Every night, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal tours his city, checking the number of houses with lights on. Last week the number of lights dropped each evening. On the eve of Shavuot it reached a nadir. Whole apartment blocks stood empty. On the street where Moyal himself lives only a few residents remained. At its height, Sderot had a population of 24,000, the exhausted mayor says. In recent years, when the Qassam attacks mounted, the number fell to about 20,000. But now, with the refugees whom Hamas chased out being scattered throughout the country, no more than 10,000 people remain in the city. And suddenly the feeling is that perhaps it has really happened: Perhaps Sderot has been broken.
But Sderot has still not been broken. If the rocket attacks cease, most people will return. Without security, without hope, without happiness - a depressing return to no-choice. So the basic fact remains: Sderot 2007 is a city that seems cursed. A frontier city with no home front. A frontier city with no aura of heroism. A frontier city that the government should protect, but isn't protecting. A frontier city that the nation should be standing behind, but is not. A frontier city abandoned by the center of the country.
It should not have been like this. Sderot is not Gush Katif. There is no debate. On the contrary: Sderot is a "Green Line" city. Sderot is a post-withdrawal city. Sderot is the righteous Israeli city after the occupation. Sderot is the future. Indeed, it is the litmus test that will teach us in real time what we can expect in the future when we withdraw completely. This being the case, Sderot should have been the apple of the eye of all those preaching withdrawal in the past, and of everyone who still believes in withdrawal. Sderot should have been the city of peace writers and peace singers and peace industrialists. A "peace now" city. A city of Israeli solidarity. A city of mutual responsibility. A city where strong Israelis stand together with Israelis who are less strong in the face of Islamic zealotry.
All this is not happening. Bank Hapoalim is funding the new emergency center there. But the large sum needed to renovate the city's shelters was raised by American evangelical Christians. The major community work in the city is being done by Hanan Porat. Yitzhak Mordechai is working in Sderot, and Arcadi Gaydamak is amusing himself there in the absence of the center of the country. Enlightened, satiated Israel is not standing with all its strength behind Sderot.
The attack on Sderot is a strategic attack on peace. It is an attack on the two-state solution. If the attack succeeds, there will be no chance of any future withdrawal. If the attack succeeds, the occupation will be perpetuated. Therefore, before the great political decision is made on how to act in Gaza, a moral decision has to be made about Sderot. Sderot must become the national project of the current period. Its residents cannot be expected to confront the Qassams alone. In the face of buses removing people from the city, buses of supporters must set out for it. In the face of the economic collapse of Sderot should come an unprecedented economic embrace of it by government and nongovernment bodies alike.
At the same time, it should be made clear that there is one law for Sderot and Tzahala: A Qassam on Sderot is like a Qassam on Kikar Hamedina. The insensitivity has got to stop. Sderot has to be defined as the Israeli front line. The struggle for the city should be viewed as both a struggle for Israeli sovereignty and as a symbol of the responsibility of Israelis for each other.
Sderot is us, all of us. We rise and fall with Sderot.
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