5 August 2014

SOS mother on Israel-Palestine war: 'I do not have words'

5 August 2014 - Four weeks into the war that has claimed almost 2,000 lives, SOS caretakers and co-workers in Gaza and Israel struggle to answer the children's questions and calm their fears


There is one SOS village in the Palestinian Territories of Gaza, and two in Israel. Image: SOS Archives.
Will there be peace now? Following yesterday’s seven hour ‘humanitarian window’, a new, 72-hour ceasefire came into effect this morning and Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza, the BBC reports. The children and families of both Gaza and Israel are desperate for safety and security.

“The last 2 to 3 days have been very hard. There has been a lot of shelling and bombing,” said Samy Ajjour, Family-Based Care Coordinator at SOS Children’s Villages Palestine, in the Gaza strip.SOS Children's Villages is situated about 15 km from Rafah in a village called Deir Sultan in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The area is densely populated and the town of Rafah is estimated to have around 71,000 inhabitants. Most of the inhabitants are Palestinian refugees.

While no rockets have landed directly on the SOS village, rockets fell within earshot and shook the walls of the village houses.
 
Although frightened and exhausted from the conflict which began nearly four weeks ago, luckily the children and staff inside the SOS village at Rafah, and the village itself, are still physically unharmed. The internet had been cut off, and electricity shortages are now common, but the “essential needs” of the children, families and staff inside the SOS village were still being met, said Mr Ajjour.

Outside the SOS village, families have not been so lucky. One SOS Children's Villages Palestine guard lost his sister and her eight children on 27 July. "I have lost my house, my memories, my relatives and my friends..." he said.
 
An SOS mother from Rafah said she struggles to explain to her children what is happening outside their village.
 
“My children are four and seven years old. They ask me: ‘Why do we put dead people in the fridge? Why are so many people being killed? Why have so many houses been destroyed?’  I cannot help with anything. I cannot even answer. I feel I’m in a nightmare… I do not have words to explain the pain.”

Over 1,860 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including many children, have been killed in Gaza during the past month of fighting. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed, the BBC reported.
 
On the other side of the so-called 'Green Line', the boundary separating Gaza from Israel, missiles have also landed near SOS Children’s Villages Neradim, one of two SOS villages in Israel.
 
Two missiles directly hit Bedouin camps nearby. One person died and a few others were badly injured, said Kim Banaji, a co-worker at SOS Children's Villages Israel.
 
“We, however, have good shelters at the children’s village and the children are well instructed what to do in the event of an attack,” Ms Banaji said. When sirens go off warning of rocket fire, the children and staff usually have 40 seconds to run to a bomb shelter, she added.

SOS Children’s Villages in Israel has been in close communication with the Home Front Command of the Israeli army, which is in charge of guidance and emergency instructions for the civilian population under fire.
 
Like the children from the SOS village in Gaza, the children from the two SOS villages in Israel also struggle to understand the violence around them.

“Sadly, I can say that the situation of being attacked by the missiles of Hamas is not new to anyone here. Nevertheless this situation affects the children badly: they cry more, they are afraid to be left alone without supervision, they are afraid to play outside,” said Matti Rose, the SOS Israel Neradim Village Director.
 
“All of our children come from different cities in the south of Israel [the area most affected by Hamas’ rockets], so they are all worried about their families back home,” he said.
 
Muslim, Christian and Jewish children live together peacefully at SOS Children’s Villages Neradim, added Mr Rose. “It goes without saying that all children are equal to each other.”

“In any conflict that harms civilians, children are most vulnerable and pay the heaviest price. They suffer terrible injuries and psychological trauma; they lose their parents, or are killed themselves. At stake is the well-being of children on both sides of the conflict,” said SOS Children’s Villages CEO Richard Pichler. “We remind all parties of their fundamental obligation under international human rights law to protect the safety of children, who are being robbed of their childhood.”