In Range of the Kassam:
A Cycle of Violence
For the past six years the town has borne the impact of rocket attacks from the Palestinian Authority-controlled town of Beit Hanoun, across the Gaza border. The residents of the Israeli town of Sderot in the western Negev who settled there over 50 years ago today find themselves as "hostages" of an Israeli government that did not keep the pre-Disengagement promises that it had made.
When a Kassam is launched from the Gaza area an early-warning system is sounded, which happens most days during the time children are setting off to school and residents are traveling to work. The system announces "Tzeva adom. Tzeva adom. Tzeva adom." "Tzeva adom," means "color red."
The system usually provides the men, women and children of the city with 15 seconds to stop what they are doing and scramble for cover. Shopping carts are left in supermarket aisles, phone conversations interrupted, children's baths abruptly stopped and prayers are recited alongside the sudden tears of children and adults like. Unlike the arc trajectory of the Katyusha missiles fired at northern Israel this summer, Kassam rockets fall straight down once their fuel propulsion is used up. Northern residents were able to hide from the missiles, behind walls facing Lebanon. For the residents of Sderot, there is nowhere to hide. The rockets are still termed Kassams by the Israeli and global media, though the range, amount of explosive material and shrapnel in the missiles has increased steadily over the past six years, since the first rocket struck the western Negev town. The explosions keep getting louder and now they put shrapnel and ball bearings into the rockets and can kill, and have killed, people hiding far from the explosive site.
Arriving at a Kassam site, I always wear my journalist ID to make it easy for the local police forces to identify me as a photojournalist when I cross the police lines. The first people I come across are usually running away from the scene in tears, screaming in panic and confusion.
When a Kassam rocket attack results in a death or a terrible injury as when a man lost his legs, I empathize with the victims, making my work harder. Other attacks cause a lot of property damage or the Kassam is found buried in the garden too close for comfort to a private home. Since no one knows when or where the next rocket will hit, I am often caught day or night scrambling for cover. Hearing the oncoming Kassam alone causes tremendous stress and when it hits the ground the massive blast can be felt all over town.
Policemen from the bomb squad collect all the Kassam rocket pieces and take them to the Israeli police lab where specialists determine the rockets shape, manufactory time, explosion materials and quality.
Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad always find excuses to fire Kassam rockets that terrorize Israel and prevent any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority from taking place. They fax various lists of grievances to international news agencies which, in turn, publish them. For instance, one recent terrorist attack was claimed by the group responsible as "revenge" for the IDF's accidental firing of a mortar shell at a home in Beit Hanoun days earlier. However, according to the IDF, the shelling was to prevent the continued Kassam rocket attacks towards Ashkelon, Israel's 13th-largest city, a day earlier. The terrorist groups use civilians and even their own families as human shields and fire Kassam rockets from populated areas with schools, houses, and hospitals, etc., to make it morally and physically harder for the IDF to prevent shelling by Kassam rockets.
On Nov. 26, 2006 a cease-fire was announced between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. So far each side has attempted to honor the cease-fire. Let's hope that it's not too late for the people of Sderot to live in peace side-by-side with those in Bait Hanoun without the threat of kassam rocket attacks.
© Rafael Ben-Ari
Dispatches are brought to you by Canon. Send Canon a message of thanks.
Back to January 2007 Contents