A Year After the Gaza War: The Forgotten Children of Sderot
It’s been a year since Operation Cast Lead, and from the media silence, one would assume that all is quiet on the Gaza/Israel front. There’s been scant reportage of projectile launches coming out of Gaza into Sderot and southern Israel. That’s probably because people aren’t dying.
But a quick call to Sderot Media Center sheds light on the situation as it truly stands. There have been 283 missiles, rockets, and mortar rounds launched into Israel since last January. And almost every time there’s a launch, air-raid sirens sound to warn residents that they have 15 seconds before touchdown to take cover in bomb shelters.
Since 2001, the city of Sderot has been hit by 10,000 missiles launched by Palestinian militants based in the Hamas-run Gaza enclave. The entire town has suffered but those most traumatized are the children, whose nightmares return every time a siren sounds.
From toddlers to teenagers, more than 80% of Sderot’s 8000 kids are living proof of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many of them wet their beds, suffer bad dreams, suck their thumbs, experience chronic anxiety, sleep in their parents’ beds, and exhibit lingering physical and psychological manifestations that accompany life in an environment where they have had to scramble for cover in life-and-death situations.
Until now, they’ve had therapy resources available via the town’s Resilience Center Treatment Clinic. The center staff treat the kids’ symptoms and guides parents on coping with their children’s trauma. The center also serves as a safe haven.
But recently the news came that the Resilience Center Treatment Clinic, which is dependent on donations and subsidies, is in jeopardy of shutting down. There’s simply not enough money to keep it going. Rocket and missile barrages minus casualties have a funny way of turning formerly exuberant private donors into “we had to re-prioritize our spending” withholders. The Israeli government has also had to re-prioritize what comes from its coffers.
So what of the kids? That is the question American television producer Liane Thompson is asking. She is hoping to give them a voice and keep the center open with a feature-length documentary she is producing titled Children of Missile City.
The documentary follows a handful of Sderot children, their parents, and therapists offering viewers a glimpse of the lingering effects of PTSD. Thompson says she’s making the film to raise awareness of trauma and it ramifications.
“We live in times of red and orange alerts but what do people really know about the long-term effects of terrorism?” Thompson asked. “The Sderot children and what they’re living is the perfect chance to tell that story.”
The story includes teenagers who sleep with their parents, children unable to function within society, and young people terrified of exiting the safety of bomb shelters.
Israel’s government has been putting emergency funding toward the handful of staffers who continue treating the 6,500 or so young sufferers, but the walk-in center shut its doors earlier this year.
Why don’t people simply pick up and leave? They can’t. Sderot is a working class town of 20,000. And with the situation as it has been, properties don’t exactly fall into the prime real estate category.
Thompson and a host of therapists, parents, and kids have hopes pinned on the documentary. If it gets made and starts circulating, awareness surrounding the implications of nearly a decade of rocket fire will be revived.
Unfortunately, the rocket fire could easily be revived as well. Citing the expanded number of weapons tunnels running from Egypt to Gaza, Sderot Media Center spokesperson Jacob Shrybman predicts it’s a mere matter of time before 20+ rockets start raining down on the city again.
And what then?
“It’s all in the terrorists’ hands,” he says. “That’s why the city’s population is so traumatized. The so-called quiet we have now isn’t settling. It’s downright eerie. And whenever a siren goes off, it serves as a reminder that Hamas can terrorize us whenever they want.”