At YFI event, Israeli mayor talks life in constant war zone

Eli Moyal, mayor of the Israeli city of Sderot, said the children of his city near the Gaza Strip constantly live in fear of a terrorist attack — incoming missiles, for example, are announced by sirens 10 seconds before impact.

“Ten seconds,” Moyal said. “The only thing you can do is to pray that the missile, instead of hitting the street you are right on, will hit somewhere outside of the city. If you are a lucky guy, you stay alive. If you are not, we all know the result.”

Moyal addressed an audience of about 100 people in Linsly-Chittenden Hall at an event sponsored by the Yale Friends of Israel on Tuesday evening. Speaking quietly to a completely silent room, he spoke of the perils of living amidst the violence of Palestinian terrorists and the need to take action in order to solve the crisis.

“This is the place where I come from, the only city in history throughout the world that has been under attack for seven years,” Moyal said. “It is cursed.”

Sderot, a city in the South District of Israel, has been the daily target of over 6,000 Qassam rockets launched by the international terrorist organization Hamas and Islamic jihad from the Gaza Strip, which is one kilometer away. Over 3,000 residents have emigrated from the embattled city, said Moyal, who has been the mayor of Sderot for the past nine years.

Moyal said the reason Sderot has been under attack for seven years is that its citizens are “too moral.”

“Once a citizen in Sderot told me that they saw one of the shooters at a close distance, and they almost wanted to shoot him right away, but they couldn’t because he was surrounded by women and children,” he said.

Moyal emphasized that while many people around the world suffer from the misunderstanding that the Israeli army is fighting against Palestinians, the Israeli soldiers are actually fighting against jihad and Hamas.

He stressed the difference between the Palestinian government and its citizens, saying the latter are “innocent and enjoy no freedom of speech,” and many citizens do not support the violence. When asked about the fact that it is these people who voted for Hamas while knowing about the organization’s terrorist activities, Moyal said that is not a reason for more bloodshed.

“Even if they did vote, we cannot kill them just because of that,” he said. “We simply cannot.”

The consequence of retaining this morality, according to Moyal, is severe. The mass exodus from the city has made several industries completely dysfunctional.

“I talked to people who run businesses in the city, and they asked me to imagine producing while 20 rockets per day hit the street,” he said. “The war is run against the civilians.”

“My job as a mayor,” as Moyal put it, “is to handle this situation somehow, even though the rest of the world has never heard of our story.”

Upon hearing this statement, a member of the audience asked him whether it is true that Israel has done everything possible to resolve the conflict in a peaceful way, and whether war is the Israelis’ last resort.

“All crises on earth end up with talks, but before the talk there is a war,” Moyal said. “The biggest problem Israel is facing now is that we don’t talk properly and we don’t fight properly. In our case, there is no half pregnancy. There is either a war or the peace.”

The mayor ended the talk with a passionate speech.

“I have been asked millions of times, ‘What the hell are you doing there [in Sderot]?’ My answer is, I am doing things for the people of Israel, not for the government, because government can be changed, but the people will always be there,” he said. “They are the best people in this world, and by saying that, I am being objective, very objective.”

Applause, cheers and whistles rose from the audience, as the talk ended on a cheerful note. Audience members said they still had unanswered questions, though.

“I have been to Israel, so I understand the situation to some extent, but it definitely feels different to have somebody coming from that world telling the story,” Alexander Harding ’08 said. “I am disappointed, though, that he shunned many questions and did not answer them straightforwardly.”

Jonathan Goldman ’09, the former president of YFI, said he thought Moyal could have explained more of what it is like to actually govern Sderot in the context of the conflict.

“Many people can talk about politics, but he is the only person who can tell us how it feels like to be the mayor of such a place,” Goldman said.

Benjamin Alter ’11, the current co-president of YFI, said Moyal is a very controversial figure.

“He attacks the Israel government from the right, saying it is not radical enough, while most opinions are left-sided, blaming the government for its violent approach during the war,” Alter said.

Benjamin Chaidell ’11 said Moyal’s firsthand observations give him a unique perspective on the conflict affecting Sderot.

“Whatever stand he takes,” he said, “we need to keep in mind that nobody can represent an entire ethnic group. He is certainly in a unique situation, since … he sees missile dropping onto his territory every day, and this definitely affects how his opinions are formed.”

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