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A War Writ Small On the Other Side

Natanel hiding from a rocket attack. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

Natanel hiding from a rocket attack. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

ASHDOD, Southern Israel, Nov 20 2012 (IPS) - Overhead on a bombing mission, an Israeli Air Force F16 screams its way towards Gaza. On the street, the fighter jet’s shriek is covered by a plaintive sound – a “red alert”. Within seconds, an “Iron Dome” anti-missile missile launched roaring in a spark of light intercepts the incoming GRAD rocket.

“It isn’t safe for the children here. We’re leaving the city for the day; we’re coming back this evening. We don’t have anywhere else to stay,” laments Elisheva Pinto, with her daughter Chava, 13, and her son Arieh, 11, at her side inside the central station’s shelter, waiting to board a bus to Jerusalem.

Schools are closed for a fourth day. Playgrounds are empty.

The day before, on Saturday, the tenement building located on Independence Avenue, 93, in the centre of this working class city of over 200,000 people, sustained a direct hit. No one was killed.

Property Tax Authority assessors have come to evaluate the damage. The rocket hit an apartment on the fourth floor. The flat’s a wreck. A gaping hole on the wall of the balcony; shrapnel on the walls of the living room are testament of the rocket’s trajectory.

A myriad of broken shards of glass are strewn on the floor, mixed with pellets of metal. When the rocket exploded, countless pellets scattered, pierced through bonnets of cars parked in the street down below, maximising the devastation.

Remnants of frozen life are everywhere. On the dining table, a framed family portrait – a couple and their two young daughters – has been tossed away by the blast on a plate containing the leftovers of a modest sabbatical lunch of rice, lentils and spring chicken.

The Elikashvilis, the tenants, have been evacuated to a hotel in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, 30 kilometres to the north. The landowner reports to the assessors just as a news bulletin on the radio reports that Tel Aviv has also been targeted.

Another “red alert” resounds in the living room. The visitors leave the useless apartment, and run through the corridor to the building’s staircase which serves as shelter for most residents. Some have preferred to stay in their private shelter. In recently-built construction, the law requires that each flat be equipped with a protected room.

Two floors below, the Amsaleg family – the grandparents, the mother and her two small children Natanel and Ilay – cuddle together under the dim light. “This is not life!” Annette Belladev, the grandmother, protests.

End of alert – the Amsalegs returns to their three-room apartment.

Natanel is hungry, hasn’t eaten for a day. He prepares himself a slice of toasted bread with cream cheese at the kitchen table. “I’ve been sick vomiting because of the missile,” he says. “You’ll be fine, right Natanel?” his mom, Dvora, comforts him, brushing his cropped hair with her hand.

And yet there’s another alert, Natanel cuts short his quick snack and he, his younger brother, mom, “grandpa and ma”, all rush back to the staircase. They’ve got 30 seconds to take shelter before they hear the far away explosion. The air trembles.

November 20 marks Universal Children’s Day. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Jerusalem and Ramallah (in the West Bank) to assist the current ceasefire efforts. “A day of fraternity and understanding between the children of the world,” is the blessing, and the wish, put up on the UN’s official website.

Since the start of the “Pillar of Defence” operation launched by Israel on Hamas in Gaza on Wednesday, at least 24 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli fire in more than 1,400 Air Force and Navy raids, according to Palestinian health officials; more than 200 have been wounded. One Israeli child has been wounded by Palestinian fire during one of some 1,200 rocket attacks.

Here in this port city, on an average day, children and their families live under the threat of ten rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from Gaza, just 23 kilometres away.

No one in Ashdod will pretend that Israeli children suffer the same predicament as the one endured by the children in the Gaza Strip. But fear and pain makes you blind and oblivious to the other’s pain and fear, and selfish.

Natanel is nine years old today. He looks around the staircase at the sound of the alarm, his face convulsed in a final moment of terror, in some sort of silent supplication. “We’ll celebrate your birthday when all this is over, right Natanel?” mom comforts her son.

“What do you wish for your birthday?” she asks him. “I wish that Israel kills all the Palestinians, all of them, and their children as well,” he answers impassively.

This is the story of a war writ small by young, unforgiving people.

“You shouldn’t say such awful things,” Natanel’s mother protests, “Jews and Arabs, we’re all human beings. Like us, they’re stuck in an impossible quagmire. Just like us, they didn’t ask for it.”

Natanel imperceptibly nods his ascent. Unlike the adult role model who kisses him, he seems to be feeling very little for “the other side”.

