Living under rockets

By Hans von der Burchard*

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.

(Bigger screen version at Vimeo)

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.“

(Bigger screen version at Vimeo)

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.

Living with the wall

The tough struggle for peace

25. September 2011

Masada, the reclusive fortified palace straddling a desert mountain and overlooking the Dead Sea, is a central part of the Israeli narrative of Jewish History. The story of the thousand zealots who preferred to kill themselves than be taken captive by the Romans connects in the narrative to the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion and the 1948 “War of Independence”.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood at the UN General Assembly, and spoke of himself as “a single candle in a hall of darkness”, he was tapping to the same narrative, and portraying himself as the new Jewish hero. Reports & videos about the Middle East conflict and the Palestine Statehood bid.

The Masada Complex

By Asaf Ronel

At the beginning of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 A.D., the Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of Masada, a reclusive palace straddling a desert mountain and overlooking the Dead Sea.

The palace was built 75 years earlier by King Herod the Great. After Jerusalem fell to the Roman forces in 70 A.D., the rebels were joined by religious Jewish zealots who managed to escape the city.

For two years the rebels used the fortified palace to attack the Roman forces in the area. Then, in 73 A.D, the Roman governor Flavius Silva laid siege to the mountain. With the labor of thousands of Jewish slaves, the Romans built a huge ramp made of stones and earth against the western approaches of the mountain. According to legend, the rebels on the mountain didn’t stop the construction because they wouldn’t hurt their kinsmen building the rampart.

In the spring of 74 A.D., the Romans moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress. Inside they found the bodies of almost one thousand rebels – men, women and children – who died by sword and fire after their leaders decided it’s better to die free than be taken captive.

That is the official Israeli narrative. That narrative, which is based on Josephus Flavius’ “The Jewish War”, was cemented into the Israeli narrative of Jewish history by the archeological works of the soldier-archeologist-politician Yigal Yadin (the second Chief of Staff of the IDF). The motif of few against many, fighting until death for freedom, runs through the Israeli narrative from Masada, through the battle of Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee in 1920 (where, so the story goes, the “Amputee Jewish Hero” Joseph Trumpeldor said on his death bed, “never mind, it’s good to die for our land”) to the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion. This narrative culminates in Israel’s 1948 “War of Independence”, where, as Israelis like to say, “six Arab armies attacked us”. But this time, “we won”.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood at the UN General Assembly, and spoke of Jacob and his sons roaming the hills of Judea 4,000 years ago, of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto praying for “next year in Jerusalem” and of himself as “a single candle in a hall of darkness”, he was tapping to the same narrative, and portraying himself as the new Jewish hero.

And when the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, stood on that stage and spoke of the Palestinian “Nakba” (disaster) of 1948, for Netanyahu and most of the Israelis it didn’t matter that he said that although this disaster happened, the Palestinians are still willing to build their state on 22% of historical Palestine. When Abbas said this disaster took place, the Israelis heard him questioning their basic truths about the 1948 war, and therefore of Masada and of the Ghetto Warsaw Rebellion.

As a kid, I remember thinking the Masada story was terrible, and I still do. A society based on those morals is a society of war, not of peace.

I believe that the Palestinians are wrong in their pursuit of a separate state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The “Peace Process” was used by Israel in the last 20 years to strengthen its hold in the West Bank. The Israeli society won’t be able to evacuate 250,000 Jewish settlers from their homes. The “Peace Process” is used by Israel to conceal the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are living in one state, but under a different set of laws, and the Palestinian Authority is one of Israel’s tools of mitigating its control. I believe that the Palestinians, peace-seeking Israelis and the international community should instead demand equal rights for everyone living in this Israel-Palestine.

Almost all Israelis won’t agree with me. Over 60% of the Palestinians supported the one state solution in a survey conducted a few months ago. Be that as it may, any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires the Israelis to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba, and for that, they need to solve their Masada Complex.

Voices: Peace in the Middle East?

Pro-palestinian protests in Israel

Voices: Peace in the Middle East?


Milestone in Mideast conflict: UN speeches 11/09/23

Creating peace

By Nina Paulsen*

Despite a solution of the Mideast Conflict is still like a far-off dream many people from Israel and Palestine try to promote the  approach of the two nations in their everyday life. In this context, the Peres Peace Center in Tel Aviv as Israel’s leading non-profit organization developed highly creative ways to bring the people of Israel and Palestine together.

Help for palestinian families

It was founded by Shimon Peres in 1996. The Nobel Peace Price laureate and President of Israel followed the idea to build up peace through socio-economic cooperation and developement, and the interaction between people. Today, the Peres Peace Center, which is located at the shores of the mediterranean sea at the ancient city of Jaffa, designs and implements dozens of projects in fields like medicine, culture, business or sports.

On 14 Septemer 2011, a new project was launched. It’s the winner of a world-wide ideas competition and was selected by a jury of Palestinian, Israeli and other international members. It’s called „Blood Relations“. The idea behind: Blood banks in Israel and Palestine shall allow both nations to donate blood to one another. Next to its purpose as a life-saving measure the mutual blood-donation is seen as a symbol to the world of the shared desire for peace. The first blood donation was given by members of the so called „Parents Circle Families Forum“ which is a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost a son, a daughter or another relative in the Mideast Conflict. The slogan oft he project shows its underlying principle: „Could you hurt someone who has your blood running through their veins?“

Some Israeli hospitals are part of peace projects

Another important project of the Perez Peace Center is about healthcare as well. It’s called „Saving Children“ and has been already launched in 2003. In a Partnership with the palestinian Pediatric Community, babies and small children from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank can go to israeli hospitals for sophisticated sugeries and complex diagnostic procedures – and their parents don’t have to pay. That shall help the societies growing together – and easing the pain of the most innocent victims of the conflict. Since the beginning of the project more than 6,500 children have been referred from palestinian to israeli doctors.

„From time to time people aks me ‚how would you like to be remembered in history?’“, Shimon Peres sais in a Fundraising film produced for the tenth anniversary of the Center. „And my answer is, as the man, who saved the life of one child. I can’t think of anything more noble.“

*Nina Paulsen works as editor for HAMBURGER ABENDBLATT newspaper (at present as political correspondent at the capital bureau of HA in Berlin)

The construction of the wall started in 2003…

…after numerous suicide bomber attacks

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