The Digital Journalist
In Range of the Kassam:
A Cycle of Violence
January 2007

by Rafael Ben-Ari

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.

Factory workers, Sderot residents and policemen from a factory in the Negev industrial zone hit by a Kassam rocket run for cover as the "Tzeva Adom" (Color Red) warning siren sounds on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006. One man in his 40s was critically wounded, sustaining severe head trauma in the attack. A number of other people suffered from shock.

(Photo by: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleon's Eye)
The rockets have been striking Sderot with various degrees of regularity for six years. Prior to the Disengagement, residents were told they were being fired upon because of the "occupation of Gaza." Since the Disengagement, every time one Gaza terror faction wants to complicate another faction's negotiations with Israel, or every time a senior terrorist is eliminated and most of the time for no reason at all, explosive-laden rockets are fired at Sderot and the agricultural communities surrounding Palestinian Authority-controlled Gaza.

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.

A home owner stands where a Kassam missile struck on Nov. 26, 2006. Other rockets caused damage to the southern Israeli city of Sderot. The Palestinian rockets threatened a cease-fire agreement that took effect hours earlier in which militants promised to halt attacks in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

(Photo by: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleon's Eye)
Living close to Sderot gives me enough time to be there when the action is on. In the last few months, almost every morning, between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., I would be paged that a Kassam rocket attack had been launched towards Sderot. I got up very early to get myself ready and have my cup of coffee beside my cameras, battery pack, various lenses ready in a waist belt along with the pager, cell phone and laptop with wireless Internet connection. All the equipment was charged and ready to go the night before. When I got the message all I had to do was grab my gear, walk out of my house, start the car and rush to document another terror attack.

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.

Police investigators stand near the body of a Bedouin shepherd killed by a Kassam rocket near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Israel, on Tuesday, March 28, 2006. The rocket explosion killed a father and son when it struck among a group of Bedouin shepherds. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

(Photo by: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleon's Eye)
As I get closer to the site my senses are assaulted: a strong smell of gunpowder in the air welcomes me along with glass shards from broken windows and plastic shutters. Blaring sirens, screaming and victims' calls for help fill the air. I need to ignore the chaos, focus my eyes and shoot the moment.

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

Israeli photographer Rafael Ben-Ari became an on-location photographer in 1994 after receiving a Professional Photography Diploma from NYI and studying at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. He then traveled the world to immerse himself in other cultures and various approaches to photojournalism. Being able to speak fluent English, Hebrew and basic Arabic, Rafael is able to work in most parts of the world and has lived in England, Australia, New Zealand. He is now based in Israel. Rafael has covered events such as the America's Cup, the Salvador Carnival and the Israeli Disengagement. He is a staff photographer of Scoop magazine and Walla News in Israel and recently worked as a stringer for Xinhua photowire news agency from China

Visit his Web site

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