JFNA solidarity mission: A firsthand look at life under constant barrage

Guest blogger Don Schon is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America. Here is his account of the delegation’s first day.

Today we went to Sderot. The sirens went off three times; Iron Dome protected us twice. It really works. Once we were caught outside, as 15 seconds is really a very short period to get to shelter.

We started this morning with a video and lecture about the Gaza campaign. What we are not shown by our news media was disturbing. Hamas had been preparing for years for this war which was supposed to end very differently and with mass murder of Israeli civilians. There was an underground city with alleys, command and planning rooms, interconnected streets. Using this,  the fighters would disappear and reappear at will making it very difficult for the IDF.

More than 30 tunnels were discovered going into Israel, five into an agricultural kibbutz, Navaot. The only purpose of this could have been murder of large numbers of civilians. Many of these tunnels were over one-mile long.

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Don Schon

Next we drove south to Sderot, to an absorption center for new immigrants, almost all Ethiopian. The sirens rang and over 30 children rushed into the room. We watched and participated in a therapy sessions using role playing for preteen children. We heard about the trauma to the children from constant missiles and the feeling someone hates you and wants to kill you.

We went to a high school for science and technology built by an American philanthropist. It is built to be bomb proof so the kids can learn without constantly jumping and running. The walls and roof are at least 18 inches thick reinforced cement. The overhangs are massive for protection if case the kids are caught walking outside. There are safe structures easily reachable. We were caught outside. They work.

The principal told of his goal, which is to teach the children not to hate those who are trying to kill them. This is both for their mental health and so eventually they will be able to live there after there is peace. We spoke with a 16-year-old who told of her life under constant barrage. What bothered her most was the way they are presented by the international media. Her father works for Intel; she was born in Mesa.

We met with the mayor. He is determined that they will grow their city and not be driven from their homes.

We heard about the Jewish Agency for Israel’s trauma program and spoke to women from Kibbutz Navaot on the border. We heard of the trauma to teens and families who have repetitively been forced to run for their lives for 14 years. One group met with a mother and daughter who lived in a very large house. They were so traumatized, they had abandoned life in all parts of the house except the basement.

All I could feel was anger. Anger at a situation and world that makes people live like this.

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