| An Israeli soldier shows students how to use a gas mask at a school in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Jerusalem, Jan. 3 (Reuters): Israeli schoolchildren had some poignant questions for a soldier introducing them to gas masks as part of preparations for possible Iraqi missile attack should the US go to war in the Gulf.
“What happens if I throw up inside my mask'” and “How many minutes will the war last'” were just some of the queries voiced by the nine- and 10-year-olds in a Jerusalem school.
While Washington readies for possible conflict in Iraq and Israel gears up for feared Iraqi missile strikes, soldiers are visiting classrooms across Israel to acquaint youngsters with the protection they would need in the event of chemical or biological attack.
“The kids get a chance to practice with the gas mask kits brought into the schools and then can go home and explain to their parents and even grandparents,” said Bilha Noy, head of the education ministry’s psychological and counselling service.
In the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq launched 39 conventional Scud missiles at Israel in response to the US attack, causing heavy damage to property but only one casualty.
In one classroom for nine- and 10-year-olds at a Jerusalem school, a boy tried on a gas mask with the help of the soldier instructor. As he lifted his head to look at his classmates, they burst into laughter.
In kindergartens, gas masks are added unobtrusively to the pile of toys so they become a familiar sight, but only the teachers are instructed in their use.
Coming face-to-face with the black rubber masks with the alien-shaped eyes elicits not only laughter.
“For me, it is frightening,” said 10-year-old Neta. “And when they explained to us how to use the gas mask, I got even more scared. It is so complicated to put on and there is also the antidote and you have to be in a sealed room.” According to Noy, fear is both natural and expected.
“Our goal is not to comfort, but to say yes, it is frightening, but if you obey instructions and do what you are told to do, your chances of surviving are higher,” said Noy.
In the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, where apartment buildings took direct hits in 1991 and some 90 people were injured, residents said they wouldn’t stick around this time if war erupts.
Roni Yosef, a hairdresser in a beauty salon on the ground floor of one of the buildings destroyed by a Scud and rebuilt after the Gulf war, said he plans to take his family to the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, out of range of Iraqi missiles.
“Everyone is tense, I feel it here in the salon,” said Yosef, whose home was destroyed by a Scud hit. “At home we have started preparations. I took out the masks, showed them to the kids — tried to make a game out of it.”