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Giving a voice to the children of ‘Missile City’

A documentary film project is telling the story of the trauma-stricken children of Sderot, an Israeli border town that has come to be known as "Missile City."
Image: Children in Sderot play on a playground with a bomb shelter on site.
Children in Sderot play on a playground with a bomb shelter on site.Ariel Semmel
/ Source: NBC News

It has been a “quiet” spell in Sderot, weeks since the last alarm was sounded warning the residents of the southern Israeli border town of an impending missile strike. It is a sound they are all too familiar with.

In eight years, the city has been the target of about 10,000 missiles fired by Palestinian militants based in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The warning sirens and the strikes have taken its most serious toll on children. From newborns to teenagers, the children of Sderot sleep in fear with their parents, often wet their beds, and can experience much more severe physical and psychological problems.

Liane Thompson, an American producer and director based in nearby Tel Aviv, is working with Noam Bedein and Meital Ohayon from the Sderot Media Center to create a feature-length documentary, "Children of Missile City," on the plight of the youngsters. Studies suggest that nearly 90 percent of the children in Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Resilience Center in Sderot is the only facility available to treat children for psychological issues. It is in jeopardy of closing come December if it does not receive more funding. The center provides psychological counseling to the children, as well as programs for parents to help cope with the constant threat. It is also a safe haven.

Thompson, a two-time Emmy-nominated producer, says, “I hope to create awareness about Sderot and the situation. More than Sderot, awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.” The documentary will follow the journey of several children in Sderot and give a voice to controversy in Israel. Thompson hopes funding is generated for the documentary so that the producers can create awareness for the center and ultimately generate funds to keep it open.

Red Alert
When residents in Sderot hear the Red Alert, they have 15 seconds to find shelter. That is just a little longer than the time it took to read the first two sentences of this paragraph. For local mother Batya Edry, “It's very scary … it's not very much time.”

Image: A picture that a child in Sderot drew depicting their life
A picture that a child in Sderot drew depicting their life

That kind of pressure has taken its toll on the children. Yehudit Bar Hai must deal with the effects first-hand. As a local resident and trauma expert for NATAL [The Israel Center for Victims of Terror and War], she has treated children of all ages. She once visited the home of a 3-year-old boy who had broken his legs at age 1 during a missile attack. The boy was “afraid from going out of the room at home that is built as a shelter. He’s afraid of going out to the bedroom, to the kitchen, to the living room, and he spent over three weeks inside this room.” 

The children are so paranoid of the noise that even a loud microphone in the mall can startle them. Bar Hai has even been called on to comfort the parents of a newborn baby. Their anxiety about the safety of their child was so severe that they transmitted their stress to the infant boy, she says. She spent hours on the phone with the baby’s parents explaining to them why their baby was not sleeping or eating well and how to make the situation better. 

A place called home
Why do the residents in Sderot choose to stay? Most have no choice. The Edry family has made Sderot their home for more than 17 years. As a mother, Batya Edry says, “I have no other place to go. My husband has his work here. My kids have their friends. I mean, right now we don’t even know where to go because it’s getting all over Israel.” Her daughter, Shoshana Edry, despite having her school hit by a rocket, says, “I’m not afraid from the missiles, because I’m getting used to it.”

Thompson, who spent many years in America as a journalist, says without the Resilience Center, the children of Sderot are likely to keep suffering. "I don’t think there’s a single town in the United States that suffers from the threat of a daily attack," she says. "There’s no comparison, there’s only contrast.”