Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Plight of Sderot/ Palestinian Christians

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Update from AIJAC

February 22, 2008
Number 02/08 #08

Today's Update contains some more information and accounts of the plight of the residents of the Israeli town of Sderot, who have been the main victims of daily rocket attacks from Gaza.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes movingly of his visit to Sderot, and the toll that the rockets are taking on the population. He destroys the arguments of those who dismiss the rockets as "crude and inaccurate", as if this means no one should worry about them. He also argues that something will have to give in the near future if the rocket problem is not resolved soon. For the full article,  CLICK HERE. Another good account of a recent visit to Sderot comes from Tim Williams, writing in the Atlanta Constitution-Journal. Meanwhile, protests by and on behalf of the beleaguered residents of Sderot continue to mount.

Next up, the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) offers an excellent backgrounder summarising all the key information about the rocket attacks on Sderot and neighbouring villages. It includes statistics on attacks over time, deaths and injuries, the psychological effects on Sderot residents including especially children and details on how the Qassams are made. For all the detailed numbers behind the ugly reality which Cohen outlines, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Canadian columnist, priest and university lecturer Father Raymond J. De Souza uses the recent destruction of the Gaza YMCA to discuss the wider hardships of Palestinian Christians, and the world's disinterest in their plight. He points out that the YMCA attack appears to be in retaliation for the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and this means Palestinian and other Middle East Christians are continually hostage to Muslim outrage about events anywhere around the world with which they have no connection. For this important and heartfelt plea on a much-neglected subject, CLICK HERE.

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Rocketing Toward War  

By Richard Cohen

Washington Post, Tuesday, February 19, 2008


SDEROT, Israel -- Rockets launched from the nearby Gaza Strip fall here almost daily. These Qassams are crude devices that hardly ever kill people, although they have, and hardly ever wound anyone, although recently a boy lost part of a leg. They hit with unpredictable regularity, taking a roof here, a piece of a wall there and demolishing the peace of mind of every resident. Bit by bit, Sderot is going crazy.

The next Middle East war may start over Sderot. To many Israelis, the daily rain of Qassam rockets is reason enough to go back into Gaza and eradicate the rocket-makers, the rocket launchers and the entire Hamas leadership that now runs Gaza. The call for action superficially makes a certain amount of sense. But memory rebukes: Didn't Israel just pull out of Gaza?

Yes, it did. It withdrew most of its military and all of its settlements and turned the wretched area, populated by 1.2 million mostly poor Palestinian refugees, over to the moderate Palestinian Authority. Then the PA lost an election to Hamas and the militants have been in charge ever since, permitting the incessant rocketing of Sderot and its environs. The Qassams are lofted over the high border wall, and whether they hit a school or a hospital or a cat basking in the sun is of no concern to Hamas.

In Europe and elsewhere, where activists are just plain dizzy from their own moral virtue, Israel is denounced for inflicting suffering on Gaza. But the protesters say nothing about the Qassams raining from the sky -- sometimes as many as 40 a day. The adjectives for the Qassams are innocuous: crude, inaccurate. Yes, but they have killed 13 in the past seven years, and they make life here almost unbearable. The bus stops have been converted to bomb shelters, and a tarpaulin of steel has been thrown over a school to protect it. Question a resident and you will not get bluster. "I'm scared," says Anatoly Ahurov, 25, formerly of the former Soviet Union.

Behind police headquarters, the casings of hundreds of spent Qassams are stacked like cordwood before a Vermont winter. Three landed within two hours of my hitting town. One forced me into a shelter. I was safe, protected by a cement ceiling and the law of averages. Still, my heart got a three-latte jolt. I would not want to live here.

Actually, almost no one wants to live here anymore. But many of the residents are poor, distant immigrants from Morocco or more recent ones from the former Soviet Union. The value of their homes has plummeted. Many want to sell. No one wants to buy. So they stay. So they wait.

The residents suffer in other ways as well. Many have psychological ailments or the physical ailments brought on by the psychological ones -- heart trouble, for instance, or hysteria or sudden fits of violence. When I mentioned this later to a resident of Haifa, he nodded. This veteran of a war that took one of his eyes said that for all he had seen in combat, he has yet to recover from the rocketing of Haifa during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. When the battlefield is your house, there is no going home.

Sderot represents the metastasized insanity of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle -- rockets sent to kill anyone, it doesn't matter whom. The tempting solution is to respond in kind. But this has been done. In Gaza. In Lebanon. Now the northern border is -- fingers crossed -- quiet. Some sort of deal, arrangement, accommodation, understanding has been reached with Hezbollah. Maybe nothing more than a wink. Maybe just a breathing spell.

Something like this has to be done with Hamas as well. Israel has the armed might to maul Hamas. But inevitably, the rockets will return, sooner or later reaching Ashkelon, the major port not all that far away. (Nothing in Israel is all that far away.) Gaza is a pitiless trap.

Israelis don't trust Hamas, and why should they? It wishes Israel nothing but death. But some accommodation has to be reached. There are ways. Any agreement, though, would undercut Israel's moderate Palestinian ally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization. Israel could do nothing, but nothing is demeaning, dangerous -- and, anyway, nothing is not what Israel does.

