Friday, November 24, 2006

A Prayer in Paradise

"The Children were Shouting. I Still Can't Sleep Remembering Their Screams"


"The kindergarten teacher is lying on a stretcher, covered with blood. The minibus is parked alongside. From somewhere to the left, the army cannon is firing shells. The children are lying on the ground next to one another. That is how one of the children described the morning when they were driving to their kindergarten in Beit Lahia and an Israel Defense Forces shell or missile--the army spokesman refuses to say--exploded several meters away and mortally wounded the teacher before their eyes.

Two high school-students on their way to school, Ramzi al-Sharafi, 15 and Mohammad Ashour, 16, were killed in the bombing. And this week the children of the Indira Gandhi kindergarten buried their teacher, Najwa--which means "prayer" in Arabic--the mother of two toddlers, who lay in a coma for about two weeks in Gaza's Shifa Hospital.

Almost nothing was written in Israel about the shelling of the minibus carrying 20 youngsters. It happened two days before the shelling that killed 22 residents of neighboring Beit Hanun, at the height of Operation Autumn Clouds. By a miracle the missile/shell did not hit the minibus directly, but landed at a distance of 15 meters from it.

The traumatized children from the kindergarten have not recovered. This week they marched, bearing wreaths and signs they had drawn in memory of their beloved teacher, in the mourning procession to Najwa Khalif's home; the adults interred her in the Beit Lahia cemetery.

Indira Gandhi Hamuda, the owner of the new kindergarten, an impressive 35-year-old woman, says that during the past months she used to tell the children that the Israelis don't kill children, only those who fire Qassams, and that they had nothing to fear as long as they didn't go up to the rooftops. Last week one of the children asked: "You told us that the Israelis don't kill children, but only the Qassam launchers, so why did they shoot at our minibus?"

What can you say to a four-year-old who saw his kindergarten teacher lying covered with blood alongside their minibus? That the firing on the minibus was meant to prevent Qassams, which have only intensified since then?"

No comments: