Stav Cohen, 21, has lived in the southern Israeli town of Sderot her whole life. Not long ago her house was struck by a Kassam rocket.
Cohen’s family survived the attack, but living within range of the Palestinian rockets fired from the nearby Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip has taken its toll.
On a recent vacation in Switzerland her 3-year-old brother kept asking his parents, “Where is the safe room?” He couldn’t believe it when he was informed that rockets would not be falling on his head.
“There is a whole generation growing up that does not know that rocket attacks are not normal,” Cohen recently told JTA.
Cohen was one of three Sderot residents who toured the United States this month addressing Jewish groups and American political leaders about life in the face of Palestinian rocket fire.
Their tour was co-sponsored by Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Since May, Sderot has been bombarded daily by Kassam rockets painted yellow for the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, black for Islamic Jihad and green for Hamas.
Cohen was joined on the speaking tour by Aharon Polat, 43, a social worker who works with young trauma victims and lives in nearby Kibbutz Carmi with his wife and two sons, and Michal Kakoon, 35, a science teacher in Sderot, where she has lived for 15 years with her husband and two daughters.
They were among several groups of Sderot residents touring the United States. This week, a group of Russian children from the town will spend a month near Boston, at a Chabad-Lubavitch camp and a math camp, before touring the East Coast and staging performances for other children. The plays will be performed in Russian with simultaneous English translation.
Polat was relocated to the kibbutz with his family as part of the 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
“There are children who will not come out from under the tab! le, who hide in the bathroom, refuse to come out of the bathroom” because they are so afraid of the rocket attacks, he said.
Other children see the attacks as simply part of their everyday lives.
“They play a Kassam game,” Polat said, in which a child yells out red alert and all the other children scramble to hide from pretend rockets.
Kakoon deals daily with the constant fears of her children and her students.
“We feel abandoned,” she said.
Polat agreed, saying, “The people are exhausted and abandoned. The government needs to find a solution. There must be at least 10 things the government could do.”
Israel has resisted a major re-entry into Gaza, as the prospect of reoccupation would be profoundly unpopular among Israelis and could scuttle emerging peace prospects with moderate Palestinians.
“We elect these people to protect us, they should find a solution,” Cohen said. “Every house from which a rocket is launched should be destroyed. Any house that aids the Hamas terrorists should be demolished completely.”
Cohen cautioned that innocent Palestinians should not be punished.
“Collective punishment is wrong,” she said. “We know how it feels to be innocent and be attacked; we should not do that to others.”
With Hamas now in control of Gaza after routing moderate forces earlier this month, Kakoon sees no end to the violence.
“We have no partner in peace,” she said.