Sderot is a town, real enough and in pain. But it is also a metaphor. Its residents are trapped. So is Israel. Sooner or later, if nothing is done, a rocket will hit kids on the playground or mothers strolling the street, and Israel will have to respond -- another nasty, little war. That much is clear. This too: Absolutely nothing else is.

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ROCKETS FROM GAZA: FACTS AND FIGURES

BICOM, 21/2/2008

Executive Summary

If the current rate of fire continues, by the end of 2008, over 4,500 rockets and mortar shells will have been fired by Palestinian terrorist organisations based in Gaza.

Since 2001 rocket and mortar shell fire has been directly responsible for the deaths of 24 Israelis and the wounding of 620. This statistic does not take into account the massive psychological cost borne by the 190,000 Israelis who live within striking range. With a population almost ten times that of Israel, the corresponding UK figures would be 240 killed and 6,200 wounded in a city the size of Newcastle.

The problem with rockets predates the Hamas coup in Gaza, the winning by Hamas of the PA elections and the disengagement from Gaza. Indeed Israel's western Negev communities have endured 7 years of relentless rocket and mortar shell fire.

For comparative purposes, note that the July 7 2005 suicide bombers each detonated 5-7kg suicide bombs killing 52 civilians and wounding 700. The average rocket fired from Gaza contains 7-8kg of explosives.

Rocket ranges from Gaza and prominent targets.[1]
Map also viewable at http://www.bicom.org.uk/newsletter-latest-from-bicom/rockets-from-gaza--facts-and-figures

Both the Grad-Katyusha and split engine Qassam 2 can strike over 12km, placing the cities of Ashkelon (population 110,000), Netivot (27,000), Sderot (23,000) and the other population centres in the western Negev within range.[2]

This effectively places close to 190,000 Israeli citizens at risk, which in a country of 7,250,000 makes up about 2.6% of the population. Given the difference in population size, in the UK the equivalent would be 1,560,000 citizens.[3]

45% of the rocket attacks have been fired on the southern Israeli city of Sderot.[4]

Sderot has a population of 23,000, which is similar to Teesdale (24,900). In a country of 7,250,000, Sderot's residents make up roughly 1/300 of Israel's population. Given the difference in total population size, a comparable UK city would have a population of 190,000, such as Newcastle, Preston, or Derby.[5]

In 2005 the total number of Israelis killed or wounded by rockets or mortar shell fire was 90. In 2006 this figure had risen to 91. In 2007 this figure stood at 125. To date in February 2008, already 31 Israelis have been killed or wounded. If the current rate continues, over 250 Israelis will have been killed or wounded by rocket or mortar shells by the end of 2008.[6]

Since 2001 rocket and mortar shell fire has been directly responsible for the deaths of 24 Israelis and the wounding of 620. This statistic does not take into account the massive psychological cost borne by the 190,000 Israelis who live within striking range. With a population almost ten times that of Israel, the corresponding UK figures would be 240 killed and 6,200 wounded in a city the size of Newcastle.[7]

90% of Sderot residents have experienced a Qassam falling on their street or one street adjacent. 30% of Sderot residents suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Children in Sderot exhibit higher levels of fear (62%), avoidance behaviour (50%), behavioural problems (22%), problems in school (28%), somatic (stress-related) problems (26%), regression (31%) and difficulty sleeping (47%) than any comparable Israeli city by population size and socio-economic demographics.[8]

Annual distribution of rocket and mortar shell fire.[9]
Graph of Rocket Attacks, also viewable at http://www.bicom.org.uk/newsletter-latest-from-bicom/rockets-from-gaza--facts-and-figures

The figure above each column clearly shows that the problem with rockets predates the Hamas coup in Gaza, the winning by Hamas of the PA elections and the disengagement from Gaza. Indeed Israel's western Negev communities have endured 7 years of relentless rocket and mortar shell fire.

If the current rate of fire continues, by the end of 2008, over 4,500 rockets and mortar shells will have been fired by Palestinian terrorist organisations based in Gaza.[10]

In January 2008, on average 12 rockets and mortar shells fell every day. This contrasts strongly with the figure for December 2007 of 7 rocket and mortar shells every day. Moreover, in November 2007 on average 5 rocket and mortar shells fell every day. It is clear that the volume of attacks is increasing.[11]

Since the firing of the first rockets and mortar shells in 2001 over 5,500 rockets and mortar shells have landed in or around the western Negev. An examination of the graph above shows that the number of attacks gradually grew from 2001 until Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, when there was a temporary drop. However, over the two following years - 2006 and 2007 - there was a steady increase. In January 2008 the daily strike rate reached its highest ever levels.[12]

For comparative purposes, note that the July 7 2005 suicide bombers each detonated 5-7kg suicide bombs killing 52 civilians and wounding 700. The average rocket fired from Gaza contains 7-8kg of explosives.

