A tour around “the Gaza Envelope,” the western Negev, reveals a conventional life dealing with unconventional circumstances.
Along open roads are bomb shelters, some even painted with beautiful patterns to make something so unnatural not seem intimidating to children who rely on fleeing to these shelters often on a daily basis – or even multiple times a day.
Some playgrounds are indoors, like the Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot. With a mere 15 seconds to run for cover, playing out in the open is a luxury children of the South can ill afford.
“We established the world’s first protected playground with the amazing Jewish National Fund-USA, spearheaded by CEO Russell F. Robinson, who invested heavily in the playground so children could play without fear,” remarked Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi.
“Sadly, the hundreds of kids who come here every day are used to this,” playground manager Shmuel Ohayon laments. “They are used to frequent drills in school, running to bomb shelters at home, and if there’s trauma, they have psychologists to speak to. Seventy-four percent of them have some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].”
It is facilities such as these that give children some semblance of normalcy and security during uncertain times like these. The playground, which was opened in 2009 and funded by Jewish National Fund-USA, is just one example of the many ways the organization has supported the people of the South – always.
Since March, however, Hamas has tormented the region with flaming kites, explosive balloons and, of course, rockets. It has disrupted families’ daily routines, scorched thousands of acres of land and has cultivated an atmosphere of tension very much akin to what was felt in the early summer of 2014, before Operation Protective Edge broke out.
Much of this has been largely ignored by the foreign press.
Jewish National Fund-USA decided to take action and is spearheading a speaking tour across the United States to raise awareness about what is transpiring on Israel’s southern border.
“We want the American public to hear the real story,” said Dr. Sol Lizerbram, JNF-USA’s president. “These fires – caused by what has become known as ‘kite terrorism’ – are causing trauma and PTSD that is going to last for decades. We want the people of the Gaza Envelope to know that Jewish National Fund, and our hundreds of thousands of donors, are behind them 24/7. We want them to know they’re not alone.”
The speakers will “discuss their lives and what they’ve been going through. Being woken up in the middle of the night, sleeping in safe rooms as they’re trying to go about their lives,” said Betsy Fischer, chair of JNF’s Gaza Envelope Task Force, a group of donors who dedicate themselves to assessing the needs of the region and fund-raising for them. “The arson and terrorism are causing such destruction: Suffocating animals, polluting the air, ruining habitat for animals, destroying businesses. It’s not like this is a little thing and it’s gotten worse in 100-plus days.”
Speakers will include Michal Uziyahu, director of community centers in the Eshkol Region, which shares just under 50 kilometers (some 30 miles) of border with Gaza; Sarit Khanoukaev, a 21-year-old counselor for at-risk youth who lives and works in Sderot; and Yedidya Harush, JNF’s representative for the Halutza communities and the entire Gaza Envelope region.
The three will traverse the country and make stops in 11 cities.
“This tour says that JNF is here for us before, they’re here during the emergency and will be here the day after,” Uziyahu said. “This story is not being told, especially in the United States. I don’t even know if the story is being told well enough in Israel, where they think it’s just several rockets being fired and now everything is okay.
“Knowing that at any single moment Hamas will continue to dictate our days makes us feel just like we did during Operation Projective Edge,” she added. “They control our lives. It’s not an acceptable situation.”
“America needs to know this story,” said Lizerbram. “These are the pioneers of Israel and we must support them as we’ve always done and we will continue to be there.”
A complete list of speaking dates across the country can be viewed at www.jnf.org/gazatownhall.
This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA.