Sheryl Elias

If someone were sending rockets into my house where my daughters sleep at night…

Campaign trails are littered with campaign promises, which, after Election Day, are often tossed out as unceremoniously as yesterday’s junk mail.  Voters, likewise, tend to forget these promises.

Yet every once in a while a campaign promise stays with you and you continue to hope and pray, long after Election Day, for its fulfillment.

Such was the promise that Barack Hussein Obama made on July 23, 2008,  just 13 weeks before being elected President of the United States.   Standing before a local police station in Sderot, Israel, Obama stated:   “If someone was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

In the subsequent years, each time I heard about rockets landing in Sderot those words echoed in my mind and I prayed that the leader of the free world would take action and forcefully support the right of Israel to defend herself and protect the children of Sderot.

The interesting thing is that Obama did not forget the promise he made in 2008, either.

Five years later, on March 21,  2013,  Obama again visited Sderot and told an audience there at that time:  “When I consider Israel’s security,  I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot—children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.”  (The day that Obama appeared in Sderot a rocket landed in a kindergarten causing extensive structural damage; luckily, the students were on vacation and no one was injured in that incident.)

In Sderot in March 2013, Obama remembered his campaign promise of five years earlier and reiterated that promise… but he has yet to fulfill that promise.

Since 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza, terrorists have used the Gaza Strip as a launching site, sending more than 8,000 rockets into Israel.  In 2012 alone, more than 2,000 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel.  Half a million Israelis have less than 60 seconds to find a shelter once a rocket is launched from Gaza.  In Sderot, which is less than 3 kilometers from Gaza, the residents have barely 15 seconds to find shelter.

When “Candidate” Obama stood outside the local police station in Sderot in 2008, his daughters, Sasha and Malia, were 8- and 10-years-old respectively.  Malia turned 16 just this week.  She celebrated her birthday by traveling to Disneyland with a friend;  her parents bought her a car as a present.

It has been noted recently in the press that the Obama girls have blossomed into young adults, “attending White House duties with aplomb.”

The UK publication “Mail Online” described the Obama girls on a recent trip to the G8 conference in Ireland as:  “ All smiles in colorful ensembles, Malia and Sasha show no trace of awkwardness or embarrassment; instead, they embrace their growing lean figures with smart, yet bang-on-trend, wardrobe choices.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the children of Sderot.  The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in July 2011 published the findings of a study of 232 Israeli children, ages 1 ½ to 5-years-old (148 living near the Gaza Strip and exposed to daily war-related trauma and 84 controls.)  Post traumatic stress disorder was diagnosed in 37.8% of war-exposed children, who exhibited multiple post-traumatic symptoms and substantial developmental regression. More than 60% of the diagnosed children showed signs of  nonverbal representation of trauma in play; frequent crying, night waking, mood shifts and social withdrawal.

Romanian-born psychiatrist Adriana Katz, who treats patients from the Sderot/Ashkelon area, has spoken in interviews of  “children who, when they see their parents running, believe they (the parents) cannot protect them, leading to “a loss of faith”.

Katz calls them “ ‘the Qassam Generation’…children who don’t know what it’s like to play under the sun without being scared.”

Many community leaders, officials and politicians from the United States have visited Sderot over the years,  among them Olga Miranda, President of Service Employees Local 87 in San Francisco,  who told 14,000 attendees at AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington, DC last March about her trip to Southern Israel.  Miranda drew similarities between inner-city America and Sderot, sharing that she grew up with the sounds of gunshots on the streets.

However, Miranda also shared that she could never “fathom the thought of my son having to experience and witness rockets flying over his head.”  Upon her return home,  Miranda told her son Joaquin that living in the United States is a “luxury”, and that while enjoying that luxury we as Americans must recognize a commitment to those—such as the Israelis– who do not live with the same level of security.

The Obamas have apparently worked hard to provide their daughters with a safe, nurturing environment in which to grow into sturdy, happy, confident teens.  However, if the Obamas and parents across the United States want to provide that same environment to their grandchildren they would be wise to heed the advice of Olga Miranda.

The 5,882 miles between Sderot and D.C. is no guarantee of security.  The only way to safeguard future generations is for the President of the United States to make good on a six year old campaign promise initially made in Sderot and reiterated last year in Sderot to take the necessary steps to ensure that rockets do not land in children’s bedrooms, wherever those children may sleep.

About the Author
Sheryl Elias is a mediator and arbitrator. She has coordinated various Israel-related student initiatives.