The Children Who Remain
Oz turned 13 recently. In America, that fact alone would not be worth writing about. But Oz lives in Jerusalem, and his bar mitzvah was something of a miracle.
On February 21, 2004, Oz was lying in the street bleeding, part of his skull blown away courtesy of a suicide bomber who had detonated himself on bus 14 at 8:30 in the morning. At least seven people were killed; many more were crippled.
A 15-year-old girl on the same bus was bleeding to death when a passerby used his bare hands to stop the hemorrhaging. Flying nuts, bolts, and other deadly paraphernalia packed into the bomb injured her brother, 17. When their mother learned they both were on the bus, she fainted in the street.
At the sound of the explosion, a man jumped out of his car and ran to the victims. “To see what’s in that bus—pieces of bodies, people crying, little children, adults. I had to step on parts of bodies. People died in my arms,” he said.
My friend Brenda Giles is no stranger to suicide bombings. An evangelical Christian who spends about as much time on her knees as she does on her feet, Brenda lives in the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev in Jerusalem, outside the Green Line (1948 armistice line) and inside what the secular press loves to call “occupied” territory. It’s a long way from the watermelon fields of Mississippi where she grew up, but it’s where her heart is: with Israeli children like Oz who have been victims of terror—the children who remain.
Since September 2000, Palestinian terrorists have wounded more than 5,600 Israelis, 82 percent of them civilians and more than 1,000 of them children—the equivalent of 42,112 American children.
Brenda said one school bus bombing alone crippled three children (ages seven, eight, and 12) in the same family. One child lost a leg, one lost both legs, and one lost a hand and a foot. It’s not unusual, she said, for terror attacks to cripple and/or kill several members of the same family.
Whereas Israelis scrupulously try to avoid injuring Palestinian civilians, the Palestinians do the opposite. They intentionally target infants in strollers, buses carrying school children, playgrounds, schools, pizzerias, discotheques, etc.
“For the last two years I’ve just been consumed with what’s happening to the children,” Brenda told me when she visited New Jersey. “I could hardly type for crying.” The same bus bombing that injured Oz, she said, crippled a 13-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl whose face swelled grotesquely. “You’d cry immediately to look at her if you had any heart at all,” Brenda said. She last saw the girl in the intensive care unit of a Jerusalem hospital, listed in critical condition.
To help these children, Brenda has founded a nonprofit Christian organization called Hugs for Israel.
She makes the rounds of hospitals, often bringing fruit baskets and bottles of water. Israeli hospitals do not supply water, so it is an appreciated gift. Then she follows the children to rehabilitation centers and later visits them at home, bringing food, clothing, encouragement, and a heaping helping of God’s unconditional love.
The Israelis, she said, have made her feel welcome. They consider Christian Zionists their friends and gratefully open their doors to her.
Not surprisingly, Israeli children are hurting. A survey of 6,196 children ages 11 to 15 revealed that one in four live in constant fear of being killed, and one in three fear for their families. A third of those surveyed know some-one injured in an attack; 46 percent avoid certain types of transportation; and 35 percent go out less. The Jerusalem Post, which reported these statistics, also reported that Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, “thinks the percentage of students affected and afraid because of the security situation is even greater than those in the report.”
Brenda said a 15-year-old girl named Rachel actually changed her name to try to forget her ordeal. A bomb smashed the knee and crushed the bone in one of her legs. She now has a steel rod that runs from her ankle to her knee and has scars on her face from the nuts and bolts in the bomb.
On a hospital visit, Brenda saw a 13-year-old boy whom the doctor told her sustained only minor physical injuries in a bus bombing. But he has more emotional trauma than he can handle. He saw his friend blown out the window and hurled to the ground, dead.
Many of the injured no longer leave their homes. but when they do, their physical appearance never prompts others to ask themselves, “I wonder what disease they have?” You automatically assume they were caught in a terrorist attack, Brenda said.
When she first met Oz, he was so traumatized he was afraid to speak to her. He was still recovering from extensive surgery to rebuild his head. The same bomb injured nine students from his high school and killed a 12th grader.
Today Oz and Brenda are great friends. She e-mailed me recently that, as she entered the banquet hall for his bar mitzvah party, she immediately noticed a life-sized poster of him that displayed other photographs as well. “It was only later that I realized the white T-shirt with the Italia motif he was wearing in one picture was the one we bought when we went shopping together the month before.” Through a donation to Hugs, she was also able to buy him a pair of jeans he very much wanted.
Through donations, she’s also purchased a bounce castle for children in Sderot, where Kassam rockets fall daily and in September killed two toddlers, ages two and four, both members of the same family. In June a rocket killed four-year-old Afik Zahava and ripped off his mother’s right leg.
The Lord has opened a door for Hugs in Sderot, a poor community made up primarily of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and North Africa. Brenda met with many hurting people there. “I believe the Lord wants to do something really special in Sderot,” she said.
Of course, she has a great vision for the ministry throughout Israel. And who knows what wonderful things God will do? His love is steadfast; His faithfulness, great; His resources, limitless; and His compassions, new every morning. And, after all, that’s part of the message brenda wants to bring to Oz and all the Israeli children who remain.
Brenda can be reached through her website, www.hugsforisrael.org.