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May 30, 2018 11:24 am

Despite Gaza Violence, Resilient Sderot ‘Flourishing,’ Southern Israel Resident Says

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Israeli soldiers walk next to an Iron Dome aerial defense battery, May 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The southern Israeli town of Sderot remains remarkably resilient in the face of seemingly endless rocket attacks, a therapist who works with Sderot trauma patients told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

In spite of the difficult security situation, Sderot is growing fast and many have chosen to move there.

“There is a really large community that have come to live there because they want to be there,” Judith Spanglet said. “And they’re building a city. It’s incredible. It’s flourishing.”

Sderot — which is situated close to the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — has been a target of rocket attacks for almost two decades, since the start of the Second Intifada. Residents have only 15 seconds to reach shelter when the red alert siren sounds.

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This has often had tragic consequences. In 2014, a four-year-old boy, Daniel Tragerman, was killed by mortar fire in the nearby kibbutz of Nahal Oz when he could not reach shelter in time.

This week, after nearly four years of relative quiet since Operation Cast Lead, the security situation worsened yet again. On Tuesday, dozens of mortar bombs and rockets were fired at Israel’s south from Gaza. Many were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, but one exploded in the yard of a kindergarten, causing extensive damage, shortly before the students were due to arrive. Machine gun fire from Gaza also caused damage to a car and a private home.

It is believed that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was behind the majority of the launches, but Israel holds Hamas — which rules Gaza — responsible for all fire from the coastal enclave, and responded with strikes against targets tied to both groups.

Sderot resident Dov Trachtman described Tuesday’s events to The Algemeiner.

“Early on I got a notification on my smartphone that there are alarms,” he said. “Later on we heard some explosions. Probably it was either the interception by the Iron Dome or an IDF retaliation. I’m not sure. I was on my way to work. I work with a student organization. I lead a community of students. I was going to a meeting with my team, my boss and other community leaders. So when I got the notification I sent a message to our WhatsApp group to tell everyone that this is going on and also I wanted to check with the students if everyone is ok.”

“A few minutes later we got another notification that everyone should stay close to a shelter,” he continued. “It’s a recommendation by the government or the army. So basically, we waited for about 20 minutes until we found out that the recommendation was canceled. They said it’s ok again to go out.”

Trachtman then took part in an all-day meeting, during which “we heard drones above the college and explosions from the interceptions or the IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip,” he recalled. “We heard explosions all day long and we were all stressed about the situation. I was worried both about my family and about my students.”

The atmosphere in the city was “really tense” because people “don’t know what will come next,” he added. “There’s so much tension.”

The machine gun fire was particularly worrisome, Trachtman said, because it proved “they actually can shoot someone down in Sderot quite easily. If they actually tried to aim to Sderot at a specific house or a specific person they actually might hit and kill someone. So there’s so much going on and that’s how people deal with it right now.”

Spanglet, a veteran immigrant to Israel, works extensively with trauma victims in Israel’s south, mainly using mind-body techniques. She lives in the city of Ashkelon, but treats many Sderot residents. Three of her children and 18 of her grandchildren live in the city.

“For the most part, I think that right now people start to get scared,” she told The Algemeiner. “And they start to be uptight. It can affect their whole nervous system. They’ll be clingy and if it’s young children and even older ones, they can’t fall asleep and they start bedwetting even if they’re older, and it’s not because they don’t know what to do. It’s just they have no control over their systems.”

“I’ve found that the best way is to teach people how to be familiar with these ways in advance of how to calm yourself down,” she noted about her therapeutic techniques. “Because this kind of thing has been going on for 18 years already. It’s a long time. I have grandchildren who were born into this. So this is all of their lives.”

“I think there’s a certain percentage of people who are able to get over it,” she said. “There are other people that are scarred for life. It depends on if they get themselves help or they get their children help early enough. Or they decide to do something and they get to the right person and they’re able to get rid of the tension that’s in their bodies.”

Sometimes, however, all efforts fail. Spanglet recounted her experience with one woman who said “she had no hope. And she said it in front of her kids.”

“People are definitely scarred,” she added, “and not enough people really realize what people are going through.”

The attacks have a particularly egregious effect on the children of Sderot. “I have many kids who are scared and can’t sleep, and they have all kinds of different problems in school, they can’t concentrate, it just sort of snowballs,” she said.

She pointed out, however, that despite the volatile security situation, Sderot was “flourishing” and expanding in both size and population.

“If you go there, you will see building going on like you would never believe,” she said. “People can’t find apartments to rent or to buy. It’s incredible. The whole city is just flourishing.”

Asked why this is the case, Spanglet attributed Sderot’s remarkable resiliance to both ideology and a strong sense of solidarity and community.

“I think for one that they have people who believe in what they’re doing and why they’re there,” she said. “And there is a really large community that has come to live there because they want to be there. And they’re building a city. They’re really building a city. It’s incredible. Building, building, building. New apartment projects and new neighborhoods. New private homes are going up. In spite of it all.”

“I have three kids that went to hesder yeshiva there and they ended up staying there,” she went on to say. “They’re staying there and they’ve built a community. They’re building a city. They’re all active in their own ways in doing it. And there’s lots of people that are coming in. It’s incredible.”

Asked if this sense of community gave residents the strength to resist the effects of such relentless terrorism, she replied, “I think so. They’re very attuned to each other and to their needs. I think there’s a real care. There are a lot of people that came as pioneers and then said, ‘We’re going to stay here, we’re going to build our homes here.’ I’ve seen my grandchildren and kids that I’ve worked with, they’re proud of being there.”

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