At 8:15 pm, Rabin Square looked like a birthday party no one came to. Tension backstage was high. The sign on the stage "We Are Sderot," created an uncomfortable feeling that, yet again, the sense of solidarity Israelis nurture has become a faded memory. Residents of the settlements surrounding Gaza stepped out of the buses that carried them to Tel Aviv, wore red shirts that marked the difference of "them" and "us."
"We want a hug from Israel"
But that soon changed. By 9:30 pm, police estimated there were 40,000 people at the square. By the end of the night the numbers climbed to 50,000 who stood up for the national anthem at the rally's conclusion. What made this rally unique and especially touching was the fact that it was conceived and organized – from scratch – by one idealist, a believer, who managed to recruit many.
Early in the evening when it wasn't clear yet if the rally would be a success or a failure, Kobi Oz, the organizer, said: "'Our goal is to shake the public out of its indifference. Sderot is aware of its condition, yet, Israel is in denial. Tonight I want to say that Israel is not divided into cantons, it is one big family where we take care of one another. Sderot will never be Tel Aviv but both share a destiny. We are all Sderot."
Kobi Oz (right), organizer, with Eli Moyal Sderot's mayor
One after the other, artists went on stage: Shlomo Artzi, Harel Sqaat, Danny Sanderson and many more, filled with good intentions. The impressive lineup was a result of the sense of commitment and purpose. "This evening's goal is to bring us all closer together regardless of the geographical distance," said Danny Sanderson, "many of us regularly appear in charity events but this time it is different. What Sderot residents go through is simply a nightmare."
Harel Sqaat said: "I truly hope that the unity we expressed tonight will affect the leaders. The man on the street doesn't know what is done to put an end to this nightmare. We tried to show the people of Sderot and the other settlement in the area that we support them."
Shlomo Artzi on stage
Haim Uliel, a resident of Sderot, and a musician went on stage wearing a black shirt with the text: "The Other Israel." Even though, at times, the words were hidden by the guitar, it was hard to ignore Uliel's message. "It's obvious, isn't it?" he asked-said as he stepped off the stage, "there are two Israels."