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MAY 2008

Violence in the World:
School Days Filled With Violence
By Dr. Pola Rosen

School is difficult enough with academic and social challenges. In far too many cases, bullying wreaks havoc on a school child’s psyche. In the case of some students, there is another source of fear and dread. Imagine what it would be like to live with explosives landing indiscriminately at home, in school, and all over the surrounding area? How can students study, take exams, go outside, and have a sense of normalcy when one minute, they are performing their daily activities and the next moment, a siren shrills to take cover in a shelter waiting for a dreaded explosion and a feeling of the ground shaking beneath their feet? How do they plan for a future that may never happen because they might not survive? How would they feel about losing friends or family?

Those answers were shared with me by a small group of students who long for peace and protection but are besieged by violence day and night. They are visiting New York from Sderot, a small town in Israel on the Gazan border, their trip paid for by Dr. Charlotte Frank, Senior VP, McGraw-Hill and Chair of the AIFL Executive Committee, who is committed to helping others and making a difference in students’ lives. These students are teenagers attending Sha’ar HaNegev High School or Sapir College with dreams of studying psychology, cinema, communications or film making. They are the America Israel Friendship League (www.aifl.org) Youth Ambassadors, Dr. Charlotte K. Frank Fellows.

Elan states, “some kids run, others don’t because we’re so used to hearing rockets.  One day, rockets fell in the schoolyard and all the windows were shaking. Three teachers were wounded.”

Hanna lives in a kibbutz nearby and told about the 20 missiles that fell there one day. “A rocket fell a few feet behind my father. One minute I have a father; another minute I may not.”

Yamit said that “rockets fell many times in her neighborhood. Two babies were killed. I was in the yard with my little brother when it happened.”

“Who plans and sends these Qassam rockets filled with explosives?” I asked. The students immediately responded “Hamas.” The missiles can fly up to 10 kilometers and have no navigation system. The people who launch Qassams fire them indiscriminately, disregarding the civilian population.

Ariel, who worked as a photographer, had to run with children to a shelter. The attacks are getting more frequent, about 30-40 per day. Red alerts are called so many times a day and are so exhaustively covered by the media that they have become mundane. The government and people in other parts of Israel barely show concern. Ariel would like to move, but his family lives there. “I don’t feel safe because there aren’t enough shelters,” he says sadly.

Their teacher, Jacqueline who has accompanied them from Israel to share their stories with the American people, says staunchly, “I will not move. We send all our children to the army; the role of the army is to protect us. The army is failing to do that in Sderot.”

One important question is why there aren’t enough shelters in Sderot. Fomer Ambassador from Israel to Turkey, Uri Bar-Ner who attended our gathering stated that it is the responsibility of the government to build shelters. “In the Golan Heights we had shelters. There is enough money and we must continue to remind the government that we need shelters.”

Hanna and Elan will not move away despite the daily barrage. “This danger bonds us to the community; we have to go through this together.”

All the students expressed their strong desire for peace. “But since we don’t have it,” they said, “we must have shelters.

“Our education is being disrupted. Our relatives don’t come to visit because they are afraid. For two months last year, we didn’t go to school. We didn’t have math so this year we doubled up.”

What recourse do these students have? What would you do if you were living there? What advice would you give them? Stefan, a student at Lehman High School in the Bronx who hosted the delegation from Sderot, was on the phone with them when they returned home. A red alert went off and he heard them screaming and running. “I really hope that there is something we can do about this. I know, me being one person is rather insignificant but if there is anyway I can help the situation please let me know.”

In addition to visiting Lehman High School, the AIFL/Dr. Charlotte K. Frank Fellows saw the highlights of NYC including a visit and chat with City Council members, the UN, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and then on to the Philadelphia Liberty Bell.

The program sponsored by AIFL and Dr. Frank reminds me of something anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “It only takes a few committed individuals to change society.”#



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