Life in Rocket Town: In the Shadow of Gaza's Fury

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SDEROT, Israel -- They call it "Rocket Town" -- the bomb shelter capital of the world. For more than a decade, Israelis in Sderot and southern Israel have lived under almost daily rocket attacks from the Gaza strip.

CBN's Scott Ross visited the Israeli community on the border of Gaza to get a look at just what life is like living under constant rocket fire.

Ross spoke with Noam Bedein, who runs the Sderot Media Center, and other local residents while in Sderot. The following is his account of what he witnessed.

ROSS: We're standing in front of these rockets. Is this representative of what you're dealing with?

NOAM BEDEIN: The truth is this is a very small fraction of the rockets that exploded here in the region itself. As you see these rockets themselves, the hardest thing to explain to people when you're living one mile away from Gaza. It just means that once a rocket is being fired toward Sderot you have 15 seconds to run for your life.

ROSS: You have people getting killed here in your town?

BEDEIN: We had 44 people who have been killed overall by rocket fire. Over 1,200 have been seriously injured. At the same time you have an entire generation that grew up with this kind of reality of firing, sirens going off, 15 seconds to run for shelter and rocket explosions. I think the most powerful thing to realize about this town…Every single person in this town or community has experienced a rocket explode nearby.

I wondered why anyone would stay. Bedein visits families after they have taken a direct hit just to ask that very question.

People would actually tell me, "I'm not leaving because if I leave my home now, these rockets are going to be going on to the next town. It's amazing how people here understand how Sderot became a microcosm of entire Israeli society.

If you ask me, Sderot became the frontlines of the civilized Western democracy world today, living in the shadows of radical Islam.

Sderot Mayor David Buskila was born and raised here and has been the city's mayor for 14 years.

ROSS: And you love this town, you love the people?

BUSKILA: Of course.

ROSS: Yes.

BUSKILA: Anyone who did not love this town could not live here.

ROSS: Day by day you have to deal with this lifestyle where rockets are being showered upon you? How do you live with that? How do you adjust to that, if you ever do?

BUSKILA: You know it start in 2001. It happened in 2001, was the first missile launched to this city. Since then we had more than 8,000 missiles -- 8,000 missiles that land only in Sderot. It's a little town, 5.5 square kilometers. 25,000 people live here. And you can imagine 8,000 hit almost every apartment, every house in this city. Every place -- everyone from this city have things that he remember. His house hit, the house of his neighbor, his son, or his mother. This is the life of the city.

Buskila said many Israelis here suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

BUSKILA: It's not normal to live in this town but we have no other choice. We have to be here because it's part from Israel. We cannot just leave the town and go because they don't want only Sderot. Sderot is the first step. We have to stay strong and stay here because it's part from our country.

The mayor took me to a hill on the edge of town where we could see just how close the Gaza Strip is.

BUSKILA: This is the border. It's 840 meters, the meaning is something like a half a mile. This is the borderline. And then you see there, this is Beit Hanoun. (OK) Beit Hanoun refugee camp …that belong to Gaza. And there is Atatra, the place that they built for the PLO officers that arrive from Tunis. …And this is Gaza. This is Netiv HaAsara, Israeli settlement and there Yad Mordechai and there is the electric power station of Ashkelon. Most of the missiles that they launch before Cast Lead operation, they launch it from here -- from Beit Hanoun, from Jebaliya -- or the refugee camps around Gaza.

ROSS: Is there a fence or a wall between the...

BUSKILA: Yes, between Gaza and us there is a wall. And here all the time is IDF patrol. This is the line of the border.

ROSS: How many people in Gaza?

BUSKILA: In Gaza, more than 1.5 million.

ROSS: Is that right?

Everyone who drives in Sderot doesn't wear a seatbelt, turns off the radio, and rolls the windows down -- ready to hear the color red siren to make a mad dash for safety.

I stood in a playground where kids come and play. Here's a catepillar and anywhere else in the world this would be a normal catepillar. However, this is a bit difficult, this is in fact a bomb shelter. So when kids come out here to play, a siren goes off. They have 15 seconds to get inside here so they can be protected from falling bombs.

I spoke with Hagar Aloni, Sderot's social worker about the impact of being under constant rocket fire.

ROSS: How does this environment affect children, their growing up, having to live with the threat of rockets landing in the playground while they're playing or when they're going to school or whatever? I mean, how does that affect their psyche?

