 26, 2009)

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