November 22, 2012

I'm thankful for the ceasefire.

They forgot the most important development today...I found a turkey for Thanksgiving!

So today was Day 8 since Operation Pillar of Defense began. To be honest, I woke up this morning with nothing on my mind except how to get a turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner Libbie and I are preparing on Thursday. In Tel Aviv, things have been quiet for a couple of days. There were 5 rockets shot at the city in 4 days, and then two days of stillness. It became relatively easy for me to stay calm during those moments, the siren-shelter-explosion moments. The sound of the warning siren is unnerving, but -with the exception of the 5th time (the blast shook the doors in my apartment and I was alone)- I've been pleased to say that my nerves have remained steady, and the incidents became little more than a minor inconvenience and a major news story.

Two rockets after being intercepted by the Iron Dome on Sunday morning.

I guess Hamas figured that out too, and when they realized that the Iron Dome has been nullifying their efforts at terror, they decided to regress their tactics and try some old tricks. That is to say, after (miraculously!) finding a turkey this morning I heard that there had been a bus bombing in downtown Tel Aviv. And at that moment, I was reminded again that the country I live in is at war with terrorists, who happen to be our next door neighbors. It hasn't been an easy thing to forget for long, don't misunderstand me, cause most small talk these days turns to "how are you doing" and I get probably 70 Facebook notifications and emails a day from you guys back home.

That has been a huge part of this for most of the olim (new immigrants) and expats here who I talk to. We all feel overwhelming support and love from those of you we've left behind to start our new life here. For many of us this is a new reality. Knowing that we are surrounded by people who would 'wipe Israel into the sea' is old hat. Hiding in a shelter when some of them decide to hurl a missile at the town you live in is most certainly not. Tel Avivians have been just as surprised, for sure, that things took this turn, but Israelis serve in the military as a rule, and have grown up knowing the reality of enemies within. Those of us who chose to be here have done just that, chosen to be here. But this is our first lesson in what the underbelly of that decision means. And to know how much you guys are thinking of us and praying for us and supporting us has been truly strengthening. After every new development, every siren, today's bus bombing...we immediately begin to call one another and go through our checklists of friends and loved one's with whom we want to check in and be reassured. We all chuckle about the seemingly unaffected Israelis who we love and appreicate for keeping us calm. About the amount of Facebook-ing we have to do these days. About the outrageous lies we hear in the media. About which things we should or should not tell our parents (don't worry Mom and Dad, I tell you everything.) But for everyone- olim and Israelis alike- life must continue (with certain precautions) and our love for Israel solidifies with each step forward.

Tomorrow's step forward (which will be taken via taxi, no busses for awhile) will be Thanksgiving. Last year I mentioned how being outside of the US on Thanksgiving suddenly made it seem even more important to observe. It was a lovely evening with old and new friends, and a day that gave me a touch of home when I was feeling very far away. This year will be very similar. A second annual dinner at Daniel's. Many of the friends in attendance last year will be together again, and some new faces will be around the table. But this year I will be giving thanks for very different things.

This year I am grateful for the Iron Dome, first and foremost. I'm grateful for Israeli soldiers in a way that I was never able to feel before- for their sacrifice and the sacrifices made by their friends and families as they stand up to protect Israel from terrorists and criminals. I'm grateful for the family of friends I have been able to build this year, people who have become as much of a support system for me as the family and friends I've celebrated with in years gone by. I'm grateful for Meatland, a grocery store in a suburb called Ra'anana that carries American groceries like Allspice that made Thanksgiving possible:

Note the gaping hole where canned pumpkin should be... Meatland FAIL. 
But soon they'll restock and I'll make that pie.

I'm grateful to be here at a time like this. To be able to support Israel from within Israel, and for the opportunity to share the truth about whats happening here right now with my friends and family around the globe.

Most of all I am grateful for the ceasefire that was announced tonight. I am not sure if it will last, I hope it will.

 So with that, I'll suggest a few links and give you a few stats, and then I'm off to peel some potatoes...

Those 800 rockets have been sent indiscriminately by Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilian towns. They launch their attacks from locations near hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods so that when Israel strikes back there is a greater chance of hurting Palestinian civilians, and they'll have a chance to direct the media to Israel's savage war crimes. The truth? The Israeli military made hundreds of phone calls to Gazans before beginning Pillar of Defense, dropped leaflets warning of what was to come, and aborts missions to avoid killing civilians:

In fact, even during this week of war, Israel has continued to send humanitarian aid into Gaza for the Palestinians.

