Sleepless in Sderot

Living in Sderot these days is all about listening and waiting. It feels like there is going to be a real War. You can hear everything. Sometimes we hear a far away boom. We look at each other and say: "Must be us. Must be us bombing them." We hear helicopters. The first time I heard a helicopter here I realized suddenly that this isn't LA. Its not a news helicopter or a police helicopter, or most likely not even a hospital helicopter. A helicopter here can only be one thing. IDF. The first time I heard airplanes, I realized there was no airport around here. You hear airplanes and they are military airplanes. If they are loud, probably F-16s.

I am living here in Sderot, making a film about the situation through the eyes of Sderot's musicians. I live with Avi Vaknin, one of the musicians in my film, and Aner Moss, who is working as my cinematographer.

I am sad and angry today. It has been a really difficult week here. Wednesday the qassam attacks escalated. Several fell on Sapir College, which is just a couple of minutes from here, killing a student. Many landed in Ashkelon -- one on a hospital. The attacks continued Thursday with more injuries. Because the rockets started hitting Ashkelon, the Prime Minister (while eating sushi on a trip to Japan) announced that Hamas is trying his patience.

Below is a journal of the last 36 hours:

Friday, 3:00AM:

Tzeva Adom (Color Red Alert) does not go off, but there is a weird alarm going off -- its the alarm that usually goes off after there are several Tzeva Adoms in a row. It wakes us all up, and we don't know what to do -- do we run to the shelter? Maybe it is a mistake. I make a mental note to try and interview someone about the Tzeva Adom system.

Friday, 10:00AM:

I say (out loud) that we are lucky there is no Tzeva Adom this morning. A half an hour later, we are getting ready to leave the house: Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom. We run into the shelter. This time, we hear the whistle. Avi always told me, that the scariest moment is when you can hear the whistle, because it means it is landing right near you. After the whistle, a huge boom that rattles the house. We run out to the street, all the neighbors have come out and everybody yells, "Where did it fall?" People are running around looking. We finally realize it has fallen across the street on the back side of our house. Luckily there are no homes there, just an open field.

Friday, 4:30PM:

Right before Shabbat. Avi's brother and his family stop by to visit. His 8-year-old twin nieces are chasing our cat around our backyard and playing catch with grapefruits they picked from the trees. Aner is filming. All of the sudden, a huge boom. It was a Kassam WITHOUT the Tzeva Adom warning -- one of the scariest things possible. Then it starts: Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom. We run into the shelter. More explosions. Close.

Friday, 8:00PM:

Shabbat dinner at Avi's parents. Avi is really depressed and angry. He keeps asking, "Is this a way to live? Why? Why?" He doesn't usually get this worked up, but something about seeing his nieces exposed to the danger makes him sad. He can't eat.

Friday, 10:00PM:

We can hear singing and cheering. It's a huge group of Bnei Akiva scouts, they tell me, I go out with Avi's nephew, Lidor, another one of my subjects who is in the Sderot Youth Choir. We see six hundred young people from a group called "Lev Ehad (One heart.)" They hold Israeli flags and walk through the streets of Sderot singing, clapping, and cheering, to show solidarity. It's an amazing sight.

Friday, 10:30PM:

We are driving home. We have the radio tuned to 104fm, where after 9PM there is silence, but the Tzeva Adom warning is broadcast -- supposedly a couple of seconds before you can hear the loudspeakers. We stop the car and run up the walkway to the nearest house. We bang on the door. Nobody home. We get close to the wall of the house, just in case. For the first time I am afraid, I can hear my own heart beating. Something about the process of trying to run and not knowing where to go.

Friday, Midnight:

We are sitting in our house drinking coffee with Robbie and Lavi -- two of Avi's friends -- film students from Sapir college. Robbie is really mad. They are talking about how upsetting it is that seven years of rockets and the government doesn't care, but now that rockets hit Askhelon, its suddenly not okay anymore. Robbie says it is because of who live here -- Mizrachim (Jews from Arab countries) not Askenazim. Poor people. The government doesn't care about the people of Sderot -- but Askhelon is now the limit. Avi talks about his new song. Its called, "Sushi in Japan." I presume it is about Olmert, eating his sushi.

Saturday, 2:00AM:

Tzeva adom. This is strange -- doesn't usually happen at this hour. We run to the shelter. Can't hear a boom. Maybe its too far. I get back in bed and try to sleep. I hear helicopters.

Saturday, 5:00AM:

Tzeva Adom.

Saturday, sometime between 5 and 7AM:

One or two Tzeva Adoms. I don't remember. I don't get up, I don't wake up. I just stay in bed. Screw it all. If they want to bomb me, go ahead.

Saturday, 7:30AM:

Tzeva Adom. We wake up and run to the shelter. I am so tired I can't even stand up. Get back in bed. I can hear gunfire. Really loud gunfire... like a machine gun. Is is from a tank or a helicopter or something.

Saturday, 9:30AM:

Tzeva Adom. Okay, maybe its time to get up. I hear airplanes -- really loud. Must be F-16's.

Saturday, Noon:

Helicopters. I get online. I can't help it. What does it say in the news. Thirty-three qassams from yesterday until now. Twenty-six people killed in Gaza, including some civilians. Several IDF soldiers injured.

I look at the press from the West and get very angry. Its mostly about their injuries. Another article about Palestinian protests about our attacks. This is ridiculous. If there were no rockets raining on us the IDF wouldn't have anything to do there. I don't like the way we are portrayed. We don't want this war. They are dragging us in. What can we do? There are rockets raining on us daily. But in the media we look like the aggressors. It feels so unfair to be sitting here and reading that. My entire perspective has changed. I used to think that Israel needed to take care of how it looked to the western world -- that we can't look like monsters. Now I know it doesn't matter. They will paint us however they want. I just can't read the news anymore, it makes me too angry. We need to move forward with our lives, protect ourselves. The government has a responsibility to protect its people. The question is, what is the best way to do that?

Saturday, 2pm:

Tzeva Adom. I'm alone in the house, I run to the shelter.

Saturday, 3pm:

Tzeva Adom. I stay at my desk. This is ridiculous.

Saturday, 7pm:

The news. Two Israeli soldiers killed. 45 Palestinians.

As I am writing this, more helicopters. More guns. Very depressed.

Laura Bialis is a filmmaker living in Sderot.