by Rahel Lippert
Sderot is a small town of 20000, made famous by the media as the landing zone of hundreds of Qassam rockets from Gaza over the past decade. I definitely didn't want to bear witness to a rocket attack, or see the citizens of Sderot ducking in fear as they moved between buildings - so why did I want to visit this sleepy little town?
A fellow intern and I walked through the city center and noticed immediately that the town was eerily quiet, and, frankly, there really wasn't anything to do. We struck up a conversation with our waiter over lunch:
"So what is there to do here in Sderot?" I asked. "Nothing. This is a very boring town. Very small. We became famous, but there is nothing here." "Oh...Well I heard that they keep the rockets at the police station, can we see them?" "Yes. I have not seen them, but you can go." Of course he hadn't.
Considering this guy was literally wearing an "I Love Sderot” t-shirt, with a big red heart in place of the word “Love”, it seemed doubtful that we were going to get much better advice from anyone else. It appears as though the residents of Sderot are, understandably, quite happy to live in peaceful monotony. So, despite the harsh reality of 8000 Qassams, it’s hard to deny that Sderot has been the victim of media sensationalism, and while media sensationalism is always easy to criticize, was it really in vain?
Though the rockets are few and far between these days, though the media has left, though Sderotians themselves seem quick to call their town boring, I still believe I had a good reason to take the day off to make that trip down south. More than just rushing to Sderot to get a photo of a Qassam flying through the air, the media came here to uncover a narrative about the Israeli mentality of living in fear. While many Israelis will never visit Sderot, the fear embodied by the citizens there, the fortified buildings, and the bomb shelters that are always just a few quick steps away is something that is woven into the social fabric of the nation.
The news is flooded with stories about settlements and borders and checkpoints and the Wall in the West Bank, and while these physical manifestations of the Israel-Palestine conflict may one day find some sort of resolution through successful negotiations, it is the emotional component of the conflict that is far more telling about the reality on the ground, and that will prove to be the hardest part of achieving real peace in the region,. Land swaps, annexation, or a return to pre-1967 borders can only mean so much when they take place within a society where fear and contempt can be found across the board, on both sides.
Towards the end of our day in Sderot, we hiked up a small hill, just a few hundred meters from the Gaza border, from where we could see the northern section of the Strip below us. We’d been told that during Operation Cast Lead, the official Israeli name for the fighting in Gaza, this hill was swamped with news teams trying to get some worthy footage of the operation. Looking over Gaza, and at the sea beyond, I thought about what an awful shame it was that, after coming all the way here, there was no way I could traverse those 300-some meters to explore the other side of this equation. Moreover, it’s a shame that while the identification with the fears of Sderot residents led to a 94% approval rating for Operation Cast Lead in the Israeli public, the Israeli media was not allowed to make that short trip to explore the fears of the other side.