Living under rockets
This weapon is not about precision. After being launched from a small ramp, the Kassam rocket can hit the enemy ground anywhere in a wide radius of many hundred meters. But for terrorists from the palestine group Hamas, precision doesn’t count. They don’t target a specific building, but a whole city - no matter if it hits military, civilian houses or a schoolbus.
While suicide bombing has been the major threat for Israelis during the Intifada, the rocketfire is the new deadly issue the country has to face. Around 12,500 rockets have been striking on Israeli terroritory since 2001. As during the 2006 Lebanon war, cities in the north got under heavy bombardement, nowadays the Kassams are mainly aflecting the southwest of the country. Jewish settlements like Ashkelon or Sderot, which are only a few kilometers apart from the Gaza strip, are targeted most.
15 seconds between life and death
After the military radar has spotted an incoming rocket, a „Tzevah adom“ alarm sound is repeated by loudspeakers all over the town. Then people have to run for their life: Only 15 seconds keep left before the impact. The Kassam is powerful enough to burst through rooftops or blow up a car. After the detonation, sharp shrepnels are beeing catapulted at high speed through the air, causing serious injuries or death for every uncovered human being in a radius of 100 meters. Therefore, houses have their own rocket-proof rooms, and public buildings, busstations or children playgrounds are fortified as shelters (see video above).
Most of Sderots 20,000 citizen came there in the early 1990s, build up their houses and families. Now it’s also their pride, not wanting to retreat any single step from the Palestine rocketfire. The government support the area with subsidies, to prevent the local economy from a total collapse. Sderot resident Michal Eliav has faced many attacks in the past. Although a ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli government has been signed after the 2009 Gaza war, Kassams keep inbounding, sometimes every day. „People here got pretty much used to it“, Michal says. „Of course everyone is worried about the threat, but you can’t wast time always thinking about it. Life goes on.“
But having a short look around Sderot, it’s hard to find streetlife or a vivid atmosphere. If not necessary, People keep inhouse, and cafés or childrens playgrounds stay empty. Local police officers advise people to drive with seatbelts unfasten, in order to leave the car faster during an alarm.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) estimates, that Hamas has stored over 10,000 Kassam rockets in Gaza, ready to be fired at Israel. The manufacturing of a single Kassam is estimated to cost them less than 300 dollar. The rocket mantle is made out of construction materials such as pipes, and the fuel is mixed out of fertilizer. Both supplies are brought into Gaza by international development aid. Admittedly, the terrorists still need explosive for their rockets, but this can be smuggled via tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.
While the development of new Kassam generations, which are said to have a range until Tel Aviv, continues, the IDF quarrels with the right answer to the threat. Airstrikes and heavy ground offensives on Gaza couldn’t stop the bombing in the past. A new strategy aims to shoot down the Kassams with the rocket-launcher „Iron Dome“. But every Israeli rocket, fired up in order to take down an incoming Kassam, cost tax payers 50,000 dollars.
Do people in Sderot accept any of the arguments from the other side, for example the bad economic standard, which has been widely reported from the Gaza strip? „Which problems do they face?“, an upset resident answers. „There are Spas in Gaza, they even had the iPhone 4 before us!“
*Hans von der Burchard works as freelance journalist for WELT newspaper, BILD.de and the weekly magazine COMPUTER BILD.