Nighttime Riots at Gaza Fence Take Toll on Children From Israel's Border Communities

Demonstrations at the Gaza border include throwing explosives over the separation barrier and using loudspeakers to simulate 'Color Red' alerts, the warning sound for incoming rockets

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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Credit: Ilan Assayag
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Almost every evening in recent weeks, the Eshkol Regional Council issues a would-be reassuring announcement: Despite the explosions in the area, the communities are not under threat.

But the residents are finding it hard to relax. Hamas has recently increased its nighttime rioting near the Gaza border fence, which includes throwing explosives and using loudspeakers to simulate “Color Red” alerts, often until midnight. The goal is to frighten the residents, and it’s working.

According to the regional council, since the nighttime disturbances have intensified, there have been more calls to the local “resilience center,” which provides mental health treatment and advice to residents. The distress is especially evident among the children; the council has gotten reports of children who refuse to be left alone for even a short period, and of children falling asleep in class because they couldn’t sleep the previous night.

Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 11, 2019.Credit: AFP

A., who’s 10 and in fifth grade, left school early Wednesday. Her father was summoned to pick her up in the middle of the day. Two months ago, A. was diagnosed as suffering from shock and is being treated by the resilience center. For two days she slept in the mamad, the home’s reinforced room. “It’s a catastrophe,” her mother says, adding that this isn’t an environment in which her daughter can get better.

The mother, who has been taking Cipralex, an anti-anxiety drug, since Operation Pillar of Defense over six years ago, said her daughter has been sinking down since the last escalation with Gaza, when 500 rockets were fired at the border communities. The night riots have made it even worse.

“There are loud booms, sometimes very loud; it sounds like cannon fire,” she says. “The noise at night has a very strong influence. The girl has become a jumpy bundle of nerves. It’s very hard to calm her down. She takes a long time getting to sleep and she sleeps very badly.” Very often she doesn’t want to go to school, or she insists that her mother bring her, because if there’s a siren, A. would prefer to be with her mother than “a bunch of girls screaming and crying on the bus.”

Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 11, 2019. Credit: AFP

Last Wednesday night there was an explosion that shook the windows of their home. “Wow, that was a big one,” A. said, while her brother counted the secondary explosions. He said that the presence of a reporter in the house had moderated A.’s response; usually she jumps up, often crying, and runs to the mamad. The brother, meanwhile, has gotten used to playing online games with only one earphone.

A. doesn’t take any comfort from quiet days, describing them as “the quiet before the storm.” The noise from Israel Defense Forces shelling makes her even more nervous than the explosions from the Gaza Strip, because the former are liable to bring rocket fire in response.

She spends hours in the mamad. “Let’s say I’m watching a movie on the phone, I’ll go to the mamad and watch it there, since if there’ll be a Color Red alert, I’ll already be there. When my routine was broken up I was in the mamad for a month, because I was afraid that if there’d be an alarm I wouldn’t get there in time.” She came home early from school Wednesday because, she said, “I just feel overwhelmed. It’s not the most fun childhood in the world.” In contrast to her brother, she has a hard time functioning on a daily basis. “Lately I haven’t been able to concentrate at all. For example, they give us math problems and it takes the other kids half an hour, while it takes me an hour.” She’s also having a hard time dealing with social situations that were no problem for her in the past. “There were a few days when almost every day I would run out of class if someone said something and it annoyed me because I hadn’t slept at night. At home, too, lots of times if someone says something to me, I run to my room and cry.”

A., whose sixth birthday party was abruptly ended by a siren, says the security situation has been part of her life ever since she can remember, but it has never been so intense. “The past few months I’m much more sensitive and not as happy as I used to be,” she says. But she has found someone she can identify with. “One of the things that’s given me a lot of hope is reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ She talks about things that give me the feeling that we are very similar, even though she’s hiding from the Nazis and I’m hiding from Color Red.”

It’s very important to A. that she not be pitied. She says she was offended when Tel Aviv kids sent snacks to the local children during one of the last escalations, as well as when one of the tour guides accompanying her class on a trip said that he saluted them.

“There’s nothing here to salute,” she says. “It’s insulting that people pity me because my parents chose to live in this place.” But it also angers her that people from elsewhere don’t understand the situation in the border region. Last year, when the Eastern Crown festival was held in Eshkol Park, she heard Culture Minister Miri Regev wish the residents a return to routine. “I whispered to my Dad that our routine is explosions,” she said. “I don’t want it to be routine here, I want it to be good here.”

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