When quiet sets in again, the day is spent gazing at the television, preposterously watching the news announcing what’s happening right here, at home: Israel’s ferocious assault; the destruction of an incoming rocket by the “Iron Dome” battery located on a hillock on the city’s outskirt.

Natanel is bored: “I wish I’d go to school and play. I miss my friends.”

Another rocket attack – it’s the third one in one hour – and another rocket interception. Looming over the sea, a cloud of white smoke stains the immaculate sky.

Ten minutes later, the routine of life takes over from matters of life and death. Natanel is back at the kitchen table, butters another slice of toasted bread. “So, when shall we organise your birthday party, Natanel?” asks Dvora, preparing a hot cocoa. “In one month,” he murmurs, “When the war’s over…” (ENDS)

 
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  • Quincy Saul

    What is this article doing on IPS? I come hear to hear the voice of the voiceless. If IPS continues to publish stories like this one I will stop reading on principle. There is a full scale massacre of biblical proportions in Gaza right now, and this is a story about a boy missing his birthday party. What about the children who will have no birthday, and no family to celebrate it with? Come on, IPS, you can do better than this. ““I wish that Israel kills all the Palestinians, all of them, and their children as well,” he answers impassively.” This attempt to humanize the genocidal tendencies of Israeli society is despicable. Your readers demand an apology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noam.bahat Noam Bahat

    the problem with this story is that it is too flat, it tells nothing of politics of this war and what romanticizes the pilot bombing Gaza. The israeli people living in Shderot Ashkelon Beer Sheva suffer from the rockets coming from Gaza but the Israeli army and government utilizes their suffering to lunch a war on the Palestinian people, a people already suffering under the israeli occupation.

  • Dina

    I have to agree with the below comment, I’m surprised to see this on IPS. Israel has all the military might to injure 1000+ people and kill over a hundred within a week, and we’re hearing a story about an Israeli boy in his living room? Gazans are living in an open-air prison intentionally put on a near-starvation diet by a brutal blockade. Look at the numbers of how many Palestinian lives have been taken in the last month, versus how many Israeli. How many Palestinians injured by U.S.-sponsored weapons, by illegal white phosphorous, versus Israelis injured by Hamas’ rockets. Even more than numbers, look at the context — look at where this started and the historical context of a disenfranchised population suffering the longest-standing military occupation, brutal, and completely illegal under international law. I just don’t see the journalistic value of this snippet — this family counts as the voiceless? Okay…it’s easy to have access to and write a story about what an Israeli family are saying in their living rooms, harder to do all the background research to write a fair article about WHY this is happening. And yeah, as the below commenter said, “There is a full scale massacre of biblical proportions in Gaza right
    now, and this is a story about a boy missing his birthday party.”

  • Cara

    Is this really the narrative that IPS has chosen to follow? No child should ever have to witness the horrors of war that is for certain. But this article seems to trivialize the historical and ongoing oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. This is a disappointing commentary by IPS on a war that is so one-sided.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiya.tejpal tiya tejpal

    This is a little bizarre – instead of concentrating on the impact of the ’3rd rocket attack in the past hour’ (not including the attacks in reverse) – I find myself concentrating on the cuddling and hot cocoa.

    Perhaps that’s what the intention is – to misle the reader with simplified stories so the historical injustice may be ignored.

    Hardly what needs to be read from an – independent press service.

  • Hira Nabi

    this seems to be hardly keeping in line IPS’s guiding principle: “giving voice to the voiceless,” which may perhaps need to be revisited? the war is definitely real for both palestinian and israeli children, who may have to miss many birthday parties and the chance to lead their lives in meaningful lives that are deemed ‘normal.’ But we know that the war will end for israel, “in one month, he murmurs, “when the war’s over.” the war has been going on gaza since 2009, and even before. the war never stops in gaza. why is that completely missing from this narrative?

    “No one in Ashdod will pretend that Israeli children suffer the same predicament as the one endured by the children in the Gaza Strip. But fear and pain makes you blind and oblivious to the other’s pain and fear, and selfish.” is this accepting and perhaps justifying the side of selfish?

    I expect better from IPS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/turiddu.kronstadt Turiddu Kronstadt

    By decontextualising the rocket attacks and focusing on the side that typically gets the greatest attention (i.e., prioritising the “security” of Israelis, and then only some of them), IPS are in this case little different from the daily demagoguery propagated through the pages of all major newspapers in North America and Western Europe. It is very disappointing to see such slippage and poor journalism from such an otherwise fine news source. Henceforth, it will be difficult to take IPS seriously.

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