The youth of the Gaza envelope – the area surrounding Israel’s border with Gaza – feel abandoned and unseen. They have lived with 18 years of rockets and 8 months of kite and balloon arson and have little faith that the situation will improve. They recently marched for five days from their homes to the Knesset, where they gathered in protest wielding signs begging to be allowed to grow up in peace. Last week, after a week in which more than 400 rockets and mortars where launched at their home and the communities of the Negev, they gathered outside the offices of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv to protest the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which they believe will allow terror to continue.
The current truce may have stopped the terror from Gaza, at least temporarily, but the trauma of the children of the Gaza envelope lives on. Shaked Rinek, a 17-year old from Kibbutz Nir Am, sent me the following description of the life that she and her friends and neighbors are living:
Hi. My name is Shaked. I’m 17-years-old and live on Kibbutz Nir Am.
I want to tell you what it really means to live here, in the part of the State of Israel that is near the Gaza Strip. You’ve already heard about fires, Qassam rockets, and incendiary balloons. But there is much more than that. Living here is something that remains with you for your entire life, without your choosing it. Because it’s simply impossible to forget past traumas.
So I want you to know that I have a fear of bunk-beds, because when you are in third grade and you fall out of bed in the middle of the night because you missed the ladder due to your panic from the Red Alert siren, it’s traumatic.
And I have a fear of climbing trees, even the tree in my own yard. Because when you fall out of a tree and hurt yourself, so that you can’t run to the bomb shelter after that, it’s traumatic.
When you can’t bear to hear loudspeaker announcements, the sound of moving chairs, the roar of a nearby plane, megaphones, car engines, or any sudden loud noise, that’s also from trauma.
Seeing my father going out to put out fires almost every day for the last eight months and then seeing him coming home smelling of smoke, and seeing in his eyes another burnt field and another animal covered in soot — yes, that too is traumatic.
Going to sleep on a mattress on the floor of a security room is traumatic.
Running in a sprint at speeds you did not know you had. Traumatic.
Seeing Grandma and Grandpa struggling to reach the security room on time, while you pray that they will make it there in time and that nothing will happen to them, is traumatic.
Hearing Iron Dome missiles explode with a crazy boom over your house as they intercept incoming rockets, explosion after explosion, is traumatic.
Seeing my dog, who has been with me for almost my entire life, go crazy when he hears thunder, because for him every noise is a Qassam rocket, is traumatic.
Getting up in the middle of the night, ready to jump out of bed and run, and then realizing that it’s winter and it’s just thunder, and then lying awake for hours in bed because it’s impossible to fall asleep when your heart is pounding so fast, is traumatic.
During Operation Protective Edge, there was a time when I hadn’t been home for two weeks. During that time, I moved from place to place, not knowing what was happening there, in the Gaza envelope, in my home… And then I broke down. I broke down and wanted to go home no matter what. I was on the verge of tears. I took a bus home. The most important thing for me was to be back there, with my father who had stayed there to protect our home. But it was dangerous there, in the Gaza envelope, in my home, so I left again. In the morning, my father called. Terrorists had emerged from a tunnel a few hundred meters from our kibbutz. That trauma will always remain with me.
This is my life and the life of everyone who lives in the Gaza envelope. It is full of trauma, anxiety, and fear. I know that we deserve for the situation here to be different.
When I shared Shaked’s words in Hebrew on Facebook, Tirza Shachar, a mother from Kiryat Shemona, who has a 1-year old daughter who is also named Shaked, shared her own experiences in response. Tirza grew up in Israel’s north, in the shadow of Katyushas, and experienced years of bombardments and terror. She too spent nights in bomb shelters and weeks away from home during military campaigns, and remembers birthday parties that were stopped when the alarms sounded, a trip to the mall with friends that ended with a terrified run to the bomb shelter, and how she would walk around her neighborhood to see the homes damaged by the mortars once things were quiet. Today, Tirza is raising three young children in her home town. Her children have not experienced alarms and alerts, and do not jump at sudden noises or fear trips to the park or the mall. She wished Shaked a future in which she will be able to raise her own children in the community of her youth without fear or trauma, and that they will have the childhood of happiness and freedom that every child in Israel deserves. Tirza concluded by assuring Shaked that days of quiet will come, and prayed that it will be soon.
Whatever you may think of the cease fire between Hamas and Israel, take a minute to think of the children of the Gaza envelope. And let us hope that Tirza is right.
The author thanks Shira Pasternak Be’eri for her help with this post.