"If I were a child again," Janusz Korczak wrote in one of his articles, "I would like to remember, to see, to know everything I know and understand now, and that no one would guess that I was already great. And I'm like nothing, pretending, like I'm a boy like all other boys."
The meeting between Eitan Yahalomi and his mother after his release from captivity in Gaza // Photo: IDF Spokesperson
In the last two months it has not been a great privilege to see, know and understand as an adult. It is impossible not to envy during this period, even for a moment, the innocence and bubbles of the children, the wonderful impotence of a soft soul that allows you to turn your back and smile even when murder is taking place outside.
The return of dozens of children and teenagers from Hamas captivity to Israel is the realization of Korczak's dream, only in complete and cruel reverse: the children who returned to us already know and understand and see, and do not need to grow up any longer to understand the evil that lurks in front of them. It is possible to dismiss and say that the 50 days they were held in the dark of Gaza caused them to lose their childhood and youth, but that would be wrong and simplistic. In fact, they are now embarking on a struggle: to regain the childish right to pretend.
Emily Hand with her father, Photo: IDF Spokesperson
An extract from the testimonies of Ethan Yahalomi, Emily Hand and other children, published this week, shows how raw and direct the child's experience is, and therefore powerful. There is no room for interpretation when it is said that a 12-year-old boy was beaten by passersby on the street, or left alone in a locked room for two and a half weeks. There is no need for mediation when a child says that it was forbidden to speak out loud, and that the sense of time has been distorted into monstrosity. When it comes to the experience of children, there are no two sides to the coin, and there is no ability to dispute the motive. The truth is just there, as it is.
These testimonies, which will certainly multiply and will be revealed as the days go by, are thought of and inevitably stand up for comparison with other testimonies of children, "children of war" - those children who survived the Holocaust and gave immediate testimony to members of the Central Jewish Historical Committee in Poland upon leaving the camps. The goal then was to capture the living memory of the horror, even before its later obscurity, and the testimonies of the children who survived the Holocaust provided a very reliable layer from the psychological side. In one, Leila Mittler, 12, from Tarnow, says: "I didn't believe I would ever be free again, but I also couldn't imagine what my death would look like."
Eitan Yahalomi with his mother, photo: AFP
This week, 38 children returned to Israel's borders, to their homes, to their families. This past week was marked by the restoration of our unique ethos, which sees the lives of every Israeli citizen as a strategic asset, no less. It was an unbearable, infuriating and suspenseful week, disappointing and exhausting. But it was an extremely important week, because it extracted the slogans about "restoring trust" and "contracting with the state" from the realm of clichés. It received reality and became actions. It was a week of saving lives. That way, in the most non-metaphorical way possible.
In a world of countless shades of gray, there is black and there is white, and children's eyes recognize them with a naturalness that has been lost to us
Night after night, like a nightmarish ritual, we saw on the screen the children getting out of the car and going to the Red Cross, and we saw them walking through the border crossing, and we saw the tired look and the matted hair, and the slender body under the coarse garment. And we saw the forced smile, and especially the dark eyes, and we saw to their souls and we knew that it was not hollow. We hoped it wasn't hollow.
Hila Rotem with her father, Photo: IDF Spokesperson
The young lives that were saved teach this nation a lesson in humility and standards: Israeli society needs the gaze of its children in order to examine itself. It needs the naivete that has met sheer evil to simplify things. Because in a world of countless shades of gray there is black and there is white, and children's eyes recognize them with a naturalness that we have lost. It is their testimonies, their experience, that make it clear to us even at the end of the eighth week: This is an uncompromising war.
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