Israeli Children Have Been Forsaken in the COVID Crisis? Tell It to the Palestinians

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The entrance to the Deheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem, in 2019.

A new cry is going out across the land, that of the children in lockdown, loudly voiced by their parents. Ravit Hecht writes about it with restraint on this page, a day after Uri Misgav (writing in Hebrew) went a little overboard. Each serves as a mouthpiece for many parents, expressing a distress that should not be taken lightly, especially not by people who do not have children at home. Hecht: “But this shortcoming will be with us for years to come – how the children and their parents were abandoned during the pandemic.”

Misgav took it a dramatic step further, arguing that not only did the state abandon them but the government was also tormenting them. “After the fatalities and the people on breathing machines and the people who went into bankruptcy, [the children and the parents] are the real victims of the coronavirus debacle in Israel.” That wasn’t enough for you? Here’s some more, with a side of score-settling with the prime minister, naturally: “They are the true cannon fodder of Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet. ... They have no horizon; for them, the lockdown is eternal.”

It reminds me of a sketch from the satirical TV series Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country,” broadcast July 10, 2020): “Listen, it’s not easy. We are five people closed up in 7,000 square meters [7,500 sq. ft.]. ... I can’t take any more, I’m suffocating. We’re not quarantine types. We’re people of air, of atmosphere.”

Israelis are indeed people of air and atmosphere, and they find the lockdown unbearable – who doesn’t? – but in contrast to the people of most nations, Israelis should count to ten before they dare complain about lockdowns, about children with no future, about teens serving as cannon fodder and about a generation with no horizon, for whom the lockdown never ends. A bit of proportion, a bit of shame, a little guilt and above all a drop of self-awareness wouldn’t hurt here. It’s true that suffering is suffering, and people think first of all about themselves and their children, but from a society that is wreaking such horrific damage on generations of children while ignoring the facts and maintaining its silence one can demand some humility and integrity before indulging in self-pity and moaning.

Speaking of bemoaning, perhaps the complaints should be directed to the education system, precisely when the schools have reopened. What is it they teach – mainly, what is it they don’t teach? There’s so much ignorance there, along with brainwashing, but there is less complaining about this. Israel’s schools serve mainly as a babysitter, childcare for parents who work.

Israel has a backyard, from which the lockdown experienced by Israelis looks like the luxury of the family in that satirical sketch. That’s why their cries seem no less ridiculous than those of the Tortelim, the family in the segment. It’s not that Israeli parents should be looking constantly at Deheisheh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem, and taking comfort from the comparison. Of course not. It’s not that we can’t complain about the calamitous impact of the lockdown on our children. We can and should complain. But Deheisheh is not a displaced persons camp in Myanmar; it is a refugee camp under Israeli rule, a half-hour drive from its capital city and an hour from the center of the country, and it was created by Israel.

It’s hard to listen to the state that bears the responsibility for the fate of the children in Deheisheh, for their being refugees and for their incarceration, bemoaning only its own fate. The children in Deheisheh can only dream of living in an Israeli lockdown. There are children there who have never seen the sea, despite living just an hour away by car, who have never seen a bit of lawn, who have never been to another country and who never will. These are children who see their parents and siblings snatched from their beds in the middle of the night, with some of them arrested on occasion. There are children who earn college degrees, only to end up as plasterers in Israel, if they’re lucky; children who, even when school is in session, have no place to go in the afternoon, when classes are over. These are the children of Deheisheh.

A few weeks ago, at the height of the pandemic, while traveling to the al-Arroub refugee camp, I asked that my meeting be held outside, so as not to risk infection. In this large, overcrowded camp there wasn’t a single place outdoors for us to sit. That’s the reality in al-Arroub, and we Israelis are responsible for it. When we speak, with typical hyperbole, about our children today being lost generations and cannon fodder, we have no right to forget this fact for even a single moment.

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