Sderot, Israel, and the Gaza Border
Gaza Israel Middle East Sderot Travel Blog Israel

Sderot, Israel, and the Gaza Border

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The “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World” in Israel is a hell of a place to visit. Sderot (pronounced S-de ROTE) is an Israeli city in the western Negev desert located right next to the Israeli border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The formerly vibrant community shows the scars of years of rocket and mortar fire from the neighboring Palestinian enclave which under the terror group has become a hub of conflict and war. For a bit of history, the Gaza Strip was vacated by Israel in a unilateral move in 2005 which led to the relocation of some 10,000 Israelis from 21 Jewish communities. The controversial move was even more so disheartening as Hamas took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup shortly thereafter. Since then, the 24,000-strong city of Sderot has seen continuous rocket and mortar fire numbering over 20,000 (some estimates have this number much higher due to the recent conflicts between Hamas and Israel).

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I was shooting from a disposable back in July 2007, about 18 months after the disengagement, when I visited the already-weary small town. I took a few quick snaps of some bomb shelters from our bullet-proof tour bus and was quickly prompted by our decent English-speaking yet thickly Israeli-accented tour guide to hold off. “You will run out of pictures if you photo each bomb shelter.”

Yeesh.

The first place we stopped off upon our arrival to Sderot was the Sderot Media Center to learn more about the conflict and current situation of the Gaza-border communities. The center is located inside a bomb shelter which quickly makes the experience much more real and serious (as if it wasn’t enough already)!

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With our information session out of the way and with hundreds of questions on my mind, we headed out for a tour of the city and were confronted with the day-to-day reality of life in Sderot. On one side of the street you can see a beautiful house while the other side of the street has a house that’s been bombed-out. Upon reflection, this is the very reason why the Iron Dome missile defense system is such an invaluable part of the defense of the State of Israel – residents have less than 30 seconds to reach a bomb shelter after the siren blares before impact.

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A synagogue sits between a home being rebuilt after a rocket attack and a bomb shelter (orange-brown building) on the right

After driving around parts of the city, it’s clear why, according to Realtor Yaakov Levy, property values in Sderot have dropped between 30 and 50 percent. It actually got worse as we made our next stop at a children’s playground. Due to the lack of warning time and frequency of attacks (during periods of conflict around 8-10 attacks would occur per day) there are bomb shelters built into children’s playground. Studies have found that at least 75% of the children raised in Sderot ages 4-18 suffer from post-traumatic stress including sleep disorders and severe anxiety.

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For a taste of what it’s like in Sderot, you can watch this video on YouTube. I don’t want to dive any further into this as it’s a tough subject to tackle online. In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom in Sderot. We went to a local market for some lunch and the strong, determined community was out and about like any other ‘normal’ day. As an agricultural community, you can image just how many fresh fruits and vegetables are available for purchase. We ate local and it was delectable. Not quite “Bangkok street food level” but delicious nonetheless. Street fried chicken. Yum.

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As this was our last stop in the city of Sderot, I made sure to chat up a few locals to get their feelings on things. They told me to visit the Gaza border lookout less than a mile away. I obliged and convinced our driver and tour guide that we had to see it. After a few minutes of conversation and convincing in broken Hebrew (for me) and English (for them) we came to an arrangement and headed up a small hill. The view of the 41 km (25 miles) long Gaza Strip is truly something to see. There aren’t many words to describe it, however it’s quite incredible that the tiny enclave garners so much of the world’s attention.

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And that’s that for my visit to Sderot and the Gaza border. I’ve heard that the best surf in the Middle East is the Gaza coast and one day when peace breaks out in the region I hope to return.

Until next time…

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Israeli Abroad

IsraeliAbroad (formerly SidepieceDiplomat) was started as a passion project by amateur photographer Phillip Harbor as he travels from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and throughout the world. Named for the adventure, the photoblog seeks to give followers a unique insight into life from a nation that was until recently closed off from the rest of the world for more than half a century. This blog is half photo-half information-half experience-driven. Yes that’s more than a whole… and yes that makes about as much sense as anything else you can find on this half of the globe! Feel free to follow us on social media and right here on the blog as we explore the incredible wonders of Myanmar. Updates will come as regularly as possible and don’t forget to share with your friends!

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Wiloke

IsraeliAbroad was started as a passion project by photographer Phillip Harbor as he travels from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and throughout the world. Named for the adventure, the photoblog seeks to give followers a unique insight into life from a nation that was until recently closed off from the rest of the world for more than half a century. This blog is half photo-half information-half experience-driven. Yes that’s more than a whole… and yes that makes about as much sense as anything else you can find on this half of the globe! Feel free to follow us on social media and right here on the blog as we explore the incredible wonders of Myanmar. Updates will come as regularly as possible and don’t forget to share with your friends!