The camera fades into a bright and sunny day. There is a group of children sitting on the grass, shouting and laughing at a clown dancing in front of them. The kids seem to be around six or seven years old. The camera pans to reveal a small schoolyard complete with seesaws and picnic tables.
Suddenly, a siren blares across the yard. A woman’s voice crackles over the loudspeaker, repeating “Tzeva adom, tzeva adom” (“Code red, code red”). The calm voice sharply contrasts with the ensuing panic as the children sprint for shelter. A rocket has been fired from nearby Gaza and will hit within the next 15 seconds. There is no way of knowing where the rocket will fall, so the children are hurried by their teachers back inside the school. As they huddle together, teachers and students sing children’s’ songs to drown out the sound of the nearby explosion.
This scene is one of many captured on film by Noam Bedein, founder of the Sderot Media Center (SMC). Through his work with the SMC, Bedein documents life in Sderot, a city of 20,000 situated one kilometre from Gaza’s border. Since the turn of the century, some 8,000 Qassam and mortar rockets have been fired into Sderot. After Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, rocket attacks against southern Israel have increased dramatically: over 2,500 rockets were launched over the last three years. Sometimes, up to 30 rockets per day hit the town.
“This story is not being told,” says Bedein. “No one, outside of Israel, really knows what’s happening.”
It was while studying at nearby Sapir College that Bedein said he witnessed the physical devastation and psychological trauma caused by terrorism firsthand. What he also said he did not see was news coverage of the destruction happening around him everyday. This lack of exposure inspired him to use his abilities as a photographer to give the tens of thousands of Israelis under attack a human face and a voice.
“Israel is the only place in the world where rockets are being aimed at civilian populations. No other country in the world would tolerate even one rocket being fired on their territory,” said Bedein.
Bedein was brought in to speak at McGill University last week by Hillel Montreal as part of their cross-campus awareness campaign “My Heart Is With Sderot.”
Though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a hot-button issue on Montreal’s campuses, Bedein maintains that his work is not politically motivated.
“We show the reality of what it’s like to live in Sderot,” he said. “We have to get information out. We’re not here to give you the solution, we’re here to create awareness.”
Bedein said he still faces resentment from those who point to the Palestinian civilians in Gaza that have also been killed. “It’s an unfortunate fact that civilians are amongst the dead in Gaza, but the reality is that 97 per cent of these rockets are fired from amongst civilian populations,” he said. “These terror militias are using their own families and children as a human shield; that is considered a war crime. This is what we’re dealing with,” he added.
Currently touring North American university campuses, Bedein continues to spread the word about the situation in Sderot. “By becoming their voice and face, that is the hope we can give the entire region.”
Information about Sderot Media Watch can be found at www.sderotmedia.com.