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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Israeli child's view of life near the Gaza border


While on a tour of Israeli communities along the Gaza border, I had the opportunity to visit an elementary school on the front line of Hamas’ war of terror.  The close distance between the school, located in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of Israel, and the Gaza border left it extremely vulnerable to Hamas rocket attacks after the Iranian backed group came to power in 2006.  As such, students at the school have had to cope with red alert sirens and bomb shelters as an everyday part of their childhood.


Once the siren wails the children have about 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter -  the approximate time between the siren and the time an incoming missile would strike.  Before Operation Cast Lead, this consisted of a staggering 30 to 50 such “events” per day.

After the war, such incidents are more rare, but still represent a consistent part of their elementary school life. And, as Israelinurse has reported (but all but ignored by the Guardian and most of the MSM), the situation along the Gaza border has been slowly deteriorating.  For instance, in April there were 5 rockets (or other live fire) launched from Gaza into southern Israel, while in December that number rose to 51.

Anat Regev, the school principal, told us that the school’s buildings were recently reinforced to make the roofs less vulnerable to rocket strikes.


While touring the school grounds, we had the opportunity to speak to a few of the children.
Dan, pictured below, is 12 but had an air about him which made him seem quite older, perhaps touched by the world-weariness that most don’t acquire until well into adulthood.  His mother was killed 2 years ago in an auto accident and his father, a medic, was a first responder to Saturday’s shelling of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, not far from the school, which injured three Thai workers, one who is still hospitalized.


Dan is periodically plagued with nightmares, especially in the immediate aftermath of such attacks, but – perhaps driven by a child’s fascination with the macabre – rode his bike to the site of the attack at Nahal Oz, to see “the blood and destruction,” before being told by his father to return home.

Dan told us that the time when he’s most afraid is when he’s neither at school or home – thus, not in close proximity to a bomb shelter – and must respond to the wail of the the civil defense siren by simply laying on the ground face down, with his hands covering his head.

Those few seconds, before the all-clear siren sounds, are, Dan suggested, not so much by his words but more by his expression and demeanor while relating the story, are the most terrifying.

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