A boy flees on his bike from the fierce blaze. The photo snapped on Tuesday by 13-year-old Uriya Kabir shows 7-year-old Yonatan Regev; both children are from Kibbutz Mefalsim in the Gaza border area. The photo spread through social media and was printed on a double spread in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
It’s hard to be indifferent to the reddening background and the fleeing boy; it looks almost like Vietnam after an American napalm bombing. But Yonatan was fleeing on his bike because the firefighters had warned him to stay away from the fire, which had been started on the other side of the kibbutz fence due to an incendiary balloon.
Yonatan’s life has not been easy lately. Fires burn around the kibbutz, the smoke is suffocating and the ash blackens everything. At night they hear explosions and during the day they breathe smoke. Yonatan fled home. In the kibbutz his family and friends were waiting for him, properly protected.
Yonatan had somewhere to flee. He lacks for nothing. His life is not in real danger. His suffering is not to be taken lightly, but he has a house with electricity and clean water, a shelter and a children’s room, and he is free to travel wherever he wants. He may have already been abroad. His future is secure, as far as can be predicted, and his fate is in his own hands. He is a child like all other children in the first world, whose life has not been easy for the past months and whose nights are frightening.
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But when the firefighters told him to keep away from the fire, he rode confidently toward the kibbutz. There is not one child in Gaza who can even dream of the life Yonatan has. They’ve never heard of shelters and clean water. Most of them don’t have a bicycle like his.
On the other side of the fence, from which the incendiary balloons are launched, they want to make life miserable for Yonatan and his friends. They have no other way to remind Yonatan, the Israelis and the world, that their lives are much more terrifying. Perhaps if they make Yonatan’s life miserable, someone will remember their bitter fate and do something to save them.
They’ve known for a long time now that if they don’t launch incendiary balloons and make life miserable for the people living opposite them, no one will care about their fate. Perhaps a boy Yonatan’s age launched the balloon, perhaps a little older, but there is nothing in common between the life of the person who launches these balloons and Yonatan’s life. They were born to separate fates. Since the gates of Gaza slammed shut on their lives, the gap has grown to a terrible abyss.
Anyone who thought that the children of Jabalya, who gaze longingly at the children of Mefalsim, would sit idly by and accept their fate, does not know human history and the human soul. There is nothing more understandable, just and human than the uprising of the young people of Gaza; in light of the reality of their lives, they are responding with almost amazing restraint.
Israel can continue to blame Hamas, which builds tunnels instead of hospitals – Israel is, after all, a peace-loving country that invests most of its budgets in social needs and hardly spends money on weapons or submarines, only on hospitals – and also to accuse Hamas of organizing the demonstrations. It can go on saying that the family of every Palestinian killed receives money, as if Israel does not compensate the families of its dead. It can persist in despicably hinting that the residents of Gaza are being killed for money – as did the defense minister, perhaps to ease his non-existent conscience. But Gaza is rising up because it is choking, literally, and its inhabitants have nothing more to lose. And so if things are not good in Jabalya, they will never be good in Mefalsim.
Yonatan came home safely, and that’s good. Amir a-Nimra, the boy with a hole in his heart who dreamed of being a driving teacher, did not come home safely this summer. He was shot to death by an Israeli Defense Forces sniper, like some 30 other children.
The fire that chased Yonatan home will continue to burn – when will we finally understand this? – as long as children living across from his home continue to live life in a cage, or continue to die.