Sedrot Mayor David Bouskila dropped by JTA’s offices today as part of his thank-you tour of American Jewish organizations that have sent money to help his rocket-beleaguered city (We haven’t sent Sderot money, but we have written about it and visited it).
Some of you may remember Bouskila from his first stint as Sderot mayor, from 1989-98. He was re-elected to the post last November, when Eli Moyal, dogged by corruption probes in his final year or two in office, departed the scene.
While things have quieted down in Sderot since Israel’s recent 22-day operation in Gaza, one to two rockets a day still fall in the town of 23,000 people — adding to the 8,000 or so rockets that have landed in Sderot since 2001. In those years, Sderot has seen 10 people killed from the rockets, some 5,000 residents report symptoms of trauma or PTSD, and millions of dollars in government and philanthropic investment arrive to help the city’s residents cope with the rocket attacks from Gaza.
Critics have slammed the government for being too slow in sending aid, and then sending too little of it.
Bouskila, too, says the government can do more — like paying to fix city property damaged by Kassam rockets, helping build neighborhood parks with rocket shelters and paying for additional psychologists to work at Sderot’s schools — but he also lauded several key measures the Israeli government has taken to help his city:
- Construction of some 1,480 reinforced rooms, outfitting roughly a third of Sderot’s single-story homes with rocket-proof units. Cost: $75 million.
- Beginning the next phase of protection, outfitting some 3,300 multistory homes and apartment buildings with sheltered rooms. Cost: $150 million.
- Starting to build 12 new schools in southwestern Israel, five of them in Sderot, that are 100 percent protected against rockets (ceilings and windows) and feature the latest technology for use in the classroom. Cost for the five schools in Sderot: $18 million.
In tandem with government investment, Sderot also has received millions of dollars from Diaspora Jews and some Christians, helping pay for:
- additional rocket shelters
- recreational activities outside the conflict zone for Sderot’s kids
- protected playgrounds
- extended school days
- trauma treatment, etc.
"For every issue you encounter in day-to-day life in Sderot, there has been an organization that has helped," said Bouskila, whose soft-spoken manner belies his tough-guy appearance
Bouskila was born and raised in Sderot. His home was hit twice by Kassam rockets. But he refuses to leave.
"We have no choice," he says. "We don’t have the privilege or ability to leave Sderot. We flee Sderot today, and tomorrow the rockets hit Ashkelon or Ashdod. To flee would mean leaving the only state we have."
An estimated 6,000 residents have left the town since it became a locus for Palestinian rocket fire eight years ago, but some have returned as the rockets have reached their new places of residence farther afield from Gaza, Bouskila noted.
Ultimately, the town’s destiny lies in the hands of decision-makers in Jerusalem (and, perhaps, those of rocket crews in Gaza), not the office of the mayor in Sderot. Bouskila says his job is to help the residents of his city any way he can.
That’s why, after years of living under Palestinian rocket fire, Bouskila’s still there. And it’s why, after a 10-year hiatus, he’s back in the mayor’s office.