|© UNICEF/ HQ06-1080/Gutman|
|An Israeli child lies on a bed in a bomb shelter in the northern coastal town of Nahariya.|
By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, USA, 1 August 2006 – Omer lives in Haifa, in northern Israel. She’s 15 years old. “After the siren we have about a minute to get into shelters. And usually we hear booms and faraway echoes. It’s kind of scary.”
Chloe is a 19-year-old living in Lebanon, in the capital Beirut. “It’s really changed here,” she says. “You see the fear in people’s eyes. Shops are closed, the streets are empty…almost nobody goes to work. Everybody stays home watching the news on the television.”
Julie is a 16-year-old who lives in Gaza, in the occupied Palestinian territory. “We always hear the planes shelling and throwing rockets and shelling and stuff. We hear bombs going off. We hear the fighting all the time.”
|© UNICEF/ HQ06-1012/Brooks|
|A Lebanese boy looks out the window of a car headed towards a Lebanese-Syrian border crossing.|
These three young people – and three others from their communities – paint a picture through radio interviews of a fear-filled summer where they are not able to do what they usually like to do: going to the beach, getting together with friends, taking courses, travelling. They are suffering constant trauma caused by nearby explosions and violence – and asking themselves how their countries got to this point.
“Everybody is depressed,” says Chloe, in Beirut. “I can hear the bombs, see the black smoke. I can smell it. We are all just waiting for this nightmare to end.”
The violence that has escalated in these countries in the last few weeks has contributed to a feeling of everyday life in chaos for children and young people. They are disproportionately affected by the war-torn environment in which they live.
Omer in Haifa talks about a heightened awareness when she is in a crowded place, and about watching the people around her suspiciously. “I hate that I have to have that awareness,” she says. “I hate the fact that I have to have that defence mechanism.”
|Palestinian boys trying to fill a water bottle in Gaza Strip.|
Julie in Gaza is feeling very discouraged. “There is no future for me here,” she says. “I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do when I grow up, where I’m going to go. I would like it to be a place that’s safe and free and everyone’s not thinking about war all the time. I just want to live in peace.”
In listening to the young people in Gaza, Lebanon and northern Israel talk – about smoke-filled skies, rushing to bomb shelters and missing their chance to swim in the summer – their similarities are much more striking than their differences. The main thing they share is that they are all young people, poised on the edge of adulthood, and wondering whether theirs will be a life of fear and danger…or a life of peace.
“I keep thinking about 16-year-old girls in Lebanon and what they are doing, and if they are thinking about 16-year-old girls in Israel,” says Omer in Haifa. “Now, when we think about Lebanon, all we think of is Hezbollah, not about all the regular people who live there.”
She and the other young people in the region help remind us all that behind the politics and the armed conflict, there are regular children and adolescents, just trying to grow up in peace, hoping for a better future.
1 August 2006: UNICEF Radio Correspondent Blue Chevigny brings us first hand stories of young people in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Middle East crisis
Palestinian students return to school [with video]
News note: Violent spell rivals worst times for Palestinian children
Renewed violence in Gaza [with audio]
Lebanon launches polio campaign [with video]
Post-war, Israeli and Lebanese teens talk [with audio]
In Lebanon, back to school at last [with video]