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Visit with Noam Bedein - Sderot

“Rocket Museum” - Sderot Police Station

View to Gaza and Border Control Tower - Kibbutz Nir Am

Apartment Security Room Construction - Sderot


by John and Terri Lee Farber, May 26, 2011

IMAGINE your life if your neighbours had fired over 10,000 rockets/mortars at your home for the last 10 years and 200 in the last two months. This is the situation faced by the residents of Sderot and the western Negev communities located along the border with the Gaza Strip.

In 2009, just prior to our second extended trip to Israel, someone sent us this video. We were so moved by the openness and honesty of this young woman, Dana, that we made it our personal mission to seek her out and thank her for sharing her experience with us. Even though we knew she lived on Kibbutz Nir Am, on the Gaza/Israel border, little did we know how difficult it would be to contact her. During the process we contacted the Sderot Media Centre (SMC) and eventually met, and became friends with Director, Noam Bedein. Ultimately, we not only met Dana (a miracle in itself), but also met Dedi and Hanna and their family from nearby Kibbutz Nirim, also located on the Israel/Gaza border. A visit that included a long, sleepless night a few meters from the border.  We had no idea how our life was about to change after meeting these people.

Visit One - 2009
At each stop, we toured the area. We were shocked and overwhelmed with what we saw and heard. How could there have been so little media coverage? 

Noam and Dedi pointed out the houses that had been hit by rocket or schrapnel and were under reconstruction. We saw make-shift shelters made of large concrete highway barrier blocks scattered around the Kibbutzim and combined bus stops/shelters on the streets of Sderot, some of which had been “decorated”with paintings. We learned that when the Tzeva Adom sirens wail, residents of these communities had less than 15 seconds to seek refuge in a shelter.  We learned that children begin running before the adults even hear the sirens as depicted in this video from the SMC. They somehow sensed or heard the click of the siren a millisecond before it actually sounded. Most touchingly, we met with Dana and heard directly from her what she lives with every single day of her life.  As we left, Dana's mother said to us that our visit (such a simple act) would give Dana the courage to go on for another year.

Dedi told us that school roofs were just being reinforced on his Kibbutz, but no one was really sure if it would be adequate. We heard stories, similar to Dana's, of rockets landing within meters of homes, schools, day cares, synagogues, etc. We saw homes with shrapnel damage. We learned that few if any homes had any protection and that up to 90% of the children and many adults in the area suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); disturbed sleep, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, uncontrolled crying, bed-wetting, etc. Many marriages fail because of the stress. Property values had fallen more than 50%; and while few wanted to leave, those that did, could not.

But most strikingly, we heard about the miracles and determination of the people that live in these communities. Dedi and Dana's mother explained this was their home and they were the first line of defence. They said, “If we leave, can you imagine what would happen?” We learned of the extended delay of the Israeli government in providing help to these communities and the feeling that they were Israel's forgotten. Tongue in cheek, Dedi said to us, “The military is 100% behind us."

We heard and came to believe that miracles really do happen, especially in these western Negev towns and Kibbutzim. For example, Noam told us about the rocket that landed on a synagogue in Sderot, just 20 minutes after 400 people had left a Torah dedication ceremony.  Coincidence? Perhaps. That miraculously most of the rockets fall in open fields or spaces and only do serious psychological damage. Damage that no one seems to care much about – though its effects can be life long. As Noam said, “If it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead”, meaning few media pick up the story when it is only “psychological” damage.

Visit Redux - 2011
We have stayed in touch with our friends during the past two years. In fact, even if we have nothing to say, we write to them regularly just to tell them we are thinking of them. We were not only eager to return to see our new friends, but to see what has happened in the last two years. We made several trips to the western Negev this year to visit and spend time with each of them and, as it turned out, to meet some new friends as well– here is what we learned.

Sadly, the rockets keep falling! Since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, over 775 rockets/mortars have been fired from Gaza into Israel. As we arrived in Israel, there was a sudden escalation, with over 200 rockets being fired from Gaza in March/April, 50 in one day alone. Unfortunately, the sophistication and distance of the rockets is improving with two landing near Beer Sheva; one in the yard of a house. It is believed that Hamas rockets could reach Tel Aviv, but they are afraid of the repercussions if they try. But, everyone believes it is only a matter of time.

Seeing Dana again was like a dream. She had grown and matured into a confident and beautiful young woman. She told us life has improved in so far as the government was building shelters in every home. She proudly showed us her bedroom which was the new “security room”. This changed her life and made her feel safer, even though the rockets keep falling. She is attending Sapir College in Sderot taking Communications. We also learned she is quite a talented artist and best of all, has a new boyfriend. We saw where both Dana and her father work on the Kibbutz in the Michsaf cutlery factory.

