When people criticize Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians, they often forget or simply ignore the fact that more than 10,000 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into Israel since 2001.
They forget about the people who have to live with this threat every single day of their life, who have only 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter after the tzeva adom (“color red” alarm) sounds, who know that they might not be able to reach it in time. These are the victims you are not going to see in the action-thirsty media. But their stories must be told.
Over the summer, I traveled to Israel with a group of other teens from the Bay Area, as part of Write On for Israel, a two-year program that trains young people like me to become advocates for Israel through journalism.
The day I will never forget was the day we visited Sderot, a 10-minute drive from Gaza. There we met a man named Yonatan, and he told us about his daughter Ela — she was killed by a Kassam rocket when she was 17. She was walking home from a youth group meeting with her younger brother, Tamir, when suddenly the tzeva adom sounded.
Ela called to her brother, “Tamir! Tamir!” and she covered him with her arms and body. The rocket exploded right next to them. Ela died a week later in the hospital. Despite shrapnel in his skull, her brother survived.
As Yonatan spoke to us — at a community center named Mishkan Ela in memory of his daughter — I thought how difficult it must be for him to talk about the death of his own child. Many in our Write On group were surprised that he and his family have continued to live in Sderot after Ela was killed. “Why would you risk your and your family’s lives by staying in such a dangerous place?” we asked him.
His answer: “The terrorists succeeded in killing Ela. But they will not succeed in making us leave.”
In Sderot, nearly half of the residents know someone who was killed in an attack.
In one article I read, I learned about Sderot resident Osnat Ben Haim, whose house was struck by a Kassam rocket. Her 6-year-old son was eating a sandwich in the kitchen only two minutes before the rocket exploded there. The boy did not die, but was severely traumatized.
“Physical damage you are able to see,” Ben Haim was quoted as saying. “The scar in the heart — that’s what you cannot see.”
According to the Sderot Media Center, more than
30 percent of the 6,000 children in Sderot suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder. The anxiety symptoms include nightmares, sleeping difficulties, bed-wetting, sweating, fear of going outside and developmental regressions. Of the children between ages 7 and 12, 74.2 percent suffer from phobias.
In reality, this is not “post-traumatic.” The rockets continue to fall.
Unfortunately I was unable to visit the media center, but Yonatan did show us a video produced by its staff. It was difficult for me to even watch the utter terror that the bombings create.
When you read an article about a Kassam rocket landing in Israel but not killing anyone, you might think that it’s not a big deal since no one was physically harmed. But when I saw this video, I realized how terrifying this constant threat is. Every time the tzeva adom sounds, some children freeze, while others become hysterical, shouting and crying.
Now, however, the children have learned a way to deal with their fear. Shachar Bar, an art therapist and teacher in Sderot, created a song that has helped make tzeva adom less frightening.
Before the song, “children experienced real developmental regressions, some began bed-wetting. They were getting hysterical,” Bar was quoted as saying in an article I read. “Some [were] freezing in place, unable to seek cover. One day I felt like, now is the time, and I took this song I’d made up to a kindergarten class.”
The children sing: “My heart is pounding, boom, ba-ba, boom, boom, boom. My body is shaking, doom, da-da, doom, doom, doom … Breathe deep, now we can laugh. It all passed and I’m glad it’s over — yes!”
At Kibbutz Alumim, which is located near Sderot and also has been threatened with numerous bombings, we heard a recording of children singing the song. When I heard the happy melody sung in Hebrew, and then read the lyrics in English, I was shocked — how could such words be sung so happily?
But the results are stunningly positive. The song helps the kids understand that it is OK that they are scared; it helps them release their fears.
A teacher in the video said, “I see the joy on their faces. We overcome, we succeed. Here, we beat those who wanted to defeat us. They didn’t succeed. On the contrary, it strengthened us. We move on with more strength.”
I’m glad the song has helped the children, but what really angers me is that they are even in a situation in which they have to sing such a song.
If you go to a kindergarten or an elementary school in the Bay Area, you might hear kids singing their ABCs or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If you go to a school in Sderot, you will hear children singing about a bomb warning.
Sonya Karchemskiy is a second-year member of Write On for Israel and a student at Jewish Community High School of the Bay. She is 17 and lives in San Francisco.