Imagine you live in a small town on the Mexican border. Imagine that every day for the past seven years Mexican desperadoes have been firing crude rockets into your town, indiscriminately hitting schools, medical centers and apartment buildings, with the express objective (which they make clear in the media) of murdering as many American civilians as possible. Years ago, the American army used to make limited forays across the border to try to stop the rockets, but because the desperadoes operate in populated areas, these incursions hurt innocent Mexicans, and international pressure and American public opinion have caused the United States government to decide that it is better to just let you put up with the rockets.
As the years pass, the number of rockets fallen on the city soars over 6,000. Hundreds have been wounded or traumatized. Children have long given up going to school because of the danger of walking outside. Those with enough means have moved away, but like many others in the city your family is poor, and you simply have nowhere to go and no means to get there. Businesses have closed as the proprietors have left town or shut themselves indoors. The city’s infrastructure — police, firefighters, sanitation — is so depleted in its manpower that it cannot perform its functions.
Imagine this, and you will have a good idea of the situation in the southern Israel town of Sderot. Sderot’s population of over 20,000, mostly working-class immigrants, have had to live under the perpetual rocket fire of Palestinian terrorists since 2000. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population, those who could afford to leave, has moved out. The majority of the people are left as sitting ducks. The government of Israel cannot defend them militarily without garnering international and domestic condemnation. It cannot provide the financial support needed to sustain a city under siege.
Last year, I spent a day with a group of students volunteering in Sderot. There, volunteers try to reconstruct some of the basic services of which the city is starved. We went house to house through abandoned neighborhoods finding elderly, sick and home-bound peoples, many of whom had been trapped in their houses for days without food and without seeing any other human beings. We went on errands to buy necessities for those too traumatized to leave their homes. We would even baby-sit for single parents who could not leave their children to go to work because what help they formerly had had disappeared. For every stranded, shell-shocked resident we found, we knew there were hundreds more out there, languishing in the darkness of their homes, just waiting for the next explosion — and then the next.
When we went on these expeditions, our supervisors would tell us: “If a rocket is coming, an alarm system will warn you. When you hear the warning, you have 15 seconds to go indoors. If you cannot get indoors, stand to the north of a wall (the rockets come from the south) and hope for the best.” During the day I was in Sderot, three rockets fell. We were warned of only one of them.
We in the United States talk frequently about combating terrorism, but we generally discuss it as hypothetical. Happily, we have rarely had the opportunity to experience terrorism as a brute fact of daily life. It takes effort to remember that not everyone is so privileged, that all over the world people are forced to live in fear, in poverty and in the suffocating trauma of war and siege.
This Thursday, Eli Moyal, the outspoken mayor of Sderot, is coming to speak at Yale. For years, he has had the task of guiding his constituents through the throes of one of the worst nightmares that could ever rain down upon a city. Undoubtedly, the experience that he brings will be food for thought for those of us who live among the serene, Gothic ivory towers and golden foosball tables of Yale University.
As members of a free society committed to bettering quality of life in all corners of the globe, it behooves us to take this time to reflect on the blessings of a normal life, and to try to imagine the alternatives.
Yedidya Schwartz is a freshman in Branford College and a member of the Yale Friends of Israel.