- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

RAHAT, Israel | A rocket exploded a few 100 yards from Mateb Abu Nasr’s house, driving home the message that tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs living within range of militant attacks from Gaza are just as vulnerable as their Jewish neighbors.

But there’s a difference: When the wailing sirens warned of an incoming missile, Mr. Abu Nasr’s family had nowhere to hide.

Homes in Jewish towns and settlements are required to have one room with reinforced walls and a steel door. Public bomb shelters are accessible, and protective barriers even have been erected in rural areas.

The Arab town of Rahat, population 45,000, is about 24 miles from Gaza and on the outer perimeter reachable by the long-range rockets that Hamas has unleashed for the first time. Few homes here have a safety room, and there are no public shelters

“This is clear discrimination,” said Hassan el-Rafia, an Arab regional official, who says the lack of defenses is typical of the way Israel treats its Arab citizens. Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s population of 7 million people.

The Israeli army said it has launched a public information campaign in Arabic-speaking towns like Rahat with the help of Bedouin army veterans and through Arabic language broadcast and print media. They are encouraging people to keep their radios to a special silent frequency that turns on only to broadcast air-raid alerts.

Militants from the Hamas movement that rules Gaza have fired dozens of rockets daily at Israeli towns and settlements since a six-month cease-fire expired last month. Israel launched a massive air campaign Dec. 27 and a ground invasion Saturday night meant to silence the rockets.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials.

In Israel, Hamas rockets have killed four people - two of them Arabs. One was a soldier from the Druse sect from northern Israel. The second was a construction worker in Ashkelon, the closest Israeli city to Gaza.

The missile fired Tuesday overshot Rahat by about half a mile, landing on the hilly outskirts between clusters of squat, tin-roofed buildings and a few black Bedouin tents.

“We saw it go right over that olive tree,” said Mr. Abu Nasr, pointing to a tiny grove 100 feet from his home. “When it started to descend we could see a tail of white smoke.”

The missile blasted a 5-foot-wide hole in the hard, barren land, harmlessly scattering shrapnel and pellets. Children gathered up metal shards as souvenirs, while adults filmed the semi-buried warhead on their cell-phone cameras.

“Another 100 yards and a lot of people would have been killed,” said Mr. Abu Nasr, 36, a high school teacher.

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