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Sderot residents return home, skeptical about promises of security

Only about one-third of residents have returned to the city in Israel's south, in which 80 citizens were killed on Oct. 7.

The police station in Sderot after it was destroyed following the invasion of Hamas terrorists and a battle that took place there on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
The police station in Sderot after it was destroyed following the invasion of Hamas terrorists and a battle that took place there on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Educational institutions opened on Sunday in Sderot, from day care centers to high schools, for the first time since they were shuttered five months ago following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Sderot, located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip and with a population of some 30,000, lost 80 residents in the terrorist invasion.

Only about 30% of the city’s population has returned so far.

“This [residents’ return] will happen in a phased manner, and that’s perfectly fine,” said Mayor Alon Davidi on Sunday morning.

“Everyone should take their own steps according to their own security and feelings. We know that there are people who would prefer to stay out of the city until the end of the year, or maybe until Passover. We love everyone. We understand everyone. Our job is to enable and provide the best possible response in whatever way we can,” he added.

“Last week, we conducted a lot of exercises with the [Israel Defense Forces] Southern Command. There were also briefings with the commander of the Southern Command, the division commander and the brigade commander,” Davidi told Channel 12.

He said hundreds of soldiers, policemen and members of the security squads—defensive units made up of local residents—were out to welcome the students and ensure their safety.

However, returning residents expressed mixed feelings.

“I have a bad intuition,” Oshrat Hazot, who returned with her family to the city last week, told Channel 12 while packing in the temporary Tel Aviv apartment where she was staying. “I feel that when we go back there, everything will start again because Hamas knows that they [the Israeli government] set us a return date of March 1. I don’t go wholeheartedly but I have no choice.”

Once back in Sderot, she said she was both “very scared” and “excited,” adding, “I hope that this joy will really remain and we won’t hear the alarms again. May it be quiet.”

Hani Shlomo, who returned with her four children, expressed “sadness mixed with fear…They [Hamas] were here in the neighborhood, so this fear will always remain.”

He husband, Police Sergeant Adir Shlomo, was killed in his car two minutes after leaving his home on Oct. 7.

“Now I’m starting to digest. Suddenly it hits you. Suddenly you walk into an empty house,” his widow said.

The residents’ fears were in part realized when a rocket alert sounded in the city on Saturday at 6:30 a.m.

The government is trying to incentivize residents to return to their homes, presenting a compensation plan that grants more money the earlier they return. Grants can reach up to tens of thousands of shekels per family.

“The grants are meant to silence us,” said Hani. “It really doesn’t interest me. This is what will give me security?”

Some residents believe stronger action is needed to make the city safe.

“I voted for [Otzma Yehudit Party head Itamar] Ben-Gvir,” Maor Danan, who hadn’t yet returned with his family, told Channel 12.

“I should vote more radical. There was a certain lawlessness here. I don’t want to blame anyone [specific]. All the heads of government who have been in the last 10 years, as far as I’m concerned—to prison. All members of the Knesset, ministers, General Staff, the chief of staff.”

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