Classroom talk reveals little faith in truce

Kassam-weary Sderot kids pray for extended calm... but doubt they'll get it.

kassam drill 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kassam drill 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The children of Sderot are not naive. With a maturity and sophistication that belied their tender years, they told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the nascent Gaza truce is nonsense and described what it has been like to grow up under Kassams for the majority of their lives. "Of course there is a 'calm' today, but tomorrow they'll be right back firing at us," said Or, a fifth grader at Amit Torah and Science Elementary School, as she sat in the unfortified lobby of her school. (The classrooms are fortified but the lobby is supposed to be reinforced this summer, Principal Dina Huri said.) The six fifth graders who talked with this reporter needed little prompting to share their thoughts and experiences on life in this small town, which has become infamous as the favored target of Palestinians shooting from Gaza. On Thursday the city was quiet under a blue sky and 30º plus heat. Between classes, the six 10-year-olds talked of a disrupted school year, of classes missed (sometimes for as long as two months), of basic skills acquired but little else, and of hiding under their desks, sometimes multiple times a day. They mostly spoke with the language and ideas of adults, with only an occasional comment giving away that these were children, not Sderot senior citizens. All of them are veterans, though. The Kassams started when they were just two. "It's like a nightmare that passes and then another nightmare starts," Mai said. The girls have all been touched by the Kassams, and matter-of-factly recounted, in turn, how close they had come to being wounded or killed. Eden: "We were coming home and there was a Red Alert, but we were at a red light. When a Red Alert comes, you are supposed to get down on the ground and put your hands over your head. But we decided to go through the light and head for home. There was a big boom and when we looked back, we saw that the Kassam had landed exactly where we had been waiting for the light to change." Oren: "A piece of shrapnel from a Kassam went through my bedroom window once." Adi: "My sister was wounded in an attack, and later that day a Kassam fell near my aunt's house." They argued among themselves at one point over whether there would ever be an end to the Kassam barrages. "For every beginning there is an end," said Oren. "Maybe if it had been three or four years [of attacks], but eight! Eight years, that's..." Or trailed off, contemplating a period of time almost as long as her life. "We are heroes; even in the worst movies there is nothing like this," Noam declared. While several of the girls had spent extended periods with their grandparents outside the city this year, none was even willing to consider abandoning Sderot for safer areas. They immediately rejected starting over somewhere new where they'd have to make new friends and get settled again. The girls also displayed a robust knowledge of the geo-political situation. "We [Israel] are giving them the electricity and gas to build Kassams," Adi said. Oren recounted, with a keen sense of irony, how a local chicken factory was hit repeatedly by Kassams, "but the food from the factory keeps going to Gaza." "The government is more concerned with what the United States would say about how we are hurting Gaza [than about us]," Mai declared. "If they wanted to, the government could end this right now," Adi said, but failed to say how exactly. The truce did not even merit serious discussion, school principal Huri said. "We pray to the creator of the world to send peace, but we are skeptical. This is not the first truce we've been through," the 10-year veteran principal said wryly. She is from nearby Netivot, "which has been 'upgraded' to getting hit with Grads." According to Huri, 70 percent of the 150 pupils in the school have been traumatized. Over and above the obvious ways, many act out in ways that relate to the trauma of living under bombardment. They get scared easily and are more dependent, she explained. The school has a special area where kids can go for treatment including animal therapy, psycho-drama and art. Or as Oren put it, "You can go there to fall apart, to say whatever you need to say, however you want to say it." The girls were also appreciative of all those who had come to visit to lend their support and those who had sent packages. They encouraged others to come as well and were offended when people were scared away. "I know one girl who was having a birthday party and the magician was too scared to come down," Adi said. "That's insulting," Mai interjected. "It took hours to convince him finally to come," Adi added. Oren invited Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to spend even one night in Sderot with his family. "I would like to see him spend one night here. Then let's see what he tells his crying children. Let's see him tell them to just hang in there," she said derisively. Interestingly, there was a sense among the youngsters that they were old enough to understand what was going on, and it was their younger siblings who were being traumatized even more because they didn't know what was happening. "My sister is eight months old. She was born into this," Or said. "When there is a Red Alert, my mother has to run downstairs with the baby in her arms. People don't understand that that is not a normal way to live - to have to run downstairs when there is a siren." "My grandmother, who had never been to Sderot, was taking care of my little sister. My little sister started saying 'kaboom, kaboom, kaboom.' My grandmother didn't know it was a Red Alert, but she did," Eden said. The group was split on whether they had been allowed to suffer so long under Kassams because they were in Sderot and not Tel Aviv. "If this were Tel Aviv, the government would have put a stop to it already," Eden said. "When one Kassam hit Ashkelon the government took care of it immediately," chimed in another voice. However, Mai and Oren disagreed. It wasn't the government that did anything differently, it was the people of Ashkelon, according to Oren. They also casually referenced many of the major attacks of the last several months, including Dimona and Mercaz Harav - where they found a certain harsh irony in the fact that a Sderot resident, one of Eden's relatives, was killed so far from their city and its Kassams. Huri told the Post that they try to keep to as much of a regular schedule as possible despite the frequent disruptions. "We try to return to schedule as soon as possible after a Red Alert. I do not give up, if I have set goals for myself, then I achieve them. That is what gives us the strength," she said.