MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Israeli blockade of Gaza was aimed at stopping rocket attacks into southern Israel by Palestinian militant groups. The most frequent target of those rockets is the town of Sderot, less than a mile from the Gaza border. Thousands of residents have fled the town, and many businesses have closed. Israeli psychologists say many residents who've decided to stay are suffering from trauma.
NPR's Linda Gradstein reports from Sderot.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: The daily Qassam rocket fire has taken over Chava Gad's life. She says she used to be an efficient, upbeat person who managed a local office. But she hasn't worked in two years and can't concentrate long enough even to fold a load of laundry. Sitting in her small living room, she panics when an alarm signals an incoming rocket.
Ms. CHAVA GAD (Sderot Resident): We hear the alarm.
GRADSTEIN: Chava rushes to the hallway at the back of the apartment and cowers, her hands over her face. Her 16-year-old daughter, Shai, puts her arm around her mother and tries to calm her down.
Ms. SHAI GAD (Sderot Resident): (Speaking in foreign language)
GRADSTEIN: In less than a minute, it's over. The rocket has landed somewhere in or near the town. Chava returns to the living room, opens her purse, and swallows another valium.
Ms. GAD: I'm shaking.
GRADSTEIN: She says the tranquilizers are her only way of coping.
Ms. GAD: The last month, it was worse - more rockets, more - and the rocket with a lot of more explosives. So they give me - my doctors gave me more tablets. So if I was taking three different tablets, now I take five or, sometimes, six.
GRADSTEIN: Last week alone, more than 200 Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza, many of them landing in or around Sderot. The crude, homemade rockets are notoriously inaccurate. But Chava says her 9-year-old son, Yanai, is terrified.
Ms. GAD: Last Thursday, I take him to the trauma center because the rocket fall 50 meters from here, and all the house was shaking. And he start to be breathless and shaking. He's not able to stop.
(Soundbite of people talking)
GRADSTEIN: At Sderot's open-air fruit and vegetable market, Benny Yakubu says business is way down. He blames the Israeli government for not doing enough to stop the rocket fire.
Mr. BENNY YAKUBU (Market Vendor): (Through translator) Israel gives the Palestinians in Gaza electricity, gas, food. Why are they doing that? They should cut off everything until the rockets stop. Our government is useless.
GRADSTEIN: Three years ago, before Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, there were 24,000 Israelis living in Sderot. The municipality doesn't have exact figures, but residents say that only about 18,000 remain. Last year, more than 2,000 rockets landed in Sderot and the surrounding area. Two Israelis were killed, and dozens were wounded.
Some here try to find humor in the rocket attacks. Shimon Buskila, a hairdresser, has invented a Qassam hairdo. It's a model of a Qassam made out of synthetic hair that can be attached to a customer's real hair. He's put a poster of it on the salon's front door.
Mr. SHIMON BUSKILA (Hairdresser): (Through translator) We can't go on like this. Either sign a peace deal or go into Gaza and get rid of the people who launch rockets.
GRADSTEIN: Shimon recently spent almost $20,000 to build a reinforced room in his home to protect against rocket attacks. Last week, he says, a rocket careened off his roof and crashed into his backyard. Luckily, he says, it didn't explode.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Sderot.
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