In Israel’s public relations war, one of its best weapons is 16-year-old Gili Karo.
Karo, who lives on a moshav in central Israel, was one of seven Israeli high school students in New York this month pressing Israel’s case in media interviews, at the United Nations Special Session on Children and in appearances at schools and synagogues.
The teens were telling the world what life has been like in Israel over these last 19 months since the start of the Palestinian intifada.
"I live near the [West Bank] border. We live with fear all the time," Karo said. "We want people to understand that."
Even Americans "who say they understand, don’t understand what it’s like," she said.
Karo and most of her fellow students on the Foreign Ministry mission, who call their political views left-leaning, mention fitful sleep and nightmares, fear of taking buses or going to malls, family discussions about leaving Israel, a renewed sense of patriotism and desire to serve in the army: and tears when they sang "Hatikvah" recently with American Jews at the Salute to Israel Parade.
Liel Leibovitz, a press officer in the Israeli Consulate, calls the teens "the most effective representatives of Israel. They’re showing Israel’s face."
At one speech in New Jersey, Leibovitz said, "People were crying. People were in tears. They don’t usually see this message" about the effect of terrorism.
All the students say they know someone injured or killed in an attack. "I think everyone in Israel knows somebody," said Jennie Steshenko, 16, of Netanya. "We all have friends in the army."
"Sixteen, 17 are supposed to be the best years of our lives," a time of innocent joy before the army and adulthood, said Ido Lahovsky-Flax, 16, whose Jerusalem high school has lost 28 graduates to terrorism in recent years.
"It’s worse for the mothers," Karo said. "They worry all the time when their kids aren’t at home."
In fact, when she was interviewing in Jerusalem for the Foreign Ministry mission to the States, Karo heard the siren wails: It was a terrorist bombing on Jaffa Road a mile away. She immediately called her mother on her cell phone, telling her she was fine, and continued with the interview.
"Our mothers call us every hour, every half hour," said Steshenko, whose mother bought her a cell phone two years ago.
Steshenko kept that phone at her side during her time here. This time, the children were calling their parents back in Israel.
"They are less worried now that we are here," Karo said. "We’re more worried about them."