Sderot, Israel — A few years ago, someone who wanted to move to Sderot for “quiet” would have been dismissed as a lunatic. But Carole Arazi is serious.
She’s selling her home up in Tel Aviv, and is in the process of looking for one in this Israeli town, located less than a mile from Gaza. Yes, we are talking about the city famed for the thousands of rockets that have fallen here, shot from Gaza by Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups.
To many, the name Sderot is synonymous with misery. Its residents are brandished in the media as primary victims of Arab terror. It’s a must-stop on the itinerary of every visiting foreign politician seeking to show his or her solidarity with the Jewish state. Barack Obama, among many others, visited here during his 2008 presidential candidacy. Mitt Romney came in 2011, the year before he challenged Obama. On April 11, Ed Miliband, the British Labor Party’s opposition leader, was the latest to blow into town and voice his support during a five-day visit to Israel.
But today in Sderot, there is a building boom. Property values are rising. And after years of complaining about being disconnected from central Israel, the town is joining the Tel Aviv commuter belt.
“The quality of life possible in Sderot, where I can have a garden with a lemon tree, isn’t possible in Tel Aviv,” said Arazi, 52, who works in management. The sale of her gardenless Tel Aviv home in a tower block, she explained, will more than pay for a five bedroom standalone home in Sderot, where she expects to enjoy “quiet.”
As for the location, last December a railway station opened in Sderot, and trains to Tel Aviv take 58 minutes. Arazi said that it will actually be quicker for her to travel to her Tel Aviv office from Sderot than to undergo her current traffic-clogged journey on two buses within Tel Aviv.
After eight years of ongoing rocket fire, attacks on Sderot became relatively infrequent following the conflict in Gaza in 2008 and 2009. Nevertheless, the calm can be broken easily. There was a flare-up that saw rockets fall in or near Sderot in November 2012. And in mid-March of this year, Gaza militants launched 100 rockets, 70 of which reached Israel and one of which landed in Sderot. Residents of Sderot were listening for alarms and running to and from bomb shelters for much of the two-day period.
Such unpredictability has its effects. Shai Blau, a 21-year-old newcomer to the town, left quickly with her husband for Reut in central Israel, where she comes from, when the March outbreak occurred. She had moved to Sderot only reluctantly for two years so that her husband could study in yeshiva here. After the barrage, Blau related, she was left thinking, “I don’t know how people can bring up children in this.” Sderot native Nadia Leviev, 21, said that the flare-up reinforced her desire relocate “because it’s scary and hard here.” And Yaffa Malka, a 50-year-old hairdresser, said that Sderot residents are “like scared rabbits.”
But others view the flare-ups as few and far between, and simply take them in stride. “I have been here for three years, and each time there is an attack my heart sinks, but 10 minutes later I can go to the pub, drink a beer and forget all about it,” said Moran Bar-Nes, a 29-year-old student at Sapir College, which is just outside Sderot.
Three large building sites in Sderot, each of them with dozens of homes under construction, suggest that there are many who share this attitude. And the local municipality clearly believes that more are on their way: Its town plan envisages the number of homes here almost doubling, to 9,000 from 5,000, within 10 to 15 years.