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Rocket Attacks Rattle Israeli Nerves

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Rocket Attacks Rattle Israeli Nerves

Middle East

Rocket Attacks Rattle Israeli Nerves

Rocket Attacks Rattle Israeli Nerves

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Six months after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, communities on both sides of the border are coming to terms with the new arrangement. On the Israeli side of the Gaza fence, daily life is suffering under the strain of rocket attacks.

RENEE MONTAGNE,host:

This is MORNING EDITION. From NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.

An aide to acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has revealed plans to evacuate additional West Bank settlements and define Israel's permanent borders. That is, if Olmert's Kadima Party wins the March 28th election.

Six months after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, communities on both sides of the border face nearly daily rocket and artillery fire. From the ruins of former Jewish settlements in Gaza and nearby areas, Palestinian militants are firing rockets that strike communities in southern Israel that had never been hit before. The Israeli Army is responding with a daily barrage of artillery fire.

We have reports from both sides, first NPR's Eric Westervelt in southern Israel.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Thirty-eight-year-old Marab Shusterman(ph) and her family moved to this seaside southern Israeli town of Nativa Sara(ph) 12 years ago from a settlement inside the Gaza Strip. They came for the increased security, she says, and the scenery.

Ms. MARAB SHUSTERMAN (Nativa Sara Resident): Because it's a beautiful place. There is a beautiful view in here. You can see the sea. It's a dream.

WESTERVELT: But now, Shusterman says, my dream has exploded in my face. Most everyday Palestinian militants fire homemade Kasam(ph) rockets from Northern Gaza toward this small Mediterranean town. The upstairs of her two story house is now a big storage area. The family's too afraid to sleep there. These days, they live mainly in two first floor rooms. They know live a hunkered down life by the sea.

Ms. SHUSTERMAN: Every morning we woke up from the Kasam and every night we go to sleep with the Kasam. It's like part of the day. Here my house was hit by the Kasam. It hit a wall on the other side of the road, and a few minutes before my son was outside with a ball, playing outside.

WESTERVELT: Shusterman opens the thick metal plates that covers the windows in the small safe room. It's a thick-walled bomb shelter. The floor is packed with three narrow mattresses, for children ages 14, 13, and six sleep here every night and often play and do homework here too. If a rocket is launched, a military loudspeaker, most of the time, blares the warning Shachar Adom(ph), or Red Dawn, Red Dawn. The parents sleep with the windows open to hear the warnings.

Ms. SHUSTERMAN: We don't put the television loudly. My children, they are in the age of listening to music in a Walkman, whatever. They are afraid to do it. They are afraid to do it so if there will be Kasam.

WESTERVELT: During the first three months of last year, before Israel pulled out of Gaza, 40 rockets from Gaza struck inside Israel. In the same period this year, 96 rockets have landed inside Israel, including more than 30 near Nativa Sara. The injuries have been few, but the scars, Shusterman says, are many. She's worried her kids, especially her youngest, will be mentally damaged by the Palestinian rocket fire. She's consulting with a child psychologist this week. Her son's learning to differentiate incoming from outgoing fire, she says, when he should be riding his bike.

Ms. SHUSTERMAN: My son, my youngest son, he's six years old, he told me, Are all (unintelligible) like this? I tell him no, no. Six years old, you understand where, what situation do we live in.

WESTERVELT: But if the rockets are terrifying, the Israeli military response, Shusterman says, is almost as bad. Long volleys of heavy artillery rounds rattle windows and nerves here. The military fires into open fields in Gaza to try to deter rocket fire. The Palestinians are laughing at us, Shusterman says in disgust. The artillery fire does nothing.

Ms. SHUSTERMAN: Nobody has a solution. We don't know how to deal with it. I'm not happy when they are so, and I'm not happy myself.

WESTERVELT: If Shusterman is conflicted or unsure about what the Israeli response should be, one of her neighbors is not.

Mr. RANIN AVERSOR(ph) (Nativa Sara Resident): We have to speak the same language. And we should make their life miserable, the same as our life here.

WESTERVELT: Thirty-nine-year-old Ranin Aversor and his wife Adid(ph) have two children: eight-year-old Omri(ph) and three-year-old Yowli(ph). Ranin runs a nearby car dealership. They live in a comfortable house with a nice yard and gazebo. He says he doesn't want to teach his kids that in Israel you need to move every few years to stay safe.

Mr. AVERSOR: I'm inside my state and I'm not intending to move out. I want to fight and I want my government to fight. And if we have to use more forces and be more brutal, that's what we're going to do.

WESTERVELT: Down the street, Marab Shusterman says her family has had several intense, difficult meetings on whether to stay or go.

Ms. SHUSTERMAN: I don't make damage to my children for the rest of their life. I told my children, Let's take the (unintelligible) and go away from here. My children told me, No, mother, we want to stay here.

WESTERVELT: The Shustermans say for now they are staying, but then with an exhausted look on her face, Marab says, I feel like I'm choking. I don't want to be choked anymore.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News.

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