Dr. Moshe Siderer, an orthopedist and Border Guard doctor in the south, sat outside the surgery room Wednesday night while his wife Manuela, a gynecologist, was operated on after being hurt by a rocket that hit a mall. At the same time, the audience in Jerusalem was cheering Presidents Bush and Peres.
The laud applause that interfered with their speeches and with the one delivered by Prime Minister Olmert overcame the fury of hundreds of anxious Ashkelon residents who gathered outside the mall hit by the Grad.
Dr. Siderer is a strong man. He is not leaving town and doesn’t even want to hear about it. Yet in my town, Ashkelon, anxiety reigns supreme this morning. Quiet anxiety, not a screaming one. Yes, people are going to work, to coffee shops, to the streets. Yet today they are asking themselves whether to stay here.
Ashkelon isn’t Sderot. It has a significant echelon that is doing well economically and may pack its bags and move away. They don’t want to raise their children under the shadow of the rockets or as captives to the wisdom of the Home Front Command, which disconnected the rocket alert siren without informing residents. The army was concerned about the “cry wolf” effect, but on Wednesday Ashkelon residents experienced a real wolf attack without the army protecting them, even by doing as little as activating the siren.
These residents do not see their life in Ashkelon vis-à-vis the Palestinian rocket roulette as a mission. As they apparently feel a greater sense of responsibility than their leaders for their children and elderly, they are weighing a move north.
One way or another, southern residents are on the frontlines of the struggle against Palestinian terror this morning, while our leaders continue the Bush and Peres festivals. In the State of Jerusalem people deliver speeches and make declarations; in the State of Ashkelon, just like in Sderot and other regional communities, people are picking up the pieces, comforting bereaved families, praying for the wellbeing of the injured, and looking to the sky with anxiety, so maybe they can spot the next rocket fired at them.
Conversations with our ministers Thursday morning make it clear that they have bad news. The first one is that there is no kind of solution in the near future. Those who are talking about a possible operation in Gaza say it will be a short-term solution with a heavy human toll, both on our side and on the Palestinian side. Those who talk about peace with the Palestinians don’t know what will happen with Hamas and its patron, Iran. In other words: What’s been happening so far will continue to happen and may possibly become worse and last years.
No end in sight
Meanwhile, a difficult picture emerges from closed-door sessions, cabinet meetings, consultations involving top security officials, assessments, and intelligence reports. The fact is that we are dealing with two entities – one is Muslim and radical and is supported by Iran’s Ayatollahs, while the other is democratic and Western, and supported by the white House. Both these entities are moving in the direction of each other just like tectonic plates of two giant continents – and at the epicenter, we have Ashkelon, Sderot, and Gaza-region communities. The question is not whether an earthquake will come, but rather, how powerful it will be and how many casualties it will leave in its wake.