From my recent visit to Sderot - The small city of Sderot, Israel sits just under three miles from the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. This places the city within the range of the homemade al-Qassam rocket, manufactured in the machine and welding shops in Gaza City, and launched from the strip of land south of Bayt Hanun and closest to Sderot.
Since Israel dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip and withdrew its military forces in 2005, over 8000 al-Qassam rockets have been fired at Sderot. There have been 13 deaths attributed to the rockets. The photo shows three al-Qassam rockets being fired at Sderot, seen from Mitzneh hill in Sderot.
Israel and Hamas had a temporary ceasefire (in Arabic, a hudnah, or "lull") in effect for six months - that ended in December. Immediately after the truce expired, Hamas began firing dozens of al-Qassam rockets into Sderot every day. Life reverted to the pre-truce days of running for safe rooms and public shelters. The precast shelter above sits next to a parking lot and school.
All new homes in Israel are required to have air-tight reinforced shelters. Many existing structures, especially in areas with Hamas rocket range are being refitted with safe rooms.
Once the launch of an al-Qassam is detected, a warning is issued over loudspeakers thoughout the town of 20,000 people. There are multiple sensors used to detect rocket launches, like the network of blimps (photo). The warning is the two Hebrew words, "tzevah adom" - meaning "color red." The warning system and shelters have saved lives.
Schools have been protected by external steel roofs and awnings to prevent the ball bearings and nails packed as shrapnel in the rockets from penetrating classrooms.
The last al-Qassam fired in this round struck Sderot a few hours after the unilateral Israeli ceasefire went into effect on January 18. Note the date on the rocket in the photo. It was fired to make a statement, a gesture.
The al-Qassams that have hit Sderot are on display at the city police station.
There is a new sense of patriotism and pride in Sderot as the rockets have stopped and the people believe that the Israeli armed forces have dealt a blow to Hamas. Hopefully it will last for some time.