Later in our trip, we returned to Nir Am to meet the family of our dear Jerusalem friends. They took us on an extended tour of the Kibbutz, also pointing out the new shelters. We went to the edge of the Kibbutz, overlooking Gaza, to a stunning wind-chime memorial dedicated to a member of the Kibbutz killed in a helicopter accident. Shortly after we arrived, so too did a small patrol of IDF. They took out their binoculars and began surveying the border. We were told they were “bored” and stopped here for a rest, but we knew better. We had experienced this routine before. When we left, so did they.

We also spent a day with Dedi and Hanna. They too proudly showed us their new security room and pointed out all the others located in the Kibbutz. No more need to try and reach a shelter located  more than 10 seconds from their home in the middle of the night. We saw the new regional K-12 school which the government had constructed, all to shelter specifications.  It is a modern multi-building complex and looked much like any other school, except for the broad reinforced entrances, stand-alone shelters scattered throughout the “campus” and the row of shelters where the buses let the children off.

We were told by Dedi and Hanna's daughter, Naama, who just completed her military service and now works at the school, that her greatest fear is travelling on the buses to/from school. Very sadly her comments were prophetic as a few days later a bright yellow school bus was deliberately hit by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza. But even in this tragedy there was a miracle as the bus only had two people on it, though sadly the sole remaining 16 year old passenger, Daniel Viflic, was killed.

We made a final trip to Sderot to see our friend Noam Bedein, Director of the Sderot Media Centre. The SMC is the ONLY media outlet in the western Negev telling the Israeli story. It is a private NGO, supported entirely by donations and the work they do hosting visitors and dignitaries – no government money to interfere with their independence.  Noam told us that in contrast, there are over 20 media outlets in Gaza continuously spewing propaganda to the world. He described Gaza as, “staged theatre” referring to the poverty and destruction portrayed in the media which systematically ignores the shopping malls and well stocked markets.

Noam took us to see the famous (perhaps infamous) rocket “museum” at the Sderot Police station and we toured around the community.  He repeatedly pointed out the construction of security rooms, in homes and apartments. He told us property values are returning, people are moving back and that even rents have increased as much as 80%. We noticed the beautiful new entrance way to the city, a wrought iron sign welcoming us to Sderot, a flower lined drive and new walk ways.  It was overwhelming to see new development and even more building; a good sign life is recovering – though the rockets have not stopped.

As we stood on a hill overlooking the Israel/Gaza border, a stone's throw away,  Noam explained that there are many solutions being offered, but none of them will work. In his opinion, “The two state solution is a two state illusion." He told us there are three root causes of the conflict with the Palestinians and no solution will be effective until they are addressed; education,  UNRWA, and money.  (See Rhonda Spivak's recent article.)

Noam explained that the Palestinian educational system still teaches non-recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. It teaches that martyrdom is the highest level of attainment. He said that UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians) is complicit in this misdirected education. According to Noam, schools sponsored and run by UNRWA continue to use Palestinian developed textbooks that perpetuate the myth of Palestine, the eventual return of land vacated by the Arabs, and extols the virtue of martyrdom. See for yourself  here and here. For 60 years, generation after generation of youth have been taught, through their educational system, to hate and kill Israelis/Jews, a system supported by UNRWA, and it continues today. 

And finally, money. Noam told us that the Palestinians have received over $13B in aid money. He asked us to look in the distance at the sand dune and said, “Look, there is nothing there. What are they doing with the money?” Perhaps it was a rhetorical question, but it does make one wonder.

Revisiting our friends in Sderot and the western Negev was one of the highlights of our trip. Seeing that even in the face of continued rocket fire, they feel more secure having better protection was reassuring for us. It is a privilege to call these people our friends. 

Should your travels take you to Israel (and we hope it will soon) and should you wish to visit these communities of the western Negev and see for yourself what life is like, let us know – we would be pleased to help you make the arrangements.

While we in Canada and most in Israel rest comfortably in our homes without the continuous fear of rocket attacks, let us not forget Dana, Dedi, Hana and their families and every family in the western Negev who help keep Israel safe for us. If you would like to support the work of the Sderot Media Centre in telling the world about the situation in the western Negev, please contact Noam at the SMC ([email protected]). If you would like to support the SMC's Community Theatre Treatment Program for High School Students, please contact Elaine Goldstine at the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg ([email protected]).

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