I WENT YESTERDAY to Sderot, the largest Israeli town that borders the Gaza strip. I had been there once before and had noticed the strange abstractness of the place, and been creeped out by it. All crappy suburbs feel abstract, presenting more the idea of living — houses, streets, schools — than the messiness and uproar of actual life, but Sderot’s sterility goes deeper, accentuated by the cement bomb shelters attached to every dwelling, and the public shelters at bus stops and in parks. All of them, in their concrete and often graffitied shabbiness, are devoted to the protection of “life,” bare life, or something like it — something that feels a lot like death. Which makes life — this sweating, pulsing, vertiginous thing — feel somehow insufficient, obscene, undeserving of these squat, sepulchral monuments. Which is perhaps why the local kids feel compelled to spray-paint them, drink beer in them, break bottles and pee in the corners. Life finds a way to revolt.
Yesterday there were rockets falling in Sderot. A couple of times an hour the sirens would sound and the few people in the streets — paunchy old Russian men, sulky, skinny-jeaned Ethiopian teens — would scurry to the shelters. Few took the trouble to stand all the way inside. From the open doorways you could crane your exposed neck and search the sky for contrails — not only from the rockets launched in Gaza, but from the missiles launched by Israel to knock them from the air. When the two collided, the white trails of the rockets terminated in little puffs of smoke. A moment later, you heard the impact: not a blast but a gentle, popping thud.
The rockets themselves are more like the ones you might have learned to build in high school shop class than any sort of 21st-century artillery: thick metal pipes with fins welded on, an engine at the base, a few pounds of explosive at the head, the latter usually insufficient for much by way of destruction. What little damage they do is caused mainly by the momentum of their impact. I saw a pottery studio in a nearby kibbutz that had just been hit: there was a hole in the roof, some scattered concrete, but no blast, no sign of char or flames. The ceramic pots on the shelves and the windows on the other side of the room remained intact. Once the rockets have cooled down, the Sderot police pick them up and store them in rusting heaps on shelves behind the station. Most, even after detonating, remain bent or torn but basically intact. They would, in other words, have to hit you nearly spot on to do you much harm. This is why, although the IDF reported that more than 570 rockets had been launched from Gaza since Tuesday (life finds a way to revolt) not a single Israeli has yet been killed. One of the only two serious injuries came this morning, when a rocket chanced to fall on a gas station in Ashdod, causing a fuel tank to explode. Most Israelis who have been hurt have suffered, per Haaretz, “light injuries caused when running to shelters.””