Sderot kids tell MKs that fear of Kassams dominates their lives

On an average day, the teens of Sderot wake at 8 a.m. to the cries of the Red Dawn alert system that warns of an impending Kassam attack. From that point on, the teens follow a simple rhythm, weaving their way between shelters and classrooms, all to the melody of the all-too-frequent alerts. "Everything, every step we take, every decision, is based on that alert system. Our eye is always tuned and ready for it, and our focus is never fully somewhere else," said Gon Barad, a 13-year-old from Kibbutz Erez. Tuesday, however, was not an average day for the 30 teens from Sderot and its surrounding areas who attended the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child to tell MKs about their lives under fire. For the past two years, Sderot has been the subject of frequent Kassam attacks from terror organizations within Gaza. Following Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer, the attacks increased to more than a dozen a day. Recently, IDF operations have managed to quell some of the attacks, and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the attacks were now down to an average of one or two a day. The recent ebb in attacks has not, however, calmed the fears of the teens, whose stories of near-misses and injured friends all pointed to young lives dictated by the call of the sirens to the shelters. "We are glad that you have invited us here because it makes us feel as though something might be done," said Oded, a confident 12-year-old from Kibbutz Neviim, who spoke multiple times during the one-hour meeting. "It often feels like little can be done." Oded told the MKs that he could barely remember life before the frequent Kassam fire. "Now, whenever we play soccer, we have to stop at least once during the game when the Red Dawn alert goes off," said Oded. "We can never focus on the game really, and there are never any shelters that are close enough to get to." Although Oded said that his kibbutz recently received new shelters, they were all placed "in odd places," according to the teen. "I asked the kibbutz director why he didn't put them in the center near the animal pens, where more kids play. He said that the IDF and the kibbutz were arguing over whose problem it was to move them, so they sit around and nobody moves them," he said. At the end of the meeting, Committee Chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) asked the teens what they would do if they were in the prime minister's position. Echoing the range of political opinions present in the Knesset itself, some teens argued for a "war of destruction" to be waged on the Palestinians, while others, such as a Daphni, a 13-year-old from Sderot, wanted dialogue with the Palestinians. "People always want violence but a war won't help," said Daphni. "There are good people in Gaza and we shouldn't just carpet bomb them like the other boy said. Maybe over there they think we are all bad. We just need to talk." An hour later, in the Knesset plenum, MK Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party) recalled Daphni's words as he told the plenum he was touched by the meeting with the teens. "Like us, they have a range of opinions on what can be done," said Ariel. "But the difference is that they live in it, in all of the violence, while we sit here and argue. We need to move faster to bring a solution so that this whole generation does not grow up in the shadow of the Kassams." For their part, the teens said that the novelty of being in the Knesset had distracted them from their daily worries. "I didn't think of it in the committee, but maybe they should just bring us here instead of our classrooms," said Oded. "I mean, the Knesset is as secure a building as they come, and until they fix the problem, the MKs should go work in Sderot and see what it's like and we'll be here." "On second thought," he added, "that's not such a good idea. The [MKs] already have enough trouble getting something done."