Iris Twito, the mother of two sons injured by Qassam rockets in the city of Sderot, decided to grant 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, with a cigarette in hand, 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 in Sderot, when the rocket alarm went off. As the two brothers frantically attempted to locate a shelter in the middle of one of Sderot's main streets, the Qassam rocket struck meters away from the two.
The exploded shrapnel sliced through the boys’ legs. Residents poured out to 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, Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital, located 20 minutes away from Sderot.
Amidst 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 entire city of 19,000 were subsequently shocked by the developments to follow.
The rocket attack left Osher in a coma for two weeks. The young boy had to go through intensive surgeries; his left leg had to be amputated, and doctors had to operate on a hole in his chest and his injured lungs. The 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 to sit by his mother, slowly limping and murmurs hello.
Iris and her husband decided that it would be best to move the family from the heart of Hamas’s target city, Sderot, to Ashdod, Israel’s fifth largest city that is located 40 kilometers (24 miles) away from the Gaza Strip and was not under missile threat at that time.
"But the rockets can reach Ashdod now too," Iris remarks 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 explains. "Even our home doesn't have a bomb-shelter yet."
Rami, now 21 and married with two young daughters -- a toddler and a baby -- expressed how the last week and a half had been hard 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."
As Iris’s youngest son, Osher, shyly cuddles up to his mother, Iris Twito reemphasizes the need for the Gaza naval blockade in order to protect 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," said Iris. "Even Barack Obama at one time agreed with us. Osher met Obama two years ago," explained Iris, as Obama, following the flotilla events, said the territory's situation is "unsustainable." According to Iris, the U.S. President, after hearing the young boy’s harrowing story, privately told him "I would do everything to defend my daughters from rocket attacks, if they were in your position."
The Gaza flotilla was clearly only a provocation, carrying merely 10 thousand tons of aid, when Israel gave over 738,000 tons of aid in 2009 alone. This violent political stunt was only aimed at weakening Israel’s security and strengthening the Hamas military to put more families like the Twitos under threat.
Three years ago, Iris’s maternal instincts made her remove her kids 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.
Jacob Shrybman is the Assistant Director and Anav Silverman is the International Correspondent of the Sderot Media Center, www.SderotMedia.org.il. Their work has been published in The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, and USA Today. They have appeared on international television and radio stations such as BBC, Al Jazeera, CBS, and more.