In war zones, the ability to hear becomes all the more important in detecting danger. What, then, happens to those who have limited hearing?
Between 2008 and 2014, large-scale fighting took place three times between Israel and the organization that held effective control over Gaza. That's about once every two years. The fighting grows especially intense in the middle of the night, but due to Israel's blockades, it is common for there to be power outages for about two-thirds of the day. At night, communicating through sign language becomes particularly tricky.
I recently visited the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, which became Gaza's first school for the deaf when it opened in 1992. I asked 13-year-old student Marah Abu Awad about her experience of the fighting that took place in the summer of 2014. "Everyone at home suddenly grew really frantic, and when I looked at the TV, there was news of war," she said. "My family started packing, so I realized that we were going to evacuate, and I also began to pack up."
Social worker Rehab Shehada, 47, is also hearing impaired. "Hearing-impaired children, especially in wartime, are able to employ their vision to closely observe those around them, and even without having family members explain to them what's happening, they gather information on their own. There is a lot of prejudice and discrimination toward those with disabilities, and many families of hearing impaired children do not know sign language. The school is a haven for these children."
The school was founded with the support of a Japanese nonprofit organization called Campaign for the Children of Palestine (CCP), and now includes a kindergarten, an elementary school and a junior high school. During the 2015 fiscal year, testing for early detection of disabilities and support for sign language education were carried out with funds from the Japanese government.
The fighting continues to wax and wane, and power outages are pretty much a daily occurrence. For many, communication through sign language at home is a challenge. Perhaps by sharing joy and suffering alongside friends and teachers with the same disability is what allows these children to cultivate a zest for life. (By Tomoko Oji, Jerusalem Bureau)