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January 2008 - THE SDEROT - ASHKELON - ISRAEL PROBLEM

So what exactly is the problem - despite fifty rockets today and forty yesterday - not enough Israelis are getting killed? Even if the massive bombardment of Sderot and the surrounding area is a tactical move on the part of Hamas in an attempt to stem the internecine war between the different Palestinian factions, the terrorists in Gaza, of all persuasions, have got Sderot firmly in their sights - and are already improving their aim on Ashkelon.

Try to imagine what it must be like living in a town where the red alert is sounded several times every hour, and being outside, without cover, is like playing Russian roulette. Though rockets have been falling on Sderot for the past seven years, yesterday and today were way outside the norm.

Sderot is a small development town located less than a mile from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. Its first inhabitants were Persian and Kurdish Jewish refugees, forced to flee their homelands after Israelís War of Independence in 1948. Sderot today has a population of around 20,000 - largely made up of recent Russian immigrants, and earlier immigrants from Morocco. At least 3,000 inhabitants - those who are financially able to do so - have left the town for more peaceful areas. Needless to say, the politicians, Israelís business leaders, and the elite old guard do not live in Sderot (except of course for the much maligned former Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz).

One-third of the children in Sderot, and a considerable number of adults, suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The children canít concentrate at school, develop behavior problems, and wet their beds. Adults are unable to function at work, families argue, nerves are always on edge. How do you even take a shower, go to a restaurant, or go shopping, when the alert can suddenly go off - giving you up to 15 seconds to find cover.

Israel left the Gaza Strip in August 2005 - uprooting families and thriving settlements. It was a very painful move for all Israelis, but the majority truly believed that this could pave the way to peace. However, since the Israeli evacuation of Gaza, thousands of rockets have been launched on Israel from the ruins of its own once thriving settlements. In this theater of the absurd, Israel even finds itself under a humanitarian obligation to provide the Palestinians in Gaza with electricity, fuel and water.

While the operations being carried out by Israel against the terrorists are increasingly surgical, innocent Palestinian civilians and children are also being hurt. So whatís to be done? Do we just forget about Sderot - and then wait for them to start firing on Ashkelon? What comes after Ashkelon? And what about the West Bank Palestinian towns? Rockets are being built there too. Do we just forget about Israel?

Israelís bombs are far more efficient than these home-made rockets. Israel could flatten the entire Gaza Strip if it wanted to - but it wonít. Would any other sovereign nation in the world restrain itself to the degree that Israel does? What about Dresden, or Kosovo - or Hiroshima for that matter? What about a tit for tat policy? Every rocket falling on Israeli soil will draw retaliation, in the form of a 10 square meter plot of land in Gaza being razed to the ground. Or perhaps Israel should draw a line in the sands of the Gaza Strip, from top to bottom - then give a 48-hour evacuation notice. Anybody who wants to live in peace with Israel needs to be over the other side of the line before the 48 hours are up. People remaining on the wrong side of the line canít claim ignorance or innocence, and are fair game in the war that is now raging.

I honestly donít know if such a policy would do any good, but itís probably as good as any other at the moment.

Mal