Another year spent under Gaza’s rockets

Residents in Sderot on a difficult 2019 and their low political expectations for 2020


One of the most common complaints from Sderot residents was of feeling ignored by government. Now, people say they do not even have a functioning government to ignore them.

When I asked locals how they feel entering the new year, I received all the usual comments about being out of sight and out of mind as far as politicians are concerned. But a recurring theme was the lack of stable government, as Israel heads to the third election in a year, making them feel even more sidelined than normal.

“Nothing is happening,” said Sivan Cohen, 43, at a shopping centre. “Everything is frozen and nothing happens.”

Mrs Cohen did not mean that Hamas and other Gaza militants are resting. Just last month a mortar was fired from Gaza and landed close by, prompting Israeli strikes against Hamas targets. There were two rockets and an attempted attack on the border.

And today, it is not just a matter of Hamas: the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad played a significant role in the Gaza-Israel clashes of 2019.

Like many around here, Mrs Cohen feels that Israel is failing to adopt a coherent policy on Gaza because no government can take the kind of decisions that are needed in what has turned into a year-long election season.

Other residents take very different views on what would happening were it not for the political crisis.

People here tend to lean right, but those who live in the surrounding kibbutzim commonly more left wing. “The situation is broken; we need a government,” said Miri Levin of Kibbutz Erez.

She believes that Israel should be talking to Palestinian leaders, and that a diplomatic process between Jerusalem and Ramallah could calm the volatile border in her back yard. A clear election outcome would lead to a conciliatory policy towards the Palestinians — but she is sceptical that this will happen: “I don’t think that even a government will bring the change we need.”

Yitzhak Rimon, a man in his fifties who lives on another kibbutz, reported that the lack of stable government is disrupting budgets that people around here depend on.

“Now it’s chaos,” he said. “There are certain budgets, even those tied to security, that aren’t being issued.”

This matter of budgets is felt harshly in this region, but actually impacts Israel on a national level. Defence contractors are reported to have had their payments frozen because the government offices that are meant to approve them are not functioning due to the political instability.

Mr Rimon was more optimistic than most about the prospects for 2020 — or rather, for the post-election part.

“It was a very hard year,” he said. “Next year I think things will depend on what happens in election. I hope there will be a fundamental change and than Benny Gantz take over. if you come with another leader there is potential for change.”

Rotem Yudai, a resident in her thirties, said 2019 was a tough from a security point of view and believes there are now two possibilities: “It can continue like this or there could be a large operation in Gaza that will change the situation. I prefer the second option.”

But some experts note that while there are periods of rocket fire, Gaza militants seem to have an interest in keeping a lid on all-out conflict. Two scholars from the Institute for National Security Studies wrote this month that Hamas is “bending under the burden it bears as a governing power,” and as such it is “well aware of the risks involved in a broad military conflict.”

Yohanan Tzoreff and Yoram Schweitzer wrote that in recent years Hamas has actually worked to “prevent resistance forces from providing Israel with a pretext for attacking the Strip again.” Many in and around Sderot are hoping that militants continue to apply this restraint — at least until Israeli election season is finally over.

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