Just like many other Sderot residents, at the beginning of the week I woke up to a reality that appeared to exist in a fantasy world, where any connection to reality is frowned upon. While displaying elation that made me question his hearing and comprehension, Ehud Olmert shared his impression from his visit to Gaza-region communities with cabinet ministers.
“This time, I found a different atmosphere,” Olmert told the ministers. “I saw impressive determination and resilience, and heard fewer complaints and plenty of appreciation for the military operations carried out in Gaza.”
Despite the temptation to investigate where Olmert’s baseless words come from, I prefer to leave this question to medical and psychological experts. After all, his meeting with residents only resulted in complaints, and not even one positive word about the government or army.
This time around, Olmert chose to meet with residents of Gaza-region kibbutzim and moshavim, who until now were portrayed in the media as “different” than Sderot residents: They’re not complaining, they’re not protesting, and they’re perceived as having greater stamina. Yet it was actually a member of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha who told the prime minister: “You came to hug us, to stroke us, and rub our back – but someone is morally bankrupt around here…the last straw will come at the end, and then our back will break.”
At a time where it is clearer than ever that the residents of Sderot and Gaza-region communities are close to collapse, while the prime minister reports hearing other “voices” for some reason, it is impossible to refrain from comparing Sderot’s situation to the state of the nation. Ever since I moved to Sderot, it has been clear to me that the town constitutes a microcosm of Israel’s leadership crisis. Everything that happens in Sderot reflects what is going on across the country – an inability to address existential threats and the government’s and decision-makers’ indifference towards us.
To our leadership it appears that we are talking about a local, distant problem at some remote border town. The daily drama and unbearable life are not met by a comprehensive thinking effort on the government’s part. The community crisis, the departure rate (more than one fifth of Sderot residents already left it during the “Qassam years”!), the collapse of the education system and municipal services, and the solitude we have been sentenced to here are apparently hidden from the view of decision makers, headed by the prime minister.
Zionist vision’s collapseThe threat on Sderot is a strategic one, not a local one. The ongoing grinding of residents, who serve as extras in the game of “Gazan roulette,” as Minister Avi Dichter referred to it, will eventually bring about the town’s total collapse. Residents here no longer believe in a temporary “escape” to the occasional vacation. Sharp-eyed observers must have noticed the small number of residents who took advantage of Gaydamak’s initiative to send local youth on a Jerusalem vacation. This was more than a clear sign that relief efforts are no longer desired and do not help.
The collapse of Sderot would mark the Zionist vision’s collapse. It constitutes the collapse of what is left of the trust in our national leaders. It would be the collapse of our hope and faith in our right to cling to our land. The fact that terror groups fired at an Israeli town, which is not a settlement and is not subjected to diplomatic talks, put the government’s ability to protect its citizens to the test.
Olmert unfounded remarks regarding resilience and determination are nothing more than a spit in the face of area residents. Relying on their patience, which is about to expire, and ignoring the reality in which they live shows more than anything else that the prime minister does not have the slightest idea - only a comprehensive security and social solution will save the town from total collapse.
Eeki Elner is the director of the Center for Leadership in Sderot