The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Iris Twito, the mother of two sons injured by Kassam rockets in the city of Sderot, granted an exclusive interview with Sderot Media Center following the Gaza aid flotilla fiasco.
“The entire world hates us,” said Iris, “but they don’t know what we’ve been through.”
The Twito family is a living testament for why there is a naval blockade on Gaza. “It’s not just Sderot that is under threat today, but the whole country,” said Iris. “It is vital that we stop these flotilla boats because we cannot allow Hamas to terrorize our Israeli children.”
Sitting on her patio in Ashdod, Iris recalls the most horrifying experience a mother can go through. Three years ago, Iris’s sons Osher and Rami, then eight and 19 respectively, were walking to an ATM machine in Sderot when the rocket alarm went off. As the brothers frantically attempted to locate a shelter in the middle of one of Sderot’s main streets, a Kassam rocket struck just meters away.
The exploded shrapnel sliced through the boys’ legs. Residents raced into the street to help but another rocket alert went off, forcing everyone to flee to shelter again. Moments later, the ambulances arrived to transport the boys to the closest hospital, Barzilai, located 20 minutes away from Sderot in Ashkelon.
Amid the flashing cameras at what was one of Sderot’s goriest scenes resulting from a rocket attack, Iris collapsed from the shock of seeing of her two sons lying next to each other, surrounded by a pool of their own blood.
The rocket attack left Osher in a coma for two weeks. The young boy had to go through intensive surgeries; his left leg was amputated and doctors operated on a hole in his chest and his injured lungs. Older brother Rami’s legs were also badly damaged and operated on.
After a year in the hospital, Osher was released in a bright red wheelchair. His right leg was still badly damaged, but a new artificial limb was fitted on his left.
“Osher goes to intensive therapy every week to this day to help adjust to walking again,” said Iris.
Osher, with big brown eyes and a freckled face, walks over, slowly limping. He sits by his mother and murmurs hello.
Iris and her husband decided it would be best to move the family from the heart of Hamas’s target city, Sderot, to Ashdod, Israel’s fifth largest city, which, located 40 kilometers (24 miles) away from the Gaza Strip, was not under missile threat.
“But the rockets can reach Ashdod now too,” Iris remarked fretfully. During Operation Cast Lead, Grad missiles, which are smuggled into Gaza from Iran, struck Ashdod playgrounds, kindergartens and homes, killing one Israeli woman at a bus stop and seriously injuring many more.
“Ashdod is not sheltered like Sderot,” Rami explained. “Even our home doesn’t have a bomb shelter yet.”
Rami, now 21 and married with two young daughters, a toddler and a baby, talked about how hard recent events had been on the family.
“When we heard that the flotilla from Turkey was heading to the Gaza port, we were very scared because we had no idea what kind of weapons could be on the ships.”
Iris emphasized the necessity of the Gaza naval blockade as a means of protecting innocent Israeli civilians like her family from future missile warfare.
“The government of Israel needs to ensure security for all Israelis and make sure that other Israelis are protected from the kind of tragedy that struck our family,” she said.
“Even Barack Obama at one time agreed with us,” she added. “Osher met Obama two years ago.” According to Iris, then-presidential candidate Obama, after hearing the young boy’s harrowing story, told him, “I would do everything to defend my daughters from rocket attacks, if they were in your position.”
The Gaza flotilla was clearly a provocation, carrying merely 10,000 tons of aid, while in 2009 alone Israel sent over 738,000 tons of aid into Gaza. The violent political stunt was aimed purely at weakening Israel’s security and strengthening Hamas’s ability to put more families like the Twitos under threat.
Three years ago, Iris’s maternal instincts led her to remove her children from the daily horror of the Sderot rocket reality to what was a safer city. Today, under a larger missile threat, Iris’s maternal instincts are standing up against immense international pressure to lift the Gaza naval blockade implemented to protect Israeli children from going through what her two boys were forced to endure.
About the Author: Jacob Shrybman is assistant director and Anav Silverman is international correspondent of the Sderot Media Center (www.sderotmedia.org.il).
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