What will we tell the children of the kindergarten in Sderot who last week lost their friend Afik Zahavi Ohayon, aged three-and-a-half, who was killed by a Qassam rocket? What can one say to children who lose their classmate this way, next to the kindergarten?
Psychologists, the kindergarten teachers and the parents involved will try to ease the trauma by means of the usual psychological methods. But what if one of the children asks why the Arabs opened fire at them, why they killed Afik? Will we tell them the whole truth, or will we revert to declaiming the worn slogans about the bad Arabs who want to throw us into the sea, compelling us to fight a desperate war of survival whose whole aim is to safeguard the children in the kindergarten?
It is precisely in the wake of such a cruel terrorist attack, which sowed fear through an entire town, that the truth must be told to both children and adults. Only the truth can strengthen their spirit, instead of obscuring matters with empty promises of computers and budgets that will now flow to the town - only after two of its residents were killed - and with talk of an "appropriate military response."
The Qassam rockets were fired at Sderot from its neighbor, Beit Hanun. The kindergarten children have to be told that in Beit Hanun there are already dozens of demolished homes, the homes of innocent people, who paid the price of the previous rockets that were fired at their town. In Beit Hanun there is no work and there is no hope. Anyone who wants to go from Beit Hanun to the only place in the area that is offering work - Israel - encounters a barbed-wire fence. The children of Beit Hanun who go with their parents to visit relatives and friends in Khan Yunis or Rafah face a lengthy and exhausting trip through the checkpoints of the Gaza Strip - a trip whose end no one knows and which could be accompanied by humiliating incidents. On the way, the children pass by the handful of settlements. They see how thousands of Gaza Strip residents have to stop and wait while the settlers' bus passes. When the ice cream truck of the settlement children approaches, the soldier who sees all but is not seen will turn on the red light of the netted traffic lights and traffic will come to a halt, sometimes for hours at a stretch. Palestinian children and adults will sit in the blazing sun in their cars, which they are forbidden to leave, and wait for the soldier's order.
The children of Sderot have to be told that most of their peers on the other side of the fence have never seen a computer and that it's unlikely they will ever see one; that they are compelled to watch soldiers humiliate their parents; and that thousands of children of their age have no home, because the army demolished their homes even though they did nothing wrong, and in some cases even though their parents committed no crime. In Rafah they can see especially harsh scenes. A thousand more people were left homeless by the latest operation alone, people whose meager belongings were crushed and buried by Israeli bulldozers. The children's toys and clothes are also buried under the ruins.
We should explain to the children in Sderot that not far from their homes, more than 2 million Palestinians have been suffering for 37 years under the Israeli occupation, living in a huge prison compound. For the first 20 years of the occupation, most of their neighbors were quiet, submissive subjects. Their parents undoubtedly remember how they swept the streets in Sderot, built the houses there, worked the surrounding fields and washed the dishes in the local cafes and restaurants. They were the menial workers, even in poverty-stricken Sderot. We thought that situation could last for all time.
Another thing the children of Sderot have to be told is that their state killed - albeit not deliberately, and with weapons far more sophisticated than Qassam rockets - about 540 Palestinian children. And they should be reminded that the Palestinians, too, are responding - to an extensive campaign of assassinations in which Israel has killed most of the leaders of the Palestinian organizations, harming innocent people while doing so, a campaign that reached its inglorious peak with the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
At the same time, their state continues to strengthen the settlements, which are the major obstacle to the attainment of peace with the Palestinians, which alone can put an end to the firing of rockets at Sderot. Two days after the killing of the children's friend Afik, the Finance Committee of the Knesset decided to add another NIS 150 million to the budget for protecting the settlements. Their parents, the great majority of whom voted for right-wing parties in the last election - 33 percent for Likud, 15 percent for Shas and 10 percent for the National Union, as opposed to 3 percent for Labor and 2 percent for Meretz - chose the continuation of this path, which can lead only to the firing of more Qassam rockets at Sderot.
This is the right time to tell the children of Sderot the simple truth: Their neighbors in the Gaza Strip live under an occupation regime, which the residents have decided to fight with force, as people all over the world do in similar situations. Is it cruel on their part? Yes. Is it unjust? You have to ask the children in the kindergarten, after they are told the whole truth.
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