The Deadly Cost of Home



“You could have a kitchen like that someday. It costs dearly, but home always does.” So goes a line from Munich, a Steven Spielberg film about a covert Israeli team that tracks down and kills Palestinians suspected of being responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Seen on a map, the area of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza is only a tiny strip of land surrounded by its much larger neighbors in the Middle East. And yet this patch of land has been a setting of violence and bloodshed for much of its history. A home costs dearly indeed and for nearly a hundred years, both the Israelis and the Palestinians have been paying for it with their lives. The latest in fact was just last weekend; at least 15 people dead.

On May 15 Israelis celebrate their independence day, the fulfillment of their aspiration to have their own land and country. On the same day Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the day of catastrophe when more than 700,000 of them were driven out of their homes. On its 63rd year last Sunday, the Nakba took a violent turn when thousands of Palestinians and Arab supporters marched towards Israel’s borders, resulting in a deadly clash with Israeli troops.

This long-running conflict is taking its toll on one of the region’s most vulnerable population: the children. In the town of Sderot in southern Israel, about 75 percent of kids aged 4-18 were found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress after rocket fire from Palestinian militants targeted their town on a nearly daily basis. From 2001 to 2009, more than 8,600 rockets have hit southern Israel and in Sderot, 90 percent of residents have had a missile exploding in their neighborhood.

Meanwhile, children in Gaza are in danger of gunfire from Israeli troops as they go scavenging for construction materials in ruined buildings near the border. The Gaza blockade has prevented new materials from coming in; poverty has forced young people to drop out of school and earn some money by scavenging. Twenty-six children are said to have been shot by soldiers in 2010 alone. In East Jerusalem, an estimated three out of four Palestinian children are living in poverty and have no access to basic social services. Public schools are overcrowded, with a shortage of about 1,000 classrooms.

In this continuing struggle of which land belongs to whom, generations of children have had to contend with the crises and risks that the conflict has imposed on them. In 1948, then 13-year-old Kamel Shraydeh had to flee his home in the Palestinian village of Safsaf with his three-year-old brother in tow. He escaped to Lebanon where he thought he would just stay for a few days before going back his village. Now 76, he has spent his life in refugee camps and hasn’t returned to Safsaf since the day he left.

After more than a century, Kamel is witnessing the same chaos he was subjected to as a kid. When today’s generation of children have reached their 70s, are they going to see another deadly commemoration of Nakba? Is home on a tiny strip of land still going to be that costly?

Photo 1: © UNICEF/NYHQ1951-0002/Photographer Unknown. Displaced Arab children stand together in the Baquara area near Lake Tiberius, where their families were resettled. The recently demilitarized area now has some 3,000 returning refugees, who are entirely without food, seeds for planting, or cattle.

Photo 2: © UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1080/Amnon Gutman. On 21 July 2006 in Israel, a child lies on a bed in a bomb shelter in the northern coastal town of Nahariya. An estimated 37 people, 20 of them soldiers, have been killed and over 200 others wounded since the start of the current hostilities following attacks by Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based political faction, on 12 July.

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