Israeli City of Sderot Is Different Kind of Boom Town These Days

Target of Gaza Rockets Enjoys Real Estate Revival

Missed the Train: Oren Trablesy regrets not buying a place in his hometown of Sderot when he had the chance several years ago. Now prices are shooting up beyond his reach.
nathan jeffay
Missed the Train: Oren Trablesy regrets not buying a place in his hometown of Sderot when he had the chance several years ago. Now prices are shooting up beyond his reach.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 22, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
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But there’s no need to wait for these projects to be completed for confirmation that Sderot has become desirable; home seekers are already putting their money where their mouths are.

That contrasts with 2007, when Sderot was at its low point. Residents were leaving by the hundreds, house prices were at rock bottom and there was hardly a market. But March 18, when the Forward visited the local bureau of Re/Max, real estate agent Avichai Azulai walked to his window and pointed to a nearby apartment building, where two-bedroom homes were $20,000 in 2008. His company just sold one for $100,000 — cheap on the national scale, but a major jump for Sderot. And Bar-Nes, who chairs the student union at his college, reported that students are having a hard time finding rentals and making rent, which has almost tripled for some properties in the past four years.

The rises have left some Sderot residents frustrated that they didn’t see the good times coming. “In 2008 I was able to buy but I didn’t, and now I can’t,” said student Oren Trablesy, 26, who is married today and keen to stay in his hometown, but is still renting. Ranaan Shareb, a 33-year-old technician, said: “In the past I would have been able to buy two houses; now I need to work hard to get myself in a position to buy a one-bedroom apartment.”

Also buoying the Sderot market is the fact that thousands of homes have grown in size. The government has just finished building bomb shelters for all residents who didn’t have one. This involved building an extra room using state funds.

The migration and security calculus is also a mirror image of what existed in 2007. Back then, people left for the cities Ashkelon and Ashdod, a bit further north. Both trumped Sderot by having a train station and no rockets. Now Sderot has gained its own rail station and, thanks to the increasing skills of Palestinian rocket engineers, the other two cities have gained rockets.

“People think, ‘I’ll travel 15 minutes [more] on the train and have the same home for 30% cheaper,’” according to Azulai.

On the security front, many are reassured by the installation nearby of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which was introduced in 2011. Then, counter-intuitively, there is the increased military strength of the Hamas regime governing Gaza.

Sderot’s heyday as a target, from 2000 to 2008, was in part a product of the relatively limited nature of Hamas’s rocket arsenal then. But in recent years Hamas has steadily improved the range of its rockets to cover the major towns of Israel’s south, including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba. During a 2012 flare-up, one rocket reached clear to Rishon Le-Zion, near Tel Aviv. That leaves tiny Sderot as relative small potatoes.

“Ashkelon, Beersheba and Tel Aviv are bigger places where [terrorists] can make more noise,” said Shareb who returned to Sderot in 2011 after spending a decade living in Eilat, further south. In Sharab’s view, when Gaza militants want to keep things calm but deliver a measured message, Sderot may receive a smattering of rockets. When the militants want to escalate, they go for the larger targets.

One of the most surprising things when visiting Sderot is that the so-called Qassam generation — the young people whose education was disrupted by a never-ending flow of rockets and soldiers that went into Gaza — has grown up and is now among the town’s most optimistic residents.

“Give me a home in Tel Aviv and one here at the same price, and I would choose here,” said Itamar Kakun, 18. Kakun explained that he likes the intimacy of the community — which he believes was strengthened by the hardest years.

Kakun was one of the Sderot children whom the world pitied so much in 2006 that the Russian oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak was moved to take them on holiday to Eilat. Now Kakun reports, around 80% of his high school class want to make their homes there.

Rachamim Imuzi, a 39-year-old taxi driver, quipped, “If a person was worried five years ago, now that rockets are going to six other places as well as here, he only needs to worry one seventh as much.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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