Girls walk in a new neighborhood that is under construction in Sderot, Israel, July 20, 2021. No place in Israel has been hit harder by Palestinian rocket fire than Sderot, a working-class town just about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Gaza border. Although Sderot is enjoying an economic boom and revival, a generation of children and parents are suffering from the traumatic effects of two decades of rocket fire that experts are still struggling to understand. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Despite calm, Israeli town copes with scars of rocket fire

Despite calm, Israeli town copes with scars of rocket fire

Israeli town copes with scars of rocket fire

SDEROT, Israel (AP) — Just three months after the latest war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the border town of Sderot appears to be on the road to recovery.

The streets are bustling, and the town is filled with well-kept parks and playgrounds. The local real-estate market is booming.

But underneath the veneer of normalcy, the scars of years of rocket fire run deep.

Metal rocket fragments are on display outside the main police station, as a museum of sorts. Next to every park and bus stop is a small concrete bomb shelter — often decked out with colorful murals and street art. An Iron Dome rocket defense battery sits on the eastern edge of town, a few hundred meters (yards) from a new apartment complex.

Some Sderot residents say they jump at the smallest noise. Parents report children still wetting their beds or being too scared to sleep alone.

Noam Biton says she has enjoyed a normal childhood in Sderot. But the 16-year-old high school student says it hasn’t always been easy. One of her strongest memories was an air-raid siren that sounded while she was attending a bar mitzvah celebration on what had been a quiet day.

“We lay on the ground, three of us,” she said. “The only thing protecting us was a car.” The rocket landed nearby, spraying shrapnel in the area.

Outgoing and active in her local scout troop, Biton says she is always careful to sit next to the door when she rides the bus — just in case there is an air-raid siren and she needs to evacuate quickly.

Her mother Dvora, a lifelong resident, says uncertainty is a constant companion. “It saddens you that at any moment someone controls your life,” she said. “We can’t escape.”

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, have fought four wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election.

It is impossible to compare conditions in Gaza and in southern Israel. Israeli strikes have killed some 4,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, in the four wars and inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people, unable to flee the impoverished and blockaded territory, suffer from deep psychological wounds.

Israelis are now protected by a rocket-defense system, have the option of temporarily escaping rocket range and have access to psychological counseling and government support.