14 January 2009 Sderot students look forward to peace For thousands of teenagers in Sderot and other communities in the south of Israel, the Gaza conflict presents their first realistic prospect of peace after years of enduring Hamas rockets. But students at Shaar HaNegev and Shikma High Schools, some of whom have lived half their lives with the almost daily cycle of air raid sirens and sprinting to bomb shelters, express as much empathy for ordinary Gazans as they do relief that their own country is taking concerted action to end Hamass attacks. The high schools are supported by World ORT through Kadima Mada (Science Journey). A perfect example is Tammy Pirchasov, who lives with her parents, younger brother and sister, and an older, disabled sister. Sounding much older than her 15 years, this Shaar HaNegev student says she has become accustomed to the explosives raining down on her town. When the rockets started I didnt understand because I was so young I laughed when I heard the red alert, Tammy said. But when I understood I started to scream and cry because I knew I could die any moment. My sister Caroline is eight and she is used to it now, like me. But my brother, Sasha, is five and still cant talk; his fear of the Qassam attacks has slowed his development. Because of our experience we know how the people in Gaza feel at the moment. They should not have to suffer because the problem is with Hamas. But what else can we do The world thinks only Gaza suffers but we suffer, too. Her older sister, Louisa, can not speak or walk having suffered brain damage in a Russian hospital shortly before her parents made aliyah. I think shes very scared, Tammy said. She understands everything that is going on. When theres a red alert my parents carry her into the sheltered room in our home. But both my parents work so sometimes it is me who does it. We dont have the money to leave Sderot. But even if we did, where would we go Now all Israel is in range of rockets from north and south. Everyone has a story but, until recently, hardly anyone has been listening. Sometimes I was getting up four or five times in the night to get in the shelter because the Qassamim were coming and then going to school as if everything was normal, said Or Sasporca. The 18-year-old has lived all her life in Sderot but studies at Shikma, in Hof Ashkelon, to the north. It was very difficult to wake up and go to school at 8am and learn. At that time Qassamim were only falling on Sderot. Five years ago we were suffering and we felt very, very isolated. We were alone in this war between us and Gaza. No-one really knew about it unless they lived in Sderot. Since Israels unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, however, rockets have been falling regularly on the Hof Ashkelon area. Sometimes we feel lonely because the world has abandoned us, said Shikma student Yael Livne, 17. Thats why its great that World ORT has started supporting our school. It really helps us to cope. We feel like someone cares and wants to help us that peoples heart is not closed even though they are a long way away. Fellow Shikma student, Itai Wolkowitcz, also 17, agrees. World ORTs investment in new equipment and a sports field closer to bomb shelters has alleviated the frustration he felt in his communitys plight being ignored by the world. The fact that my education has not been harmed by the Qassam attacks is thanks in part to the new computer class and the new sports field that World ORT has provided, Itai, who majors in computer studies, said. World ORTs help has allowed us to learn and to play sport with less disruption. I am sure it has also helped me to know that there are people in the world who do care about us. Classes at both Shikma and Shaar HaNegev have endured countless interruptions as red alert sirens give students and staff about 15 seconds warning to find shelter from incoming high explosive warheads packed with ball bearings and other objects calculated to cause maximum death and injury. Many, many times our lessons are disturbed by the attacks, Tammy said. And if you are taking an exam, when you come back to the class after a red alert you have forgotten what you wanted to write. Lihi Vaanunu experiences a similar problem when lessons are disrupted. The 17-year-old Shaar HaNegev student majors in chemistry and biology and wants to be a forensic scientist like you see in CSI. When theres a red alert we run out of the classroom into a safe room, Lihi said. We wait one minute and go back to the classroom. But its very difficult to focus on study after that. We try to, but its hard. So when I get home and I feel calmer I study to try to catch up with what I missed in the lesson. Yael adds: When I hear the alarm I get scared for my family. You cant focus on learning when you hear the alarm at school. Some people are very, very scared. There are school days when there are no alarms but there are also days when the alarm sounds six or seven times. Or describes herself as a happy person. Majoring in art at Shikma, her experiences living in a city under attack have inspired her to pursue a career in social work. I see how children are reacting to whats going on in Sderot and I think it would be very nice to help those children, so I would like to work