Tel Aviv - Dozens of Palestinian-made Qassam rockets landed on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard last week, placed there by students from the heavily shelled Negev town of Sderot. The graphic street exhibition was planted on the placid tree-lined artery in an effort to focus public attention on the nearly daily barrage of Palestinian rockets raining down on Sderot and other Israeli communities along the Gaza border.
Since the outbreak of the second intifada, some 4,000 rockets have been fired on the western Negev, claiming the lives of at least 10 Israelis and taking an increasing toll on the lives of countless others. To a group of students from Sderot’s Sapir College, the majority of Israelis living beyond the Qassams’ reach have exhibited an unacceptable indifference toward the violence afflicting Israel’s border towns, and the time has come to shake the Israeli public out of its apathy.
“This lack of solidarity was never before present in Israel,” said Lavi Vanounou, a film student at Sapir College and the producer of the Qassam exhibit. “People today are much more self-absorbed. We just want to tell them, ‘Hey, we don’t live in another galaxy, we live just 50 minutes away from you.’ And with all due respect, the Qassam is becoming more and more sophisticated. Once, it would barely reach Sderot; now it is hitting farther north, up to Ashkelon. It won’t take too much more time until the rockets are able to reach Tel Aviv. So wake up.”
Judging by the reactions of Tel Aviv residents this week, the exhibit has had far from the explosive effect its creators had hoped for.
“When I hear on the radio that more rockets hit Sderot, it’s like hearing the weather forecast. I don’t even pay attention,” said Shai, 31, while strolling past the Qassams. “This exhibit is more like a freak show than something that’s real. The section with the sofa and the teddy bear illustrating a private house was very manipulative. People are being forced to see this stuff when they leave restaurants here.”
The rockets along the Tel Aviv boulevard are cordoned off by police tape and displayed in a variety of communal settings. Some appear to have impacted directly into the cement sidewalk; others are surrounded by household furniture, while one Qassam appears to have slammed into a café.
Notations made by police sappers are scrawled on each rocket, recording the date of attack and the location of impact. Some of the Qassams bear inscriptions in Arabic or Hebrew, written by the Palestinian militant organizations Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees.
The exhibit is destined to fall on deaf ears, one passerby commented, suggesting that rather than taking the rockets out of Sderot, it would be better to take those in harm’s way away from the rockets.
“Tel Aviv residents are too cynical to relate to such a thing. We are too cynical to even notice what happens outside the city. I’m just not interested,” said Gabi, 28. “I think people simply need to move out of Sderot.”
Tzachi Dvora, 33, didn’t think the exhibit went far enough in illustrating the direness of Sderot’s situation.
“It covers just a small section of the boulevard. It should have been more serious,” he said. “I’m saddened by what is going on… but this won’t change what I feel when I hear on the radio that rockets hit Sderot. We are always disconnected here in Tel Aviv from what’s going on.”
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal is also full of harsh criticism of the reaction to the bombardment of the western Negev. His ire, however, is directed not at Tel Aviv but at Jerusalem.
“All Israel is together in a very small boat. The problem is not people. It is policy, policy, policy,” Moyal told the Forward. “We have been abandoned by the government.”
To date, the Israeli military has been unable to find effective operational means by which to prevent the rocket fire on southern Israel. The Qassams, manufactured in Gaza metal workshops, are highly inaccurate, carry relatively small warheads and do not travel very far. But they are mobile and can be fired by small, elusive teams of gunners, making it difficult for Israel to destroy them before they are launched.
The military has resorted to a number of tactics in an effort to prevent the rocket fire, including artillery shelling, air strikes and ground operations by small elite units. Prior to Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, ground units also periodically occupied areas in northern Gaza across the border from Sderot, and as the city’s mayor sees it, such drastic measures are the only way to stop the Qassams.
“I am against war, but we don’t have a choice,” Moyal said. “The Israeli army must totally reoccupy the Gaza Strip to clean out the terrorists.”