Hamas and those in the media supporting their cause have been shouting to whomever will listen about the atrocities performed by Israel, yet again. And, yet again, they lie. They lie to their own people to gain popular support, they lie to the world about what is happening in Gaza. They endeavor to murder civilians. Golda Meir once said that "peace will come when the Arabs love their own children more than they hate us." Ceasefire or not, that day doesn't look like it will come anytime soon.

I want to leave you with a clip from about 3 years ago- a statement by Col. Richard Kemp on behalf of UN Watch at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2009. He aptly (and quickly) describes the difference between Israel, and those she is working to protect her citizens from on a daily basis, not just in times like these:

November 18, 2012

What's new with you? Not much here...except that war business.

Here's a visual aid- various weapons being used by Hamas, the Israeli cities they are capable of reaching, and those cities' populaitons

I'm going to go ahead and assume you've heard that things here in my neck of the woods have taken an upsetting turn. My guess is that (unless you live in Israel or follow Israeli news very carefully) that the first time you heard about what was happening was sometime around Wednesday night or Thursday, when Israel announced an official military operation in Gaza. What  you may not have heard is that Operation Pillar of Defense was launched in response to the hundreds of rockets being fired over the last few weeks by Hamas in the Gaza Strip into Israeli towns in the South.

We are now four days into Operation Pillar of Defense, and let me say, this is a very interesting time to be in Tel Aviv, let alone Israel in general. I have been aware of the increased activity along the Gazan border, small towns and cities in the South of the country being bombarded with rockets several times a day with increasing frequency. I figured that at some point Israel would retaliate and maybe there would be some stereotypical headlines in the western media depicting Israel as the big bad wolf here to demolish the helpless Palestinian civilians. But, like most expats here who I know, and most Tel Aviviansall I've ever heard from security experts and professors here is that even though terrorist organizations like Hamas (in Gaza) and Hezbollah (in Lebanon)--who are funded by Iran  by the way-- have the arms capability, they would never launch a rocket at Tel Aviv cause that would draw otherwise sympathetic international attention and serious negative consequences. So you can imagine my surprise on Thursday night when I heard the air raid siren after I had gotten out of the shower. I thought to myself (sarcastically) "this is an awesome time for an air raid drill. well done, authorities." Then I heard an explosion. Apparently, not a drill. In that case, thanks, authorities, for the heads up.

I was not the only one taken by surprise. This is the first time since the Iraq War in 1991 that the air raid sirens have gone off in Tel Aviv (with the exceptions of drills). There is a palpable sensitivity right now, but you never really see it unless you're out when one of the sirens hit. Last night waiting for a bus some kids in Yafo set of a fire cracker, and everyone near the bus stop jumped. The guy next to me asked in Hebrew "that wasn't a grad rocket, right?" 

The first night (Thursday) Itzik came home cool as a cucumber. My momentary anxiety (cause the phones went out and I couldn't reach him) dissipated when I saw how collected he was, and we were quickly  making jokes. So, I decided that this wasn't worth putting my life on hold for, and decided to see the new Twilight movie regardless. Not even rocket fire was going to keep me away from Bella and Edward's final chapter. Life goes on must, I guess. Otherwise they win. And to be honest- I don't live down South. its better here. Down there, the sirens go off dozens of times a day lately, and every time, you have 60 seconds to find shelter, at most. Here's a video of what life for over 1 million Israelis has been like in the last month:

So the next morning (yesterday) Itzik went to work, and I had brunch with Noa. She and I were getting coffee at a little kiosk near the sea when the siren went off again. I really didn't expect it to happen in broad daylight, if it happened again at all. I watched traffic stop, and pedestrians disappear into alleys and buildings, scattering like bugs. Noa and I followed a few people to an alley across the street and waited. When the explosion came, I have to admit, I was scared all over again. The explosions we here in Tel Aviv are the sounds  of Israel's revolutionary (and expensive) air missile defense system called the Iron Dome. It literally plucks rockets from the sky before they have a chance to land. I have to say, this is something I have a new and profound sense of gratitude for. Watch this video of the Iron Dome working over one of Israel's southern towns as they watch rockets rain from the sky:

Again today, there was another rocket fired at Tel Aviv from Hamas. Itzik and I were at a friend's apartment and took cover in his bomb shelter (there's usually one close by, don't worry Mom). It was intercepted somewhere over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome, but I suspect that I will never "get used" to the experience of that siren and the impending boom. It's unnerving, even if my boyfriend is able to soothe me moments later.  I  also suspect this will continue once a day for another week or so, before Hamas' resources (these are their best and least abundant armaments) are depleted, and after that things will go back to 'normal.' Not an ideal vision of the next couple of weeks, but I honestly have never felt (even in the most frightening moments) at risk of actually being hit by a bomb. Tel Aviv is the economic center of the country. The law makers live here. There aren't 20 rockets being fired at us at a time (unlike other towns like Be'er Sheva and Sderot), and the Iron Dome can eliminate the danger of one actually landing here. 

