With the end of the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, rocket attacks on the north of Israel are now no more than a bad memory. However, the small southern town of Sderot has long been the target of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants.
“Nobody tells the story of Sderot. We’ve been suffering almost six years on a daily basis. We don’t have the same life as before the Qassams [rockets] came to visit,” said Eli Moyal, Mayor of Sderot.
With a population of 24,000, Sderot is barely a mile away from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
The first Qassam rocket fired from Gaza landed on Sderot in April 2001. Five years on, about 3,000 rockets have hit the town – and they show no sign of abating.
Often described as a crude makeshift weapon, the Qassam rocket is a simple homemade steel rocket filled with explosives. Although they are sometimes referred to as missiles, they are free-flight artillery rockets lacking any guidance system.
To date, these rockets have killed eight residents in Sderot, including two Ethiopian-Israeli toddlers who were blown apart as they played in the street in September 2004.
A memorial marks the spot on Hagai Street where Dorit Benissan, 2, and Yuval Ababa, 4, were killed by two rockets fired from Gaza.
Moyal said that about 100 residents had been injured in Qassam attacks.
In the latest attack, on Tuesday, at least two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip wounded an off-duty woman soldier, the Israeli army said.
A few days before, on 21 September, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, six rockets hit Sderot.
Zaka is a volunteer group that identifies the bodies of those who have been killed in terror attacks or car accidents and collects body parts and spilled blood so the deceased can receive a proper burial.
In Sderot, volunteering for Zaka usually means facing the grim and bloody aftermath of rocket attacks.
“You don’t know where the rockets will land. Up until this morning there was a family that was fine. Now, after the rocket landed near them, they will be scared all the time,” said Avichai Amosi, who heads Sderot’s Zaka team.
At about 2pm on 21 September, a Qassam punctured the roof of a building in Sappir College and crashed into the empty classroom below, destroying desks and collapsing part of the ceiling.
It was simply a matter of luck that no one was in that classroom at the time, according to Daniel Duvdvani, 30, an educational adviser at the college.
“If someone had been sitting here they would have died. The students have become a bit blasé about the rockets – maybe this will wake them up,” he said.
In Sderot’s town hall, an empty Qassam rocket about a metre in length sits on a stand in front of a board bearing the photographs of the 15 Sderot residents who have died at the hands of Palestinian militants, including the eight killed by the Qassams.
Mayor Moyal told IRIN that the scale of the rocket attacks had dropped since the Israeli military had intensified an offensive in Gaza after an Israeli soldier was captured by militants in June.
“It’s not so bad now – but before there were days when 60 rockets landed in a day. This situation cannot continue forever,” Moyal said.
Despite the attacks, Sderot’s population has remained constant over the past five years, something Moyal describes as a miracle.
Miriam Goani, a volunteer teacher and social worker, says residents would leave if they could, but Sderot is one of Israel’s poorest towns and they cannot afford to move.
“The house prices here have fallen because of the rockets. No one wants to buy here and the people here are poor so they cannot afford to simply leave. So we are stuck here,” Goani said.
“When we hear the loudspeaker alarm saying ‘seva adom’ – which means ‘colour red’ in Hebrew – I get my children and rush to the secure room in our house and I just hold them tight to me. I’m so scared,” she added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions