Want to know what’s really happening? Ask children. That adage certainly applies when speaking to school children in Sderot. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of 9-to 11-year-old children attending the Alon Madaiim elementary school in Sderot.
Thanks in part to JUF contributions, Sderot children benefit from educational and psychological programs to help them cope with and overcome the trauma of life under fire. These programs include “Havens of Calm”—physical facilities within schools for children requiring trauma support, provided by the JUF beneficiary, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. They also include enrichment activities provided by the JUF beneficiary, the Jewish Agency for Israel, whereby they learn about nature and the environment, computers, sports, and art in a protected environment.
I spoke to Yoni, Liat, and Ido about their lives and their hopes. The following are their comments translated from Hebrew.
Why do you think people would want to fire Qassams at you? I wonder what you think should be done. If people would fire missiles at America from Canada, we would have to do something.
Yoni: You would want to kill them! But killing is not the solution. And if we only think about killing, it will never end. We [children on both sides] are not the guilty ones; it's just the adults [on both sides] who are guilty [for the situation].
Ido: I was a pen pal with an Arab kid, and he wrote to me—he doesn't live in Israel—he told me that they teach them that it's good to shoot at the Jews, and he said that he changed his mind after writing with me.
Nice. What's the best place to live in Israel?
Liat: In the center of the country.
Yoni: The truth is, in the whole country it's the same thing. In the south it's missiles, in the north it's Grad rockets, and in the center it's terror attacks.
Liat: Everywhere in Israel is a good place. In Israel there isn't a bad place.
Do you think the Qassams will stop one day?
Liat: Yes, I think they'll stop, that the government will do everything to see that the whole thing is ended.
A person is obliged to work for peace, in my opinion.
Ido: First of all they need to return the kidnapped soldiers, and then we can speak about peace.
Yoni: I think there'll be peace when people start to think of the children, and begin to act more normally, and not fire missiles.
Ido: If adults begin to act more normally, then there will be peace, and it'll be a little quieter. There are Arab children who think exactly like me.
Yoni: There are Arabs that don't even have a house, and their situation is four times worse than ours.
It's hard for me to understand, there were opportunities for peace for the Palestinians, before now....
Ido: We want it, they don't... Their leadership is so awful. I'm convinced there are people who want peace, but the leadership doesn't want it.
Anyone who has a child should think first of all of the children. Anyhow, outside of all these problems, what do you guys like to do?
Liat: I want to tell you that we continue to go out, continue to live as though things are normal because we have no other choice. But not normal like it was before. But then I don't remember before the Qassams, so I don't remember normal life.
How do you imagine quiet?
Ido: People come here and ask us, how do you feel about the Qassams? And I ask them how does it feel without Qassams, because I have no idea.
Yoni: We don't know another reality. We don't know what it's like to live without Qassams.
It's very difficult for me, for people like me, to imagine what this reality is like.
Ido: Because you didn't experience it like we have, me from age 1, he from age 3, her from age 3...
As a journalist, I’ll write that there is a part of our people who live with this reality, and that it's not acceptable. It's our responsibility to think every day about you.
Ido: Write that you were here, that you saw what goes on, that you felt it once.
Liat: You asked us questions, can we ask you questions? How does it feel in another country? Without missiles?
I'll tell you the truth, as best as I can. I feel that even with the Qassams, with all the problems that you have, you have something that we don't have....
Liat: The stress, the fear....
Yes, but you are practically the first generation in the history of the Jewish people, that can defend yourselves, and that's a very important thing.
Yoni: And Torah and Tanakh...
To live in a place where you speak Hebrew…
Ido: This is a place where a Jew will always be accepted. All religions are accepted here. And we're not like it was during the Second World War, with the Nazis, when they hated the Jews and we weren't able to defend ourselves. Now if someone would want to start World War Three we know how to defend ourselves and how to deal with it.
And besides the troubles you defend something very valuable on behalf of all the Jewish people, and that is a responsibility as well as a reward.
Liat: What's it like to listen to us?
It's great. It's something I'll remember, and will tell to my friends and family. You have strength.
Ido: Any child in Sderot who would tell you he's not afraid is a liar. Every child you meet in Sderot is frightened.
Yoni: My friend Yossi, who was wounded, when I saw that I didn't know what to do or what to tell him, because it's frightening. For some it's their whole lives, from the age of zero.
Yes, and I hope and pray that it will stop.
Ido: Who doesn't pray for us?