May 24, 2007
While some residents request prolonged hotel stays, only 200 people choose to relocate temporarily to Tel Aviv; Sources attribute low number to small remaining amount population in Sderot
No rush for the buses Photo: Amir Cohen
Area stores empty Photo: Amir Cohen
by Shmulik Hadad
Although businessman's Arcadi Gaydamak's struggles to build a safe haven for Sderot evacuees appeared formidable, the billionaire's current guest less is much less so. As of Thursday afternoon, only some 200 residents of the city had signed up
Sources from the headquarters of the struggle for Sderot's safety, who are responsible for consolidating the lists, explained that the low response rate was the result of the small number of citizens remaining in the city.
Batia Katar, the chairwoman of the Sderot parents' association and a member of the headquarters, told Ynet "the first group to go to the tent city contains 150 people, and the second group will contain 60 people.
"Whoever wants to go can come and sign up. Unlike last time, there just aren't a lot of people left to do so, despite statements by certain people that there are thousands of residents remaining. You can wander around the town and see that it's empty."
The Sderot municipality estimated that not more than a few hundred residents will choose to go to the tent city, although some of them may leave the area for short periods of time.
Currently, various organizations have been funding or organizing events that allow residents a brief respite from the rocket-plagued region. Some 1,500 children from Sderot and the Gaza vicinity were recently treated to a vacation day, courtesy of the Jewish Agency.
Tent city in Tel Aviv (Photo: Niv Calderon)
A few hundred additional children from the Shaar Hanegev area are being hosted at the Society for the Protection of Nature's field school. Citizens from across the country have been calling in to a Sderot municipality hotline, volunteering to host families or residents of the city.
The public library has a list where residents can sign up to take similar vacation days, sponsored by the municipality or Defense Ministry, but these lists are also short. Only a few dozen people have signed up and, as such, the trips may be canceled.
There are some residents who do not want to leave the city as a matter of principle. "No one will move me from my house," said Oshrat Amar. "My home is the safest place for me and I will not evacuate. I haven't taken any vacation days."
On the other hand, many of the city's residents who spent recent days in Be'er Sheva hotels, thanks to Gaydamak's generosity, have asked to prolong their stay in order not to return to Sderot.
One such resident, Ilana, said "I'm a mother of four, with a month-old baby, and they offered us to move from the hotel to the tent city. I don't think I can be in a tent with a small baby, but on the other hand, I can't stay in Sderot."
Malka, who went to the hotel with her 90-year-old mother, added that she expected a solution that did not involve a tent.
Businesses need help
Meanwhile, in Sderot, mayors from towns in the north – which were heavily barraged during last summer's war – came to the city for a visit of solidarity.
Storeowner Aharon Hagai told them "we're trying to maintain the routine, but business collapsed a long time ago. They're trying to make the few remaining residents flee, too. We don't want to flee. We want to live here."
Shlomo Buchbut, mayor of the northern town of Maalot-Tarhisha, said he empathizes with the plight of the angry residents. "The government announced emergency status (for Sderot), but it must also declare front line status so that business owners will receive compensation for financial damages," he said.
"I recommend that business owners set up an organized committee to liaise with the government," he said.
The regional leaders from the north criticized Olmert and the government. "As heads of front line communities during the last war and the war before that, we are appalled that the government is demonstrating such ineptitude at protecting its citizens," they wrote.
"We are worried by the government's inability to solve problems that we already dealt with in the last war – evacuation of civilians, adequate fortifications, and upgrading of shelters. Don't let others help. The state has a sufficient budget."
Yael Branovsky contributed to the report