ALONI: You know it's amazing, only yesterday I was talking to one of my friends that her boy is in our kindergarten, too. We had two alarms yesterday or the day before, I don't remember, and he was so panicked that she had to get out of work and come and get him and he's only two years old. He was going to bed in school and every 15 and 20 minutes he woke up screaming and crying. She didn't believe it, it can affect him so much. So if it affects this young boy that way, you can probably imagine how it affects the older ones that actually understand what it means.

ROSS: What would a handicapped person do, for instance, we're sitting here now, we have to be aware where a bomb shelter is, right?

ALONI: Right there, yeh.

ROSS: Okay, tell me where to run in case something lands here.

ALONI: Okay.

ROSS: But if someone was handicapped in a wheelchair, or on crutches, what do they do?

ALONI: Right before we started, a handicapped woman came into my office and she described a situation where she was with her child in the car. She [was] driving her to school and there was alarm, a day ago or two days ago, and she told her please run to the bomb shelter because I can't and the child insist to stay with her and hold her arm, really, really tight. She said, "If the kassam will fall, it will fall on both of us. I won't leave you." And this is actual situation day by day.

But nothing moved me more than meeting Geut Aragon. In January 2008, she was sitting in her home with her 4-year-old son Nir and a neighbor child on her lap when a rocket crashed through the room where they were sitting.

ARAGON: My boy's room is right over here. You see. And the computer was standing here. We were sitting. The kassam, the bomb come through the wall into the room, blow in the room get into the wall -- you know just move through the wall and stuck on the other side of the wall. So when it comes in and blow all, the roof was crushed on us. And from the -- how you say it...

ROSS: Explosion.

ARAGON: ...explosion, the girl fly to the corner.  I was very badly injured.

ROSS: You didn't know that at the time. Blood had to be coming out of your head.

ARAGON: I was crumbled on the floor, trying to look for the girl. But all the time I was saying to myself as a mother, you know, they're afraid, they're terrified but they're alive. They're screaming, they're terrified so they're alive. The ambulance came…they operated all night. Then the day after that I realized how very badly I was injured -- a brain injury. There was four shrapnels in my head. They operated and they took out three of them but one of them it get deep into the brain. They don't want to touch it…

ROSS: But you are a miracle.

ARAGON: Yes, I'm sure there was angel in this room. I'm telling you.

ROSS: Really.

ARAGON: I'm sure, I'm sure because there was specific people who you know understand in the bombing and everything, so they came to see what's happened and they was like, no way someone get alive from it. No way. Everything was crushed. There was no wall. There was no roof. They said, 'No way, someone was still alive from this room? It's a miracle.' Yeh, and I believe it, of course. Because if there was no God, unfortunately I was dying, I'm sure of it.

ARAGON: And it very, very much warms my heart to know that Christian people pray for us. I'm telling you it fills me. I don't know what to say.

Aragon was in rehab for a year and a half. But that wasn't the end of her troubles. Nearly five years later, her son is still afraid to sleep in his room. the family has to run to the bomb shelter sometimes three times a night. So why does she stay?

ARAGON: I won't tell you I didn't think about it when I get hurt. I was very angry about it because I thought to myself, it's my country, it's my city. I born here. I love it. But it's not fair, you know, it's not fair to be in war so many years. My little boy, he born to it. He doesn't know anything else. Imagine, he live unnormal life for whole life. I thought about it but it's not that simple. Financial, it's very hard, you work around here. If you want to move, you need to sell the house. No one wants to buy a house in Sderot. No one wants to come from outside with under bombing, you know. So it's hard. …But I have to tell you, even that, we very love this city.

ROSS: How does it affect you now when you hear rockets landing? They're still shooting them here.

ARAGON: It takes me every time to that day. Every time I heard the siren it takes me back then. And when I go down to the shelter, I'm sitting and I start crying. Every time, again and again. I'm trying to tell to myself, you're okay now. But every time it take you back.

ROSS: Do you believe God protected you?

ARAGON: I believe that, yeh. Totally.

ROSS: You're not angry with God because He allowed it to happen?

ARAGON: No, I think now and I thought back then that it was a miracle and he protected me. He leaves me here in this world, living for my boys because and I thank Him every morning. …I never was that believer, you know? But since [that] day, I believe more in God.

*Original broadcast November 19, 2012.

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Scott Ross

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