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Peace advocate in Israel’s most bombed town

The first thing that strikes you as you drive into this town in southern are the bomb shelters dotting the road. Some are painted with colourful graffiti, others are plain concrete structures without a door or the window.

world Updated: Aug 06, 2010 01:27 IST
Aloke Tikku

The first thing that strikes you as you drive into this town in southern are the bomb shelters dotting the road. Some are painted with colourful graffiti, others are plain concrete structures without a door or the window.

“This is probably the world’s most protected town,” says Sderot resident Eric Yellin, who has been raising a lonely voice for peace in the region. “Every house either has a protected room or is building one.”

Sderot town in the middle of the Negev desert has a population of nearly 20,000 people, mostly Jews who immigrated to with the dream of coming to the Holy Land, earlier from, and in recent years, from the erstwhile Soviet Union.

But its proximity to the Gaza strip four kilometres away implies that every time Palestinian groups such as the Hamas want to send a message to Jerusalem, they fire a rocket at Sderot.

There were none fired when a group of Indian journalists visited the town last week. It has been relatively quiet for the past year, Yellin points out.

There had been one the previous weekend, as always preceded by a siren bellowing the warning through the Negev speakers. Everyone has just 20 seconds to rush to the nearest bomb shelter.

In the last decade, 22 people have died and dozens injured despite the elaborate preparations. There were times when the town would suffer up to 60 rockets every day. People would spend their day running in, and out of bomb shelters.

But Yellin did not allow the trauma to resent the people living on the other side of the security fence. Instead, he started a group of volunteers who keep the communication channels between the people of Sderot and Gaza strip open.

Two years after he started the group, Other Voice, Yellin told the Hindustan Times that he had 70 volunteers. “We are the only organisation to have civilian contact in Gaza,” he said, convinced that the wall built on dehumanisation built on both sides needed to be dismantled.

Other Voice is one of the few organisations in that has been lobbying for relaxing “blockade into Gaza.” “We are concerned about security too but by not allowing development of a sustainable security, we are not allowing a moderate
society in Gaza to emerge,” he said.