‘Too many memories’: Sderot residents return six months after Hamas attack

DSderot, an Israeli town just one kilometer away from the northeastern corner of the Gaza Strip, is still silent six months after October 7. The police station where Hamas militants took hostages and exchanged gunfire with militants no longer exists. Israel The Defense Forces (IDF) fought for two days before Israel decided to blow up the building. The site has been razed and is now the site of flags and monuments.

Seventy people were killed and about 90% of the town’s 28,000 residents were evacuated, with most staying in hotels across the country. A huge new mural paying homage to the town adorns the walls of an apartment building.

On Thursday, air-raid sirens blared in nearby towns for weeks as rockets were fired from Gaza for the first time in nearly three months, a reminder that the war is not over. But a month ago, the Israeli government decided it was time for Sderot residents to start returning home.

A shopping mall on the outskirts of the city is even more lively. The parking lot was filled with hundreds of cars, and families with children milled around the newly opened restaurants and cafes. Everyone the Guardian spoke to expressed mixed feelings about the return.

“We came back on Sunday but we thought we were leaving again. It’s not the same city anymore. There are so many memories,” said Sivan, 30, whose three-year-old daughter Sheli is happily with her new baby play. Toys, wooden horses. “It’s not good to stay in a hotel. It’s just a room, not a home. We have to come up with a new plan.”

A mural painted next to the old police station in Sderot. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum/The Guardian

A repopulation program for communities evacuated from southern Israel will see families receive grants of up to 64,000 shekels (£13,500) if they return. While the 60,000 evacuees will be able to stay in hotel accommodation until July 1, the amount of available grants will be reduced week by week: those who have been away the longest will receive around 10% of the full amount available.

Schools in Sderot reopened in early March, a development that led to the return of many families. For Neil, 40, who brought his wife and three daughters home last month, readjusting has been difficult.

Fighting raged throughout the town on October 7 and 8, with the entire family locked in a safe room before being rescued by special forces. His oldest child, seven-year-old Elia, is now struggling to leave home. Her best friend’s parents were killed, and Neil lost his friend in the life attack.

He estimates that about 20 percent of his neighbors have left for good. “My wife wants things to go back to normal, but I think for the sake of the girls we need to start over somewhere else away from the alarm,” he said. He, Elia and her sister Gaia were waiting for burgers.

For many Israelis, the worst of the war in Gaza is over. Most of the reservists have been rotated, with three and a half brigades now operating in the central city of Khan Younis, compared with seven when ground forces first entered the Gaza Strip late last year. In Tel Aviv bars in October, people were already talking about it in the past tense – “when I was drafted,” “when the rockets fell.”

But as Israel’s actions in Gaza claim more and more lives – 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the past six months – there is a sense that the rest of the world has forgotten or downplayed the trauma of that day, Hamas The war broke out, killing more than 1,100 people and taking about 250 people hostage.

It is believed that at the site of the Nova Festival Not one of the targets of Hamas’s plan But militants killed 360 partygoers and raped and kidnapped many more, and now photos of the dead are surrounded by candles, flowers, Israeli flags and notes and tributes from loved ones.

The eucalyptus grove has become a pilgrimage site for Israelis and foreigners who come to pay their respects. A police officer who responded to the Oct. 7 massacre spoke of his condolences to a group of visiting Americans on Thursday; many cried as they walked around the site, with nearby gunfire occasionally breaking the reverent atmosphere. .

“My parents survived the Holocaust,” said Jerry Kirstein, 73, who traveled from Miami to visit his daughter. “OTSD, that’s what everybody in this country has: ongoing trauma.” Stress disorder.”

The family lost a friend, a first responder, killed in a shootout at a nearby military base. “Now the world is judging Israel for its actions in defending its people. It’s crazy,” Kirstein said.

On October 7, Israeli soldiers deployed in areas of Sderot where civilians were killed. Photo: Oren Ziv/AFP/Getty Images

The international community has increasingly raised questions about the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces in the conflict, including its use of Artificial Intelligence Powered Aiming System The situation, revealed by The Guardian, may have contributed to the alarmingly high death toll and Israel’s inability or unwillingness to avert looming famine through increased aid.

Even in the face of new pressure from the United States, Israel’s main ally, for an immediate ceasefire and “concrete, measurable steps to address civilian harm,” Israeli public support for the war remains strong — even as trust in the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu status is very low.

This week saw the largest street protests since the war began. Although the demonstrators, who included family members of the remaining hostages, had varying motivations, they were united in calling for early elections.

Netanyahu is widely believed to be seeking to delay the end of the war and play up the possibility of an all-out conflict with Hezbollah in the north to prevent elections. Remaining in office remains his best chance of defeating Lebanon. He has consistently denied corruption charges and evaded responsibility for Israel’s failure to protect its people on October 7.

Cassie, a 19-year-old student from Manchester, said she last visited Israel two years ago. “I think Israel has changed a lot since October 7, but everyone else has changed,” she said. “People in college are difficult to get along with. They may not know I’m Jewish, but I see their views on social media. The way people view Israel has changed.”

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