Iran and Syria are the primary state sponsors of the terrorists' efforts to use rockets and mortars as a weapon to target the civilian population living within range in Israel.[14]

Illustration of a Qassam rocket
IMage of Qassem rocket, viewable at http://www.bicom.org.uk/newsletter-latest-from-bicom/rockets-from-gaza--facts-and-figures

The rockets manufactured are made of easily obtained metal pipes (such as water pipes and road signs) filled with explosives and propellants, which in most cases are improvised and made of readily-available household supplies such as sugar and agricultural fertiliser.[15]

Rockets are made out of household items for two reasons:
i. Rocket manufacturers are aware that Israel will not prevent basic supplies such as sugar from reaching the Gaza Strip.
ii. Homemade rockets carry no manufacturing signature, and therefore cannot be traced.[16] 
[1] BICOM, Rocket ranges from Gaza and prominent targets.
[2] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Centre (IICC), ‘Rocket threat from the Gaza Strip, 2000-2007,' December 2007. http://www.terrorism-info.org.il
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] ibid
[8] Israel Trauma Centre for Victims of Terror and War (NATAL), ‘The impact of the ongoing traumatic stress conditions on Sderot,' October 2007.
[9] Rocket threat from the Gaza Strip.
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] ibid
[13] ibid
[14] ‘Hamas in Iran: Expect terror waves in Israel,' Haaretz, 7 February 2008. http://www.haaretz.com
[15] Rocket threat from the Gaza Strip.
[16] On 29 December 2007, 6.5 tonnes of the banned substance potassium nitrate, used to manufacture explosives and Qassam rockets, were discovered by the IDF. They were disguised in sugar bags marked as humanitarian aid provided by the EU. http://www.reuters.com  

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Palestinian Christians live in constant fear

Father Raymond J. De Souza

National Post, Tuesday, February 19, 2008

JERUSALEM -Here with an item from last week's news that you might not have heard about: Unidentified gunmen blew up the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip on Friday morning. While no one was hurt, two guards were temporarily kidnapped while the offices were looted, a vehicle stolen and all 8,000 books destroyed. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Fatah accused Hamas of being behind it. Hamas, for its part, strongly denied any responsibility and condemned the attack. Meanwhile, confidential sources in Gaza told the Jerusalem Post that the attack was in response to the reprinting of the Muhammad cartoons in Danish newspapers last week.

The supposed motivation for the attack, and the fact that it was not big news, illustrates the dire situation faced by many Christians living in the Palestinian territories.

There are only some 3,500 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, in Gaza. Over the past two years, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have claimed responsibility for attacks against Christian figures and institutions with the stated goal of driving Christians out of Gaza.

If indeed the attack on the YMCA was motivated by the latest wave of violence in Denmark over the cartoon controversy, it shows how precarious the Christian position is. The Young Men's Christian Association in Gaza is open to Muslims and includes a school, sports club and community hall. It is not a centre of Christian proselytism. But if events in Denmark which have nothing to do with Christianity can produce anti-Christian violence in Gaza, then it is clear that there is nothing Christians can do to avoid such violence.

The problem is not their behaviour but, in the eyes of the violent Islamist jihadists, their very presence. They must simply live in hope that some faraway event does not inflame the anti-Christian wrath of their neighbours. Is it any wonder that Christians in such situations desire to emigrate? Could anyone judge harshly the few thousand Christians in Gaza if they were to leave entirely?

A second noteworthy dimension of the Gaza YMCA bombing is, well, how un-noteworthy it was. It was treated in the Israeli press as a sort of news brief. After all, there was the continuing story of the assassination in Damascus of Hezbollah's chief of terror operations, Imad Mughniyeh. And just hours after the YMCA attack, eight Palestinians in Gaza were killed in an explosion at the home of Ayman Fayad, a senior Islamic Jihad official. All Palestinian organizations blamed the Israeli Defence Forces for the blast; Israel denied any involvement.

So how can the destruction of a library, or the firebombing of a school, or the desecration of a church be reported against the daily toll of political violence elsewhere, to say nothing of the international stories? On the same weekend, the French foreign minister arrived for a visit, and a German newspaper reported that Israel was preparing to declare dead the two soldiers who were kidnapped in 2006, the incident which gave rise to the Second Lebanon War.

Even then, who would do the reporting? There is no free press in Gaza. Outside reporters, whether Israeli or foreign, cannot move about freely and pursue such stories. Foreign reporters in particular need extensive handlers, as they do not know the local language, the local geography or the local leaders. It is much easier to stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and rewrite press statements about the visit of the latest foreign dignitary.

Even if the reporters came, what would they be told? It is well known that Christian Palestinians who have been subject to firebombings, seizures of homes and businesses, assaults and death threats still tell foreign visitors that they have excellent relations with their Muslim neighbours. After the foreigners go home, these Christians must remain, and are loath to give any reason for jihadist extremists to think that they are stirring up trouble.

And so it goes -- news trickles out about one outrage or another, but it gets lost if it gets noticed at all. Meanwhile, Christians in Gaza and the West Bank try to live quietly, never knowing whether a newspaper in Denmark or a papal speech in Germany or nothing in particular might be the pretext for violence coming to their doors.

It is an awful way to live. It is more awful still that so few know, or care about it.

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