Sderot mayor rejects government decision to bring residents back on February 4

Alon Davidi presents list of security demands after Netanyahu reportedly orders an early return to the city to reduce government expenses

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Sderot mayor Alon Davidi (center) at the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit and caused damage in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, October 24, 2023.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Sderot mayor Alon Davidi (center) at the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit and caused damage in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, October 24, 2023.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Sderot’s mayor said the city’s evacuated residents would not comply with a government decision to start sending them back home early next month.

Mayor Alon Davidi presented on Sunday a list of conditions for the return of the city’s residents, which included the total depopulation of the northern Gaza Strip and the extension until June of accommodation stipends for evacuees.

It was the latest in a series of disputes between the government and Sderot residents and representatives, who have repeatedly protested what they perceive as a failure to protect them from Palestinian terrorists who have been firing rockets at the city since 2001.

“We will not return to our homes unless our terms are met,” the mayor wrote following reports in the media Sunday that the cabinet had updated its plan for repopulating Sderot, setting February 4 as the date. In a plan unveiled last week the deadline had been set for August.

The center of Sderot — a city of some 27,000 residents — is about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the border with Gaza.

Sderot residents are preparing to hold a protest rally on Tuesday in front of the Kirya, the Tel Aviv headquarters of the defense establishment. “We’re being abandoned yet again. Sderot residents are coming out to fight for their homes before it’s too late. A different reality for Sderot,” read one banner advertising the protest action on social media.

A building in Sderot, Israel on November 23, 2023 has a gaping hole in the sheltered area of one of its apartments. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

In his statement, Davidi presented conditions for a return to Sderot that included turning the northern Gaza Strip into a “kill zone,” as he termed it, and posting two Israel Defense Forces divisions in the area.

He also demanded that the government keep on providing free accommodation for evacuees and payments that it is gives those who do not avail themselves of those accommodations. Evacuated adults currently get paid NIS 200 and children get NIS 100 ($54 and $27 respectively) per day from the government.

The termination of those payments is the government’s main tool for incentivizing the resettlement of about 60,000 evacuees from the south, and another 40,000 evacuees from the border with Lebanon, where the Hezbollah terror is targeting Israelis with missiles.

Yehudit Oliel Malca, right, and Elad Kalimi animate a belated Simhat Torah celebration for Sderot residents in Eilat, southern Israel on October 31, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Sderot was listed as one of the locales where the deadline for return would be August, according to the resettlement plan of the Tekuma Authority, a government body for resettling and rehabilitating communities that were evacuated from Israel’s south following Hamas’s rampage on October 7 in Israel and the war it triggered.

But on Sunday, news emerged that the Education Ministry is preparing for about 25,000 students to return to Sderot and the neighboring Sha’ar Hanegev regional council on February 4. Davidi, the mayor, wrote on Sunday that he had confirmed that the government is planning a full return on that date.

A spokesperson for the Tekuma Authority declined to comment, telling The Times of Israel only that her organization “follows cabinet decisions.” According to Channel 12, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the return of Sderot, along with two adjacent small communities, Kibbutz Gevim and the village of Ibim.

File: The head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, center-left, speaks with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, center-right, during a visit to the southern town, which was hit repeatedly with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on August 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Channel 12 report said that the decision followed pressure from the Finance Ministry to reduce the costs of providing accommodations for evacuees. The Education Ministry’s commitment to resume schooling for 25,000 students from Sderot and its environs also had a role in the resettlement decision, that report said.

The October 7 assault, in which Hamas terrorists murdered at least 1,200 people and abducted 240 others from Israel, was also the deadliest terrorist attack in Sderot’s history. Terrorists gunned down dozens of residents and numerous police officers. The city’s police station was torched in a protracted battle with terrorists who had holed up inside, and was eventually razed.

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