Sderot, Israel

By Finbarr O’Reilly

“If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls.”

-Greek graffiti artist iNO

In springtime, the fields around Sderot are carpeted with red and yellow flowers swaying in the breeze. Yet the pastoral setting is at odds with drab concrete tenements rising up from the impoverished Israeli city under constant threat of attack.

Nowhere in Israel has been as heavily bombarded as Sderot. More than 8,600 rockets fired from Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, have landed in and around the city since 2001 according to the local media center. Ten people have been killed by rocket fire in Sderot since June 2005 and dozens more have been injured. Psychological stress also takes its toll.

With just over a kilometer of fields separating it from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is an obvious target for Palestinian militants whose stated aim is to destroy Israel. The most intense bombardments came during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, when Israel launched an attack on Gaza, beginning with a week of air strikes and shelling, followed by a land invasion. Hamas and its allies responded by firing rockets and mortars into Israel during the three-week conflict, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Israel’s Iron Dome defense system that destroys incoming rockets does not offer full protection to Sderot. When a “code red” alarm crackles over the city’s loudspeakers, the roughly 25,000 residents have 15 seconds to seek shelter from incoming projectiles.

“Having 15 seconds to run for your life is hard to understand or explain,” said Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center. “Routine life is a bit absurd, but you accept it.”