The pain of the town of Sderot, a mile from Gaza and battered by over 7,000 Kassam rockets in the last seven years, has attracted little interest from the international media – Mary Dejevsky’s piece in the Independent notwithstanding. Still, even she probably doesn’t know that Sderot started life as a transit camp for Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.
“Sitting in the spacious dining room of her house in Sinai Street, Shula Sasson explains, with the weary voice of experience, that 15 seconds is not long enough for anyone except the most agile to get to the safer downstairs from upstairs. “If you have to carry a small child, you haven’t a hope.” So the upstairs of their large house is hardly used. Mattresses are piled up behind the settee. Everyone – seven people – now sleeps in the living room.
“A child of Sderot, Mrs Sasson was born in the fifties to Libyan-Jewish refugees and remembers happy childhood days, a close sense of community, with a sense of safety.
“She shows off an extension built by her grown-up son with his pay-off from the army. It includes a “safe” room, with a metal door and strengthened walls. At about 6ft by 4ft, it is just about big enough for everyone to squash in. After next door was hit last year, her 13-year-old son has taken to sleeping there every night – “like a dog in a kennel”.
“Shula remembers to the minute when the rocket hit next door: 4.15pm on a Thursday. She saw the rocket coming in, heard the crashing and smashing as “windows, doors, everything exploded”, and recalls the red-hot debris that she found on her porch.
“More than half of next door’s roof was ripped off, and the house stands, apparently abandoned. The neighbours, who were not at home at the time, were evacuated; the Sassons have adopted their dogs, which mill around the tiled courtyard. And there, as the sun suddenly comes out, and the lush greenery casts its shade, you catch a glimpse of the agreeable life for which Mrs Sasson is so nostalgic.
“Now, though, hardly anyone walks outdoors unless they have to. Once-pleasant residential streets are deserted. Bus shelters double as rocket-shelters.
“At the Superdahan supermarket in what passes for the centre of Sderot, the manager, Dan Dahan, offers a range that would put most small British supermarkets to shame. He stocks everything any household would need, with colourful racks of fresh vegetables and fruit. He wonders, though, how much longer he will be able to stay in business. And if the supermarket closes, then so probably will the other remaining shops. Increasingly he has to collect goods from the wholesalers himself; no one will deliver in Sderot any more.
“His trade has halved in past year. It is not only because about 30 per cent of the population has left, it is because the exiles were the better-off residents, the ones without mortgages or with money to spare, who could afford to move. He observes, too, that shopping habits have changed. “Children are taken straight home from school by their parents; they don’t drop in to buy sweets.”
“There is fear in Sderot – fear of rockets and fear for the psychological damage to the next generation. But there is subdued anger, too. Far from hailing Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza or the recent resumption of the peace process, Mrs Sasson and her family feel abandoned.
“Like Mr Dahan, she accuses the government of treating the residents of Sderot as “second-class citizens”. If Sderot were wealthier, if the majority of its population were of European origin, if it were closer to Jerusalem – their inference is – then perhaps the government would have been tougher in its response.”
The origins of Sderot, according to Wikipedia:
The first inhabitants of Sderot arrived in 1951 to what was then known as the Gevim-Dorot transit camp. Most of these residents were Kurdish and Persian refugees who lived in tents and shacks before building permanent structures almost four years later in 1954, with Sderot becaming the most easterly of the development towns in the northern Negev. In the 1961 census, the percentage of North African immigrants, mostly from Morocco, was 87% in the town, whilst another 11% of the residents were immigrants from Kurdistan. In the 1950s, the city continued to absorb a large number of immigrants from Morocco and Romania, and was declared a local council in 1958.