Opportunistic Politicos Make Visits to Sderot Almost as Often as Qassams

And residents aren't happy with either.

Sderot residents are tired of the constant Qassam rocket barrages, the Color Red alerts and the strained economic situation in the city. But they are also tired of the politicians who keep making unsolicited visits to their western Negev community.

The routine for politicians is already set: They ascend to an observation point on one of the nearby hills from which they can see the Gaza Strip, then visit a school and speak with students. Then, with various members of their entourage and dozens of photographers, they visit the site of a Qassam landing.

"They want to clip coupons at our expense. Everyone knows the election is close, but we don't need them here. We need someone to protect us, not to come here to be photographed," said city resident Batya Katar. "The entire leadership of the State of Israel needs to go home, and a new leadership, one that knows its constituents, has to replace it."

Sderot mayor David Buskila entered office three weeks ago. Since then dozens of lawmakers and ministers have knocked on the door to his city, each with the stated desire of "strengthening" its residents and "showing solidarity."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Shas leader Eli Yishai, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Education Minister Yuli Tamir are only some of the figures that have showed up in recent weeks.

The Likud Knesset faction arrived last Sunday to the home of Maya Ibari just a few hours after it suffered a direct hit from a Qassam. Ibari was not even informed of their visit, and dozens of reporters, politicians and hangers-on suddenly appeared in her kitchen while she was still struggling to absorb the shock.

The days when Sderot residents would be impressed by visiting lawmakers has long passed.

"Our leadership has yet to arrive. Ismail Haniyeh is the one who decides things for us," said Aharon Hugi, chairman of the city's association of business owners, referring to the leader of the Hamas government in Gaza.

"He decides whether we have a quiet day or a complete mess. I think it's a shame and a disgrace that politicians come here to have their picture taken," he said. "Sometimes they speak with a child and ask him how he's doing so they can clean their conscience. They're exploiting us for the sake of their Knesset seats, and in the meantime our kids need to see psychologists."

Locals say the suits make the trip from Jerusalem only when rockets start to fall. Throughout the six-month cease-fire with Hamas, they say, not even one came to visit.

"They come in their tailored suits, declare their solidarity with our situation, smile and strike a few poses. After a few minutes they get in their luxury cars and go back to their quiet homes in the center of the country," said one. "Until the election, residents will have to accept the politicians in the city. Afterwards, I guess we will go back to the old situation, when they didn't even know us."