He was only 5 years old. He could light up the room with his radiant smile, say those who knew him. Ten minutes before his death, he was laughing and dancing, which his mother captured on video.
Then the siren sounded.
Ido Avigail was sitting on his mother’s lap in the “safe room” in Sderot when the shrapnel of a missile pierced through the window, killing him instantly.
This occurred on day three of last month’s conflict between Hamas and Israel, “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”
His mother’s legs were seriously injured, and his 7-year-old sister Tal’s eyes were injured. His mother tells me how, the moment it happened, she knew instantly he was dead. But she still tried desperately to revive him, frenetically running to neighbors, trying to get them to open their doors in the midst of an air raid, when they were all hiding in their safe rooms.
Ido’s mother, Shani, is a social worker who passionately believes in peace between Israel and the Palestinians. She works in the Israeli prison system and has learned Arabic to be able to better service her Arab prison population. She constantly reminds her children that not all Arabs are bad; that they too are victims, and that it is just the terrorist organization in Gaza, Hamas, that is bad.
Listen to Shani’s words: “Ido just told me, that day before it happened, ‘Mommy, remember when you told me that there are good people in Gaza? Well, today I tried to tell the other children in gan [‘kindergarten’], that there are good people in Gaza; that there are children just like us, in gan in Gaza, who are good, but it is just Hamas that is bad. At first, they did not believe me, and I think I managed to convince them.”
“I can say that to live in Sderot,” Shani continues, “can be very difficult. You want to go out for a coffee with your friends, and you don’t know what can happen. Every day something can happen, and the children know that we have to look for a safe place. … All over the world, when the children see balloons, they know it is for birthday for parties, but here it means you have to be afraid” because they have incendiary devices implanted in them.
“And now, I feel so bad,” she continued, “because I taught my children that no matter what, you will always be safe in our safe room. I didn’t mean to, but I lied to them. My daughter can no longer trust me. … We are not safe, anywhere.”
Both Ido’s mother and father described the psychological torture that their children—and almost every child of Sderot—undergo. How this “ongoing nightmare” that they are living is not merely “traumatic stress disorder,” but “anticipatory stress disorder. “She describes how her children still sleep in their parents’ bed. How they wet the bed. How Ido would not even let his mother do laundry without following her for fear of being alone when the sirens sound.
I got to know Ido’s story because I interviewed his courageous parents, Asaf and Shani Avigail, when I moderated a discussion for Aviva Tessler’s wonderful organization, Operation Embrace, which supports victims of war and terrorism throughout Israel, either Israeli or Arab.
I call them courageous because they spoke to me when their wounds were so fresh, only a month since Ido’s death. They spoke so that others would know, and so that Ido would not have died in vain.
The reason I am writing about this now is because yet another outrageous article in The New York Times that appeared recently, titled “Dreams in the Rubble: An Israeli Airstrike and the 22 Lives Lost.”
It is an emotionally gripping human interest story, painting a portrait of an upscale Gazan neighborhood in which the Israelis blew up a building, “a building which embodied 40 years of hope and aspirations.”
It is tragic, yes. But one can ask how much hope and aspiration goes into the lives of each one of our children? Why are there no human-interest stories about Israeli suffering?
Why do so few in the media seem to understand that according to Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, every nation is obligated to protect the lives of their civilian population?
How would the editors of The New York Times feel if a terrorist group from Canada launched missiles into bedrooms in Rochester or Albany, or from Mexico into bedrooms where children were asleep in Los Angeles or San Diego?
Don’t they realize that they have a professional responsibility to be objective? Where is their professional integrity as journalists? Don’t they see the link between these stories and the dangerous uptick of global anti-Semitism?
Why is the blood and the pain of Palestinian children redder than the blood and pain of Israeli children?
As one of the listeners, Yoel, at the Operation Embrace event from Nativa Sarah, a neighboring village to Sderot, stated: “I think we have to say, so the whole world will hear it. Yes, there is suffering on the other side as well; they live a miserable life, like we do. But there is Hamas, the terror group. And we have to blame them; we have to punish Hamas for aiming at innocent people, innocent children—in Sderot, in Nativa Sarah, in Ashkelon. They are just children. Our army does not aim to kill children.”
At his son’s funeral, Ido’s father uttered these words in a tearful voice before he watched his only son’s body being lowered into the cold ground: “I want to ask your forgiveness. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to protect you. I’m sorry that the shard hit you, instead of me. … I am sorry that I told you that anytime you are with me, you will be protected. … I lied.”
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.