Thursday, November 23, 2006

23-Nov-06: Israel Under Fire - Only You'd Never Figure That Out From The Reports

For far, far too long, the media have reported the daily bombardments of southern Israel - if they have reported on them at all - as being attacks on Sderot.

Since most Israelis have never visited Sderot, and most non-Israelis don't have a clue where Sderot is or what it looks like, this has serious implications.

It amounts to a total delegitimization of the suffering of ordinary Israelis in the face of the extraordinary ongoing war waged by the Palestinian government against Israel and Israelis.

Even within Israel, there's a reluctance to face up to the true implications. After all, it's only Sderot under attack. We can tolerate that, but just don't let those Arabs dare to attack our centre, our cities, our whatever.

The fact is - it's Israel under attack, not (only) Sderot. It's Israelis under attack, and the intention is to cause civilian deaths and injury. There is no strategic plan beyond this, because civilian deaths and injury are enough when you're a terrorist. In fact, they are the whole purpose.

An analogy that comes to mind is an American administration saying to its people: "Never mind, the enemy have only attacked far-off Pearl Harbour. We don't really need to let this ruin our parade."

The Palestinian Arabs don't hide what they're doing. They don't deny it. They do however rely on the in-built apathy of people living far from where the rockets fall to allow them to get on with their barbarism. That apathy costs lives.

The headline-writers, and the policy makers as well, are playing into the hands of the terrorists.

The unusually sensitive article below comes from today's Haaretz.

As officials stay away from funeral of eighth Qassam victim, relatives ask: 'Why doesn't anyone visit us?'
By Mijal Grinberg

The only public figure from City Hall, the Knesset or the government who attended the funeral of Sderot Qassam victim Yaakov Yaakobov yesterday was Yisrael Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov. Municipal officials say they didn't attend because intermediaries asked them not to. Yaakobov's sister-in-law, Zilpa, denies such a request was made, saying the pain is too great for anyone to have asked.

All day Tuesday, the family, immigrants from the Caucasus, maintained a vigil by Yaakobov's bedside in Soroka's intensive care unit. Throughout the day, relatives repeated the question "Why doesn't anyone come to us? From City Hall? The government?"

"If he were Moroccan, they would be here," Yaakobov's son said through his tears, summarizing the sense that no one cares.

8:20 A.M.. School buses pick kids up all over town, a rocket lands in the parking lot of Sderot's Gil elementary school, slightly damaging the building. A few shock victims are evacuated a little later. Teachers union chair David Manzur was on a previously scheduled visit to the site. "I don't think the state knows what's going on here," he says.

10:30 A.M.. Two people are standing at the entrance to the Off Kor meat-packing plant, looking at the site of yesterday's rocket strike. "Poor things," one mumbles. "Lost friend," another sighs. Few of Yaakobov's friends speak Hebrew. They sweep the floor quietly, everything around them is burnt. They try to wash down the area with a hose. Shift boss Meir Kakoun mumbles, "Everything is from God, from the heavens."

11:00 A.M.. On the quad at Sapir College, the students organize a protest. It is difficult for them to explain what they are protesting. Many are wearing red shirts, a reference to the "Color Red" alert sounded when a Qassam is fired. The shirts say, "The South is Israel too." They want someone to recognize their distress, as well as reinforce buildings at the college and provide counseling.

Sapir has students from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Among the organizers of the demonstration are Ethiopians and Russians, united under the color red. Bedouin student Hanni takes the stage to speak. "We hear the cries and pain of women and children on both sides every day. We want a solution of peace and hope." His words are greeted by applause. Every once in a while, people look toward the sky. This many people together is a little scary. The demonstration ends with a reading from Psalms and singing of the national anthem, as well as a promise to continue to organize and take action.

1 P.M. The Sderot cemetery is crowded already, mostly with immigrants from the Caucasus. Almost no one speaks Hebrew and the only words that are understandable are "Olmert" and "Peretz," which are accompanied by angry faces and sharp hand gestures. The women congregate on one side and the men on the other. The women's cries shatter the air; someone pours water on them to calm them.

The unassuming Ilatov is the only official in attendance. The rabbi addresses the crowd in Hebrew. "We are the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world," he tells them. "And what good does that do us?" The body is taken away and the heart-wrenching cries grow louder. Yaakobov's wife Purim falls on the ground and is taken away in an ambulance. She's not the first.

Downtown, between the big candy store and Itzik's falafel stand, there are huge black puddles on the sidewalk, the remnants of yesterday's burning tires. Yesterday, local business owners were furious. "[Arcadi] Gaydamak ruined our livelihoods," they yelled, about all the people who left town and lowered their turnover. When the police arrested two of them for the tire burning, the demonstration came to a quick end. The evening bar mitzvah, which had received a great deal of media coverage, calmed matters down. "Arcadi called," celebrant Itzik recounted. "He said he would take all the kids to Eilat, the saint."

The Yaakobov family had already begun the mourning preparations specific to their ethnicity. Long white tables are spread out and set up. Everyone comes to provide support to the mourners.

"It is important to hold those who suffer and not let go," they explain. "This is why the community is strong." They don't hide the pain of their feeling of abandonment, however. "Why could all the Knesset members come here yesterday for the bar mitzvah, but they can't come for us?" they ask.

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