From Sderot, an Open Letter to Gunter Grass

Dear Mr. Grass,

In reaction to your recent poem, Israeli Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai has declared you persona non grata in Israel. While I can empathize with the feeling Yishai expressed by his action, he might also have considered it good for your education if you would visit Israel, and specifically the little town of Sderot, where I live and write. I will be delighted to show you around Sderot for some educational sightseeing. It might do you good. You worry about what Israel might do to Iran, but I will show you what Iran has done to Israel through her ally Hamas.

Our first stop will be a pleasant square in the middle of Sderot. A musical statue presides here. Behind the square stands an unusual structure: a huge, curving piece of concrete that stretches over a local school. A thousand years hence, this outlandish architecture will baffle archeologists excavating Sderot. No one will guess what function it might have fulfilled, unless written records of our time survive to explain this mystery. The curvaceous concrete is a huge bomb-shelter whose purpose is to prevent Hamas terrorists from killing the children who study in that school with the rockets they fire from across the border in the Gaza Strip. Iran, the country whose actions you equate to Israel’s, financially and militarily helps those murderers.

Our next stop will be a hole that a kassam rocket made in a Sderot street. Sderot has many holes to choose from. The municipality customarily fills in the central hole the rocket’s nose makes, so that people will be able to drive down that street, but they leave the smaller holes the shrapnel digs in the asphalt. Rockets landing in a public park or an open field generally just disappear after a few months. A home that gets a kassam through its roof is of course repaired. If shrapnel can dig such holes in asphalt, what does it do when it hits the face of a Sderot child?

I will take you, Mr. Grass, to one of the places where Hamas gave your Iranian friends a happy day. One of their rockets killed two Jewish children, immigrants from Ethiopia, who were playing together in a street. I know their family, but I doubt they would want to meet you. Another place we might visit is a courtyard where I spent an evening cleaning up the shards of broken windows that a kassam causes when it lands among buildings. I will show you where a child ran for cover when he heard the alarm, where the rocket detonated, and the shop to which this ten-year-old boy ran to call an ambulance after shrapnel hit him in his shoulder and his chest. He was lucky: he has and will have major problems using that arm. This is in contrast to our next stop, the child-victim struck here will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

During my research in Sderot I have interviewed many people whose lives Muslim terrorists have interrupted. Sderot’s tormentors chose to celebrate Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza by shooting at civilians in Israeli towns near the new border. My interviews here can be unpleasant to hear, although they also inspire by showing what the human spirit can endure. The people of Sderot continue to work and to live and build good lives for themselves and their families, although the rocket-scars they pass while walking down any street remind them of the danger under which they raise their children.

Some deal with the terror better than others: a little girl once wet her pants while her mother and I were discussing the effect the rockets had caused to her family.

Iran actively helps the Hamas radical Islamists, whose only regret about terrifying that little girl is that they did not kill her, her family, and all of her friends. The Iranian friends of Hamas are now working on bigger and better rockets that can carry the nuclear bombs Iran is developing. With these big rockets, the Iranians hope to achieve what the little rockets Hamas uses on Sderot cannot: the extermination of an entire people.

To counter this threat, Israel has purchased three nuclear-capable submarines from Germany, and is about to purchase three more. That a German company sells Israel the means to defend herself bothers you. However, your poem does not mention that other German firms have made huge fortunes selling Iran some of the equipment it uses to build its nuclear capability.

Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have said many times that they want to use that capability to kill all Jews everywhere. They hope to finish the job your old leader began — the one whose uniform you wore in 1945.

Israel is taking and continues to take measures to prevent the kassams from being fired from Gaza into Sderot and other Israeli towns. During the most recent period of intense shooting from Gaza, Israel was able to prevent heavy damage with its recently developed anti-missile system, and because Israel’s air force struck a number of Hamas missile-firing teams before they could shoot their weapons at Israel’s civilians. It was therefore less urgent for Israeli ground forces to enter Gaza now than it had been earlier.

These Muslim missiles were aimed at Israeli towns; their targets were ordinary Israeli civilians who live in those cities, people like the little girl who wet her pants during that conversation. A kassam has no purpose besides killing people and terrorizing civilians.

Israel’s armed forces are today more capable of defending her citizens against these attacks, but the emotional damage remains. Children and old people suffer most, but a chiropractor volunteering in Sderot told me he had never seen such a high proportion of stiff, tense backs while he walked down the street. I have no statistics, but I seem to hear about a lot of bed-wetting children, and parents have told me they do not like to see their children go outdoors to play. Tension rises between parents and children: the children feel guilty about wanting to go outside, and the parents feel guilty about worrying about their playing in the park. Even though the chances are against a rocket exploding in Sderot now, hearing that alarm several times a day is a painful and damaging experience.

The child who wet her pants, she was about ten years old — she was born around the time the rockets began. Sderot is a wonderful, green, friendly little place where children should spend happy years; what effect will these rockets have on the way that girl raises her own children?

Your Iranian friends for whom you profess so much worry have proved their murderous intentions here in Sderot. They are now building nuclear weapons in order to kill that little girl before she is old enough to worry about her own children. The Israeli government’s job is to protect its citizens. Israel has developed and deployed nuclear weapons to that end. Their purpose is to deter the Iranians from doing what they want to do, which is to commit genocide. Israel will also deploy an anti-missile system that will hopefully intercept incoming Iranian nuclear missiles before they hit Israeli cities. Many voices have been raised in Israel and elsewhere in favor of Israel and other countries knocking out the Iranian nuclear capacity before it can be fully deployed. People can read the various arguments for and against a preemptive strike elsewhere — the pros and cons of preventive war are not my subject here. Israel’s counter-measures are, however, exactly that: we find it necessary to defend ourselves against people who want to exterminate all of us, and who are actively working to achieve that goal. Whether the ways in which Israel is compelled to defend herself are “nice” or not is another question. Juries are supposed to consist of the “peers” or equals of those they judge; the jury judging Israel should be empanelled from countries that have been exterminated within recent memory, and whose enemies constantly state their intentions to do so again. Germany and all other European countries might well be eligible for that jury after Iran gets rockets that bring Europe into its range.

Former SS men in particular are spectacularly ineligible to serve on that jury.

And so, Mr. Grass, I repeat my invitation to you to visit our little town of Sderot. You will learn a few new things. You have nothing to fear from the people of Sderot; murderous vengeful hate is conspicuously absent from Jewish culture. The only danger you will fear will be the outside chance that your friends might hit you with one of their kassams while you autograph your books in Hebrew translation for Sderot’s public library.