Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sderot as Tamar Boussi Reported From There











Sderot



as reported from Israel by Tamar Boussi

Portland's President of Portland-Ashkelon Sister City Ass.



Sasson Sara—Prime Minister of SderotEach of my 9 visits to Sderot has opened a new door, this trip was to be "man(or woman) in the street" interviews. As I walked the streets and discussed with residents how they felt and whether or not their lives had changed after "Operation Cast Lead", one name came up in nearly every conversation, Sasson Sara, referred to as the Prime Minister of Sderot.


Picture a small town General store where folks stop to get their cigarettes, soda pop, newspapers and magazines and by the way hang around to talk. The proprietor, a small, rumpled man of 58, a retired High School teacher and inheritor of his fathers’ small but busy, general store. Most of the people standing around or sitting on benches outside the entrance, were not there to buy but to talk and seek company. Conversations centered on the "מצב" (situation) until I introduced myself as from the United States. At that piece of information, to my surprise, everyone’s attention turned to two questions: first, what do I think of Barack Obama and one woman’s desire to know if he was as "hot" as he looks in pictures. Second, why didn’t George Bush release Jonathan Pollard, I was surprised at the emotion the subject injected into the conversation.


We settled into conversation, with people coming and going and all listening to Sasson Sara as though he was indeed the Prime Minister. After a very erudite lecture on the history of the area with particular emphasis on Suliman, questions about the U.S. began flowing from each of the listeners. Each question prefaced by a personal story. Lila, whose 6 month old baby trembles when the sirens go off, Sara, whose 3 children now sleep with their parents, out of fear of sleeping alone, Zahava’s daughters 14 & 18 are taken to Ashkelon twice a week for psychological counseling, when she can find transportation and get time off from her job to take them. Even the 18 year old cannot travel alone.

The questions that follow all begin with "why", not because they expect an answer, the answers are clear to them, but they need to be asked anyway. Why doesn’t the U.S. help get rid of Hamas? Why does the world blame us? Bush understood terror, so why didn’t he stop it? Yaacov, a divorced father with a 7 year old daughter stood up in disgust, asking "do you know how many houses we have built and rebuilt in this town? No one has the money to pay for this work and the government rarely helps and when it does it is slow and undependable", "Olmert (Prime minister Ehud Olmert) is more interested in getting his picture in the paper than helping the citizens of this country", his emotion flows over when I ask what he thinks should be done. "Carpet bomb the whole Gaza Strip, they asked for Hamas, let them pay the price" . A heated discussion breaks out. Some people agree, most say "we are Jews, we can’t turn into them". 100% agreement that Kadima can’t win in the upcoming election, nothing will change if they do. So much emotion has been expended in this outburst, a long, quiet pause in which Rivka a 49 year old grandmother is relieved that none of her children live in Sderot, but she won’t leave, this is her home. When I attempt to take her picture she says no, she is "embarrassed to be poor" because of the situation of her town. She wants to work but Sderot has a 50% unemployment rate.

Sasson ends the conversation "We (the west) sleeps while bandits enter our home, we sleep on, when we wake up it may be too late". "This is not Israel’s problem. It is between the Arabs and Iran. We know we will survive as a people but in what kind of a world?"
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