The following speech was prepared by Marcell Bar-On, a resident of Nir-Am, a small kibbutz community between Sderot and the Gaza Strip, for the 2008 Vanguard Dinner held November 7. Due to time constraints, Bar-On was not able to present the speech in its complete form (below):
My name is Marcell Bar-On. I was born in South Africa and met my Israeli husband, Uzi, when I was 25 years old. However, my love affair with Israel began long before I met him; I had always been fascinated by the history of Israel and with the myriad stories of courage and survival and so it did not come as a surprise to me that I should lose my heart to an Israeli and that I would, myself, become an Israeli and live in Eretz Israel.
Uzi and I have been blessed with 4 children. We are members of Kibbutz Nir-Am (an agricultural community) and we all live in the kibbutz. Kelly, my eldest daughter, is 22 years old; she completed her two-year National Service a year ago. Dana, 21, will complete her National Service in January. Mayan, 12, and Gabi, 9, are both pupils at Sha’ar HaNegev, the local Regional school, where I teach English to grades 1-7. I am also employed by an American company called Berlitz as a language instructor and teach English in my virtual classroom on the Internet to adults (mostly professionals) from Europe and Asia.
Nir-Am is a small kibbutz on the Northwestern border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The kibbutz consists of 120 adult members and 60 children. Nir-Am was one of 11 kibbutzes established along the Gaza border and surrounding areas between 1943-1945 for the purpose of settling the land and securing the border and was the first kibbutz where subterranean fresh water was found, a discovery that made it possible to successfully settle the Northern Negev Region. My husband’s parents were both members of the small group of 22 young Zionists who founded the kibbutz in 1943. Asher came to Israel at the age of 17, having escaped the Nazis in Russia and made his way, mostly on foot, to Eretz Israel. He never saw or heard from his family again. Rachel and her brother were put on a train to Israel by their parents in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Her whole family consequently perished in the Nazi concentration camps.
Nir-Am is situated between the Northern Negev town of Sderot and Beit Hanoun, the Palestinian town where most of the Kassam attacks originate. The result of this unfortunate geographical fact has been devastating for our community and has turned a small piece of heaven into a living hell. Every bomb that falls in Sderot travels over our kibbutz, and almost every bomb that falls short, falls in Nir-Am – both in the living areas and in our fields. Nir-Am has suffered more attacks than any other community outside of Sderot: since 2000, 90 kassam bombs have fallen among the houses and children houses of Nir-Am and another 500 have fallen in the surrounding fields, killing livestock and setting our crops on fire. When the news reports speak of bombs falling in “open areas” it usually means that they have fallen in Nir-Am.
The attacks are unprovoked, unpredictable, and continuous, and their effect has been close to catastrophical for us, both economically and psychologically. It is difficult for me to describe our day-to-day reality. No words could adequately paint the picture of life in a war zone. Our every action, our every waking moment, is geared toward minimizing the impact of living under enemy fire. Our first concern is always for our elderly and our children. My son Gabi, who turns ten in December, was three years old when the bombings started, and doesn’t remember life without Kassam bombs. There are no reinforced rooms in our homes, and the old communal shelters cannot be reached in the 5-10 seconds it takes a Kassam bomb to travel between Beit Hanoun and Nir-Am. So our family does what all the other families do: when we hear the “Tzeva Adom ” (Red Light) alert, we huddle in a small windowless area (in our case, a small passage between bedrooms), our bodies and the tiled roof the only barriers between our children and the incoming bomb. We silently count the seconds to impact; I often need to remind the children to breathe – they are frozen in total terror. And we pray that this time, too, we will be spared.
The effect has been most obvious on our children. At home: bedwetting, aggressive behaviour, extreme moodswings, insomnia, loss of appetite . . . . and at school: lack of concentration, absenteeism, hyperactivity, outbursts of anger and physical and verbal aggression. But no-one is spared the psychological warfare we are all victims of: almost as many adults are in councelling as are children in an attempt to cope with the harsh reality of our daily lives. In fact, as parents we carry the additional burden of guilt for not being able to protect our children; we feel responsible for what is happening to them.
Driving with car windows open, even in the heat of summer, so that one can hear the alert and perhaps have a chance to stop the car and get to some kind of shelter . . . children playing outside, always acutely aware of exactly where the nearest house or tree is, so that they can run for their lives and find what inadequate and pitiful protection they can . . . cellphones for every child of schoolgoing age, so that we can stay in contact with them when they are not at home , and so that we can call them to see whether they are allright after every bomb has fallen . . . how can I describe the long moments waiting for my child to answer the phone after a Tseva Adom alert?
Due to repeated and deliberate targeting, the Elementary School has been relocated to Kibbutz Ruhama, an affiliated kibbutz out of range of the bombs. They attend classes in temporary trailer-type rooms and this facility will be their school for the next few years, until a new school can be built for them. There are no playgrounds and no recreational facilities or sports fields, but they are safely out of range . . . at least during school hours.
Economically, the impact has been no less severe. In Nir-Am, the various businesses have all been affected and we have lost more than $1.3 million in income over the past few years as a direct result of the Kassam attacks. This is an enormous loss in our terms. Restitution from the Government has been extremely slow and wholly inadequate (approximately $14 000 received to date).
However, the Government has completely failed to come to our aid where it counts most: the protection of our loved ones. For 7 years we have been waiting in vain for reinforced rooms to be built in Nir-Am. The cost of one such room is $15000. $15000 is all it will cost to protect one family. $15000 : a laughable price for the life of a child but an astronomical amount for a member of a kibbutz. I am sure that you can understand the heartbreak of a mother putting her children to sleep night after night, right in the middle of a war zone, without protection of any kind.
We have been fortunate to receive a number of donations over the past two years (around $180000 in total from various organisations and individuals) and we have channeled most of this money towards our children, reinforcing the buildings used as childrenhouses where our preschoolers spend most of their day and equipping the other childrenhouses with computers etc. (it is often too dangerous for the children to play outside).
Much-needed financial assistance has also been received from various American Jewish communities, including your own, for psychological treatment and for various activities at our schools aimed at helping our children to cope with the stress of everyday life. Thank you for your contributions – please keep it up because without it, our lives would truly be unbearable.
I wish I could have more opportunities to share with you my own personal close encounters with the Kassam bombs and to tell you more about our day-to-day struggle. It is the pioneering nature of kibbutz members to suffer in silence and not to complain; however, I feel that it is extremely important for the kibbutz communities to be heard and it has made me proud to represent them in Chicago this past fall and I thank the Chicago Jewish Federation for this invaluable opportunity with all my heart.
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I thank you for your interest and concern and for taking the time to learn more about our situation.