Jerusalem — When Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza, was launched last July, Adele Raemer, a U.S.-born resident of Kibbutz Nirim on the Gaza border, became the “go-to” person for English-speaking journalists.
Articulate and outwardly calm even when the rockets and mortars were flying, Raemer did dozens of interviews about what it is like to live in the western Negev, which has been targeted by Gaza militants for more than a decade.
During the war Raemer, who trains teachers and teaches English as a Second Language, decided to share her experiences on CNN iReport (http://ireport.cnn.com/about.jspa), a platform that encourages people around the world to share their stories.
The opportunity to tell Israel’s side of the conflict was so gratifying, and the feedback so positive, that once school began, Raemer asked her 11th grade English students at the Nofei Habsor Regional School near the Gaza border to write personal essays about their wartime experiences.
“I saw how much it helped me this summer to write about the experiences I was going through and wanted my students to write about their experiences as well,” said the teacher, whose kibbutz lost two members in an attack just before the ceasefire took effect in late August. Another member lost his legs in the attack.
She chose to utilize the iReport platform “so the kids would feel this wasn’t just any other class assignment. They were writing so other people could read what it is like to be an Israeli teenager living on the Gaza border. They are emissaries of a sort.”
Raemer instructed her students to write their essays using Google Docs, which allows more than one user to create and edit documents at the same time. She edited the essays and sent them back to the students for repeated revisions.
The final product: almost two dozen essays from teens who spent much of the summer either in the war zone, or fearful for their family and friends whose lives were in danger. Many of the students permitted Raemer to post their essays; a few did not.
In the introduction to the iReport project, Raemer explains that the Nofei Habsor School, which is completely reinforced against rockets, has many students from the border communities, but also many commuters who travel for up to an hour to school each way.
“Most of them live in an area that was under intense rocket fire throughout the more than 50 days of Operation Protective Edge. Some of them live in communities that took direct hits from exploding mortars, which often arrive suddenly and without prior warning. Even when there is a warning, we have less than 10 seconds to get to a safe place.”
Raemer emphasizes that those who don’t live close to the border were “not immune” to the war.
“The rockets have been such an imminent threat to our region for the past 13 years that five years ago the government built a completely fortified school for us. So despite the fact that that not all of our students live within rocket range, they all go to school within rocket range.”
In their essays several of the teens describe the days and weeks they spent as refugees, moving from place to place.
Ori, a surfing enthusiast, relates that when his family visited a beach up north, a middle-aged woman offered to house him and two of his friends for a week to give them some much needed respite.
“She said, without taking too much time to think, that for the following week she will be my new mother…. She explained that she was inviting me to her house and if I have more friends that surf, they are also invited. I and my other two friends were really exited by her offer and we agreed immediately,” Ori writes.
“I will never forget this woman for her generosity and hospitality. She made me forget this bad summer and gave me a good break from the war.”
Aviv’s essay notes that he and the other members of his volleyball team were training in Slovenia when the war started.
Once home, “I realized that this operation is different from the times before. This time the Hamas were shooting to kill, not just to threaten us. I think the only time I was able to have fun was when I wasn’t at home, but still I was always thinking about the situation on the border. Maybe when I wasn’t at home, my body was far from the border but my thoughts were always there,” Aviv writes.
Although Roei doesn’t live within rocket range, he spent the summer fearful for his father’s safety.
“My dad is a colonel in the Israeli military,” Roei writes. “Because of his job, I didn’t see him for 20 days. I was worried about him all the time. One night I couldn’t sleep and I cried because I was scared that something would happen to him. That was the toughest part of the war for me.”
In his essay, Almog accuses the media of distorting the facts about Gaza. He recalls how, during the war, his sister was surprised to see buildings still standing on the Gaza side of the border.
“She didn’t understand how it was possible with all of the footage of destroyed buildings, fires, and burned cars. I’m not saying that the Israeli side is right and the Hamas is wrong, I’m saying that what you see in the news isn’t necessarily what’s happening and the Hamas is really good at hiding what they are doing wrong from the world.
“The fact that the media causes us to see only the bad parts and not the normal everyday life of the people there helps only one side and does not show the situation objectively,” Almog writes.
Naama, who lives within four miles of the Gaza border, told The Jewish Week that the iReport project “is important to me because people do not ordinarily hear the personal, human side of what’s happening to us. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a human one.”
Raemer believes the positive responses from readers “who were moved by the students’ stories have been more valuable than any grade I could give them.”
She has been urging other teachers to launch CNN iReport projects with their students.
“It doesn’t have to be about war. It should just be on a topic that is meaningful to the students,” Raemer says.