Polish educator Janusz Korczak once wrote: “If I were a boy again, I’d want to remember and know everything that I know now. Only I wouldn’t want anyone to find out that I was already a grownup once. I would pretend as if nothing were the matter; that I’m the same kind of little boy as all the others.”
Over the past two months, understanding the world as an adult has not been a great privilege. One could be forgiven if, for the past two months, one had been envious of the naivete of children, even if just for a fleeting moment. Of the wonderful resilience that allows them to turn their backs and put on a smile even while the turbulent world around them is filled with monstrous evil.
The return of dozens of children and teenagers from Hamas captivity to Israel is the inverse realization of Korczak’s dream.
You might be tempted to simply dismiss their ordeal as nothing more than 50 days in the darkness in Gaza, but that would be misleading and simplistic. In fact, they are now entering a struggle—to assert their right as children to pretend that the world is not bad.
The essence of the testimonies of Eitan Yahalomi, Emily Hand and other children, published last week, teaches us just how direct and raw are a child’s experiences. There is no room for interpretation when a 12-year-old child reports being beaten by passersby, or being left alone in a locked room for over two weeks. There is no need for mediation when a girl recounts that she was not allowed to speak loudly and that her sense of time was distorted in a vile way.
When it comes to the experience of children, there are no two sides to the coin. You cannot undermine their viewpoint. The truth is simply there.
These testimonies, which will surely pile up and spread as the days pass, provoke thought and necessarily stand for comparison against other testimonies of children, “children of war”—those children who survived the Holocaust and provided immediate testimony to the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland after being liberated.
The goal then was to capture the raw memory of horror, even before its processing. The testimonies of surviving children of the Holocaust provided very reliable psychological evidence. In one of them, Laila Mitler, a 12-year-old girl, said, “I didn’t believe I would ever be free again, but I also couldn’t imagine what my death would look like.”
Almost 40 children returned last week to Israel, to their homes, to their families.
The past week has gone down as one that dovetails with our ethos, which sees the life of every Israeli citizen as a strategic asset, no less. It was unbearable and exhausting, but also uniquely important, because it put meaning into the slogans of “rebuilding trust” and “the contract with the state.”
No longer are those mere words—they have substance and were translated into action. It was a week of saving lives in the most non-abstract way.
Night after night, like a ritual, we watched children being handed over to Red Cross personnel, we saw them crossing the border. We saw the tired looks and the disheveled hair, the forced smiles and especially the darkened eyes, to which we hoped light would return.
Israeli society needs those eyes. Because in a world that can too often seem to be composed of countless shades of gray, black and white do exist—and the eyes of children can naturally distinguish between them.
Their testimonies, and their experiences, are the ones that clarify for us even at the end of the eighth week of fighting—there is no compromise in this war.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.