US Congressmen Brian Baird and Keith Ellison Visit Gaza and Sderotby Anav Silverman Following a day tour in Gaza, members of Congress, Brian Baird (D-Washington) and Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) spent an hour in Sderot touring the city with Sderot Media Center director, Noam Bedein and staff on Friday, February 20. In Sderot, the Congressmen met with the Amar family whose home was destroyed in a Palestinian rocket attack in December 2007. Both US President Obama and Senator John McCain had visited the Amars during their tour of Sderot last year.
Representative Baird, a licensed clinical psychologist, was particularly interested in the psychological impact of the rocket fire. Dr. Katz explained that there is a ‘Qassam generation’ of Sderot children who have been born into the rocket fire. “These kids, who experienced rocket attacks since 2001, know no other reality other than exploding rockets and ‘Tzeva Adom’ (Color Red) alert sirens. Their sense of peace and security has been shattered,” said Dr. Katz. View the video of Ellison's visit here.
“The rocket fire has impacted the economic situation, family relationships-- all aspects of life here in Sderot. People live in constant fear and terror that a rocket may strike at any moment. Over 5,000 residents have been forced to leave and relocate elsewhere.” “Israelis living in Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva and Ashdod are now experiencing that same terror for the first time, ” added Dr. Katz.
Accompanying the Congressmen on their visit, were Dr. Nick Palarino and Dr. Catherine Salsman. Holding a Hamas-fired rocket at the Sderot Police Station, US Representative Ellison, the first Muslim elected to US Congress, commented on its heaviness.
“A rocket explosion can impact up to 300 feet,” explained SMC director, Noam Bedein. “The models become more sophisticated and pack more explosives with each passing year." Bedein also pointed out that the Grad-model Katyusha rockets come directly from Iran. "Iran supplies Hamas with the rockets that target major Israeli cities. The rockets were smuggled through the tunnels dug between the Egyptian-Gaza border or by ship, during the last ceasefire." During the war, the Grad rockets were able to target one million Israelis who still remain under Palestinian missile threat.
Both US representatives asked Dr. Katz her view on potential peace with the Palestinians. "Is the hatred towards the Palestinians deep-seeded on the Israeli side? asked Congressman Baird. "There is no hatred for the Palestinian people," replied Dr. Katz. "Israelis here know that there is an underlying difference between the Hamas government and the average Palestinian citizen."
The two US representatives filmed the tour on their camera phones to share with relevant persons back in the US. Congressman Ellison, who represents Minnesota, and Congressman Baird, who represents Washington state, had visited Gaza the day previously. It was the first time that anyone from the US government had entered the Gaza Strip since Hamas took power. Their visit to Gaza, according to Representative Brian Baird’s website, was not officially sanctioned by Obama Administration. However, US President Obama has stated in the past that he intends to improve ties with the Muslim world. Indeed in a joint press release available on Congressman Baird's official government website, Congressmen Ellison and Baird spoke primarily of their visit to Gaza and their impressions of the situation there.And now the Prime Minister:
by Jacob Shrybman Moments after another “Tzeva Adom” warning siren rang out in Sderot I walked around the Sderot Media Center office wondering why it is that the Jewish nation must continually justify their actions for survival. No matter the measure taken to protect its people from rockets, missiles, bombs, guns, or heavier attack Israel comes under a barrage of condemnations and negative political pressure. It is nearing the 61st year since its establishment, so when will the Jewish state no longer have to defend its existence?
If the reason for these condemnations is because of numbers of casualties from Israel’s vital operations then where was the uproar when Arafat claimed that 10,000-20,000 were massacred in eleven days by the Jordanian army in September of 1970? These numbers, as well as other world conflict casualty statistics, overshadow the inflated number of 1,300 people that Hamas claims were killed by Israel during the three-week Operation Cast Lead.
Could the world truly think that Israel likes having to send its country’s youth into an extremely hostile urban combat setting where around every corner could be a booby-trapped explosive or kidnapping trap? Could the world truly think Israel’s self-centered politicians like suspending their election campaigns to handle the emergencies that come along with a military operation? The world must understand that Israel cannot have 1 million of its citizens under the daily immediate threat of rockets.
Last week while guiding an afternoon tour of Sderot for American students Sderot resident and mother Shula Sasson showed the group of 18 year-olds how her family’s mattresses were leaning against the wall behind their couch in the first floor living room because her family hasn’t slept or lived on the second floor of their house for years because it is simply too far from their sheltered room. When one of the students asked Shula if she was optimistic about the since there is currently a ceasefire with Hamas, she calmly but sternly replied, “Do not believe it (ceasefire).”
She then emphasized to the students that their visit to Sderot was more important than a meaningless ceasefire so they can convey the situation to their schools and communities. Shula wished the students goodbye saying, “You will be the ones to save us. Not a ceasefire.” Over the past eight years, since the rocket fire began in January 2001, Israel has attempted various methods to bring an end to these terrorist attacks in order to put off a major military operation. Even when Israel is forced to carry out the difficult task of thwarting terrorists embedded in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, it goes to unprecedented lengths to prevent loss of civilian life. It is unheard of other militaries around the world to call and text message civilians warning them of the imminent military attack.
But yet the Tzeva Adoms continue and I am sitting in Sderot agitated and on edge; in the only region in the world where civilians are consistently targeted by rockets, less than a mile a way to a territory controlled by a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the Jewish State. So, I resent the fact that I have to defend Israel’s legitimacy for existence when it is forced to target terrorists that the world knows are using families’ home and hiding behind human shields. As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said after the Six Day War, “When peace comes we can forgive the Arabs for killing our children but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill theirs.”Two different stories, one dealing with the anger that Israelis feel in having to justify their existence. The other about a couple of US Congressmen. They looked and listened to the stories of Sderot, but the words fell upon deaf ears. Normally at this point I would ask you my reader to donate to the Sderot Media Center, sign up for the Code Red Alerts, and of course pray for the people of Sderot. This time I don't urge you to do that. Instead, send the people of Sderot a message of support. It is free, takes only a few minutes of your time and is easy to do:
by Sderot Media Center In light of the war on southern Israel, Sderot Media Center has now opened a special page for Sderot supporters. Please share your thoughts, comments, and words of support for Sderot residents. Thereafter, your comments will be published in local Sderot newspapers and will be shared with the Sderot community. Please mention your name and location! Thank you.To send a message click here.