Remembering to breathe

The attacks are unprovoked, unpredictable, and continuous, and their effect has been close to catastrophical for us, both economically and psychologically. It is difficult for me to describe our day-to-day reality. No words could adequately paint the picture of life in a war zone. Our every action, our every waking moment, is geared toward minimizing the impact of living under enemy fire.

Our first concern is always for our elderly and our children. My son Gabi, who turns ten in December, was three years old when the bombings started, and doesn’t remember life without Kassam bombs. There are no reinforced rooms in our homes, and the old communal shelters cannot be reached in the 5-10 seconds it takes a Kassam bomb to travel between Beit Hanoun and Nir-Am.

So our family does what all the other families do: when we hear the “Tzeva Adom ” (Red Light) alert, we huddle in a small windowless area (in our case, a small passage between bedrooms),  our bodies and the tiled roof the only barriers between our children and the incoming bomb. We silently count the seconds to impact; I often need to remind the children to breathe – they are frozen in total terror. And we pray that this time, too, we will be spared. (read Marcell's blog posting about one such attack -- 'A Chanukah Miracle')

The effect has been most obvious on our children. At home: bedwetting, aggressive behaviour, extreme moodswings, insomnia, loss of appetite . . . .  and at school: lack of concentration, absenteeism, hyperactivity, outbursts of anger and physical and verbal aggression. But no-one is spared the psychological warfare we are all victims of: almost as many adults are in councelling as are children in an attempt to cope with the harsh reality of our daily lives. In fact, as parents we carry the additional burden of guilt for not being able to protect our children; we feel responsible for what is happening to them.

Driving with car windows open, even in the heat of summer, so that one can hear the alert and perhaps have a chance to stop the car and get to some kind of shelter . . . children playing outside, always acutely aware of exactly where the nearest house or tree is, so that they can run for their lives and find what inadequate and pitiful protection they can . . . cellphones for every child of schoolgoing age, so that we can stay in contact with them when they are not at home , and so that we can call them to see whether they are allright after every bomb has fallen . . . how can I describe the long moments waiting for my child to answer the phone after a Tseva Adom alert?

Due to repeated and deliberate targeting, the Elementary School has been relocated to Kibbutz Ruhama, an affiliated kibbutz out of range of the bombs. They attend classes in temporary trailer-type rooms and this facility will be their school for the next few years, until a new school can be built for them. There are no playgrounds and no recreational facilities or sports fields, but they are safely out of range . . . at least during school hours.

Economically, the impact has been no less severe. In Nir-Am, the various businesses have all been affected and we have lost more than $1.3 million in income over the past few years as a direct result of the Kassam attacks.  This is an enormous loss in our terms. Restitution from the Government has been extremely slow and wholly inadequate (approximately $14 000 received to date).

However, the Government has completely failed to come to our aid where it counts most: the protection of our loved ones. For 7 years we have been waiting in vain for reinforced rooms to be built in Nir-Am. The cost of one such room is $15000. $15000 is all it will cost to protect one family. $15000 : a laughable price for the life of a child but an astronomical amount for a member of a kibbutz. I am sure that you can understand the heartbreak of a mother putting her children to sleep night after night, right in the middle of a war zone, without protection of any kind.

We have been fortunate to receive a number of donations over the past two years (around $180000 in total from various organisations and individuals) and we have channeled most of this money towards our children, reinforcing the buildings used as childrenhouses where our preschoolers spend most of their day and equipping the other childrenhouses with computers etc. (it is often too dangerous for the children to play outside).

Much-needed financial assistance has also been received from various American Jewish communities, including your own, for psychological treatment and for various activities at our schools aimed at helping our children to cope with the stress of everyday life. Thank you for your contributions – please keep it up because without it, our lives would truly be unbearable.

I wish I could have more opportunities to share with you my own personal close encounters with the Kassam bombs and to tell you more about our day-to-day struggle. It is the pioneering nature of kibbutz members to suffer in silence and not to complain; however, I feel that it is extremely important for the kibbutz communities to be heard.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have; just post your comments below.

I thank you for your interest and concern and for taking the time to learn more about our situation.