If you were given 15 seconds to seek shelter from an approaching rocket, what would you do?
For Israelis living in Sderot, a city near the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, this question is not a hypothetical one.
Noam Bedein, a native Israeli photographer, is the director of the Sderot Media Center, a nonprofit media advocacy center dedicated to spreading the individual voices of Sderot to the international media and public. His presentation “What could YOU do in 15 seconds?” on Thursday evening drew roughly 30 people to the Michigan Union.
Last October marked Sderot’s 15th year under Qassam rocket fire from Hamas. Bedein said that since August of 2005 — when Israel gave up the Gaza strip territory — more than 24,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel.
Bedein focused on the normalizing effect that the constant threat of rockets has had on Israeli societies such as Sderot.
“I came to this town to become a student, not knowing too much about this rocket reality,” Bedein said. “I noticed how there’s no public office, government office or press center to speak out for the residents. I’ve established the Sderot Media Center to try becoming a voice and face of the region, pursuing this ongoing rocket reality, which somehow became acceptable.”
In a photograph he shared with the audience, a playground in Sderot featured a bomb shelter that was painted to appear like a caterpillar.
“For me the sum of this entire presentation in one photograph … this is it… when you picture a playground and a bomb shelter in one photograph. What other country in the world has a bomb shelter right next to a playground?” Bedein asked.
In a video clip he showed the audience, kindergarten students were seen playing outside when sirens went off. The students immediately ran inside to the nearest bomb shelter and began counting down. At the end of the countdown they sang a song. Bedein explained that the children are taught to sing the song to distract them from the sound of explosions hitting Sderot.
Bedein, who dedicates much of his time to interviewing and photographing those affected by the threat of rocket attacks, told the audience that virtually everyone living in the western Negev region of Israel has his or her own unique story about an experience with a rocket explosion.
Bedein also discussed the effect of media bias on the issue of coverage in Israel. He said many people know about the humanitarian issues in Gaza but not of those in Sderot or neighboring Israeli communities.
Due to Israel’s missile defense system, Bedein said recent conflict has produced unbalanced fatalities — 72 Israeli deaths compared to the over 2,000 deaths of civilians in the Gaza strip.
Since last summer, members of the University student group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality held candlelight vigils in response to the violence. The University’s chapter of J Street, a national organization advocating for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also held a vigil in September.
Siren systems implemented in Israeli cities warn residents of approaching rockets roughly 15 seconds before they hit the ground. Israel has also provided extensive funding to at-risk communities for bomb shelters, minimizing rocket fatalities as a result.
At the end of his presentation, Bedein shared with the audience several drawings from elementary school students in Israel who are under the threat of rockets. Many of them were addressed to children living in Gaza, asking for peace and showing support for children their own age who are under the threat of violence as a result of the conflict as well.
LSA freshman Rachel Byrd said she had knew about the situation in Sderot, but found the presentation was still eye opening.
“Those videos were pretty powerful, to see how normalized rocket fire has become in Israel and how little I knew,” Byrd said. “(The presentation) definitely made me want to look into different resources or different news outlets because I’ve definitely been getting different information than what I heard today.”
LSA sophomore Ben Siegel was especially affected by the drawings Israeli children had made for Palestinian children.
“What stood out to me the most would probably be that even through all these kids are going through, they still have this good sentiment towards Palestinians and they want peace even though they’re constantly under pressure,” he said.