with children, she said. It may also prove to be a way for Or to help the child within herself. Four years ago my neighbour was killed by a Qassam. She was outside and didnt have a chance to find shelter. I was with a friend of mine studying for a test when we heard a big boom. We went outside and saw all the children and parents crying. It was a disaster. I knew her and it was very difficult to cope. She died a week later. Now, when she finds herself lucky enough to be in a shelter counting the seconds she prays she does not hear the big boom which signals a close hit. Its very stressful. Im tired all the time and I cry a lot, Or says. But I can talk to my friends about it because were all in the same boat. Its like that in Israel; everyone supports each other. The different reactions described by individual students are typical of the range of responses to the on-going threat, said Simona Saar, a counsellor at Shaar HaNegev. Her job involves helping students cope with the challenges of school, age and circumstance anything from drugs and alcohol abuse to dealing with exam pressures. For eight years, the stress of imminent harm has been added to the list. Theres a lot of anxiety because of the rockets and we have cases of post traumatic stress, Mrs Saar said. A lot of students cry and a lot have bad dreams and are frightened to come to school. Others are frightened to go home. Now we have students who have got used to the situation; they find an inner strength. It depends on the children: there are some who are very strong and there some who are emotional and they cry every time theres an attack. In Ashkelon and Beer Sheva, which have only recently been hit by rockets, they find it more difficult to cope with than our students. Together with her colleagues, Mrs Saar can help the children cope with their anxieties in a number of ways, from breathing exercises and teaching them how to think about their experiences, to meditation or simply a hug or a cup of tea. Her sympathy is not limited to her own community, however. I have pity for the people of Gaza and what they are experiencing, she said. And I am very angry with Hamas, with what they are doing to their own people because Gaza could be a beautiful city with tourists, beaches and hotels. But they dont let Gaza develop as it should. And its impossible for us to live with eight years of bombs on children and kindergartens. We dont have enough shelters. This situation has to end. So while we have a lot of pity for the people of Gaza we also know that this war has to be fought. Or Adams daughter, Thom, is in Year 9 at Shaar HaNegev school with Tammy. A Sderot resident, he works as a lawyer in Beer Sheva, which is now also within range of Hamas rockets. Almost exactly a year ago his home suffered a direct hit from a Qassam. I was on the phone to my wife when the red alarm sounded, he recalled. She and Thom managed to reach the shelter before the Qassam hit, making a big hole in the wall (pictured). Thoms bedroom, where she had been sitting at her computer just moments before, was destroyed. Our other daughter was caught outside and we didnt know where she was. Fortunately she knew to run to the nearest house in such a situation so she found shelter with our neighbour. Had she tried to run home she may have been killed. Thom has told him that the most intense quiet she experiences is the few seconds between the red alert and the explosion when she wonders whether this rocket will harm her or someone else. But we try to educate our children not to hate the other side, Mr Adam says. Every Friday evening when were making Shabbat we try to remember the hungry people in Gaza and we pray together for peace. We hope that whats happening in Gaza will bring quiet but it really hurts us that children are being hurt there. I am sure we can all live in peace but in Gaza they are being taught too much hatred. Almost every family has a member serving in the armed forces: Mrs Saars son Yuval, 21, is on the front line in Gaza providing on the spot medical help for wounded comrades; Lihis 23-year-old brother is a navigator in the air force making the critical calculations for pin point bombing attacks against Hamas targets; Or Sasporcas brother Eldad, 26, is in the infantry in Gaza; and Itais brother, Omer, 24, is an officer serving in Gaza. I want peace but Im worried about the soldiers, Or said. Smadar Sharvit, the World ORT Innovation Co-ordinator at Makif Aleph High School in Beer Sheva, which was hit by a Hamas rocket last week, has been looking after her neighbours nine-year-old daughter while the family sits shiva for their eldest son, Alex, 21, a bomb disposal expert who was shot in the northern Gaza Strip. I saw the team which the IDF sends to people to inform them of such a death before my neighbours did, Mrs Sharvit said. And as soon as you see them you know what they are doing here. Its a very awful feeling; its something terrible. I dont want to see that happen to anyone. Its like you see something dreadful coming and nothing good will happen after that. They are devastated. Alex was their bright star, very clever and successful. He was always very happy and he made people around him feel happy. But life goes on and we try to help our neighbours as much as we can.