In my last post, I predicted that "tomorrow I will find something new that I love about living here." That was before the bombs. But I was right. Being a resident of Israel, and of Tel Aviv, over the last four days has been eye opening. There is a quiet calm slowly creeping into daily life, a uniting sense of camaraderie and togetherness that permeates into everything- the eye contact made with strangers on the sidewalk, the sound of news on the radio in cabs rather than top 40 hits...we live in a country that is at war. I've never felt it this profoundly. Friends are being drafted in the middle of the night, buses and train stations carry (more than usual) uniformed soldiers on their way to their assigned posts. Sacrifices are being made, and people do their best to press on. Because it will end, sooner rather than later. And in the meantime- what can be done except carry on?

There is going to be a lot of fear mongering and sensational reporting on the news in the coming days. I've already asked my parents to keep their news-consumption to a minimum. There will be accusations against Israel of savage attacks on civilians and abuse of innocent Palestinians. So, make sure that if you are trying to stay informed, you find a source that is reliable. I like to read Times of Israel, they have a great live blog, and their reporting is usually pretty balanced. Here are a few facts to get you started:

1. Since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 42 Palestinians have died- 13 of them civilians. 3 Israeli civilians have been killed. Don't let this confuse you. The ratio of terrorists-to-civilians killed in Gaza is impressive when you account for the fact that Hamas uses schools, houses of worship, and hospitals as rocket launching-pads, arsenal stores, and hideouts. 

2. While Hamas' goal is to kill Israeli civilians, Israel does everything that it can to avoid civilian casualties. On Thursday, before the heavy air strikes began in Gaza, the IDF dropped this leaflet (in Arabic) from the skies for the people of Gaza:

Finally, I'd like to conclude by thanking all of my friends and family back home who have expressed your concern and extended your thoughts and prayers. Please trust that I am fine- I am not in harms way, and I am as careful as possible. It means so much to know that so many of you out there are paying attention, and I hope you'll take this opportunity to learn a little more about an important conflict in an important region. If you have questions for me- ask! I'll answer anything I possibly can. I love and miss all of you, and I'll keep you updated as often as you like. 

!אם ישראל חי
The Nation of Israel lives!

November 15, 2012

Do I hate it here?

Recently I did something very cool. It was something which I initially assumed would give me a great "I did that once when..." story for my grandbabies one day, or at the least provide a great opportunity to Instagram the shi*t out of something. Instead what I got was one of those days where you question your life-choices and teeter on the edge- quietly pretending to follow along to people talking in a foreign language while silently chanting in the back of your mind "what the hell am I doing here?" Oh, and my phone died quickly so thanks, Samsung, for ruining my ability to connect to social media when I needed it most.

Let's lay the foundation. I agreed to spend a morning at a photo shoot for a marketing campaign being launched by an Israeli bank. A one-time gig through a friend of a friend that would pay for transportation and food, and pay me a few hundred shekel. Not bad, I thought. Spend a morning in Tel Aviv meeting some new people. Practice Hebrew. Do something out of the ordinary. Cool. I even got to meet an Israeli celebrity. Jealous?

Don't be.

A) Celebrities aren't nearly as exciting when you've no idea why they are famous.

Apparently this guy is the host of the Israeli "Big Brother" iteration. That's actually a really big deal to a lot of Israelis. I, however, had no clue why this girl asked me to take their pic together until I showed Itzik.

B) I had to wake up at 4:30am to be there on time (and went to bed at 2am, but that's my fault really). Point is, the luster of cameras and 'celebrities' wears off when it's only 10am and you've been up for SIX hours.

C) They took us outside of Tel Aviv. At 1pm I was eating at a craft services table behind a mall in a town called Yochneam (what?) and (little did I know) I still had SIX hours before I would get paid and sent home.

D) I only got 200 shekel (aka $50) for 13 hours of time basically spent sitting alone.

Basically, it was kind of a shitty day. The silver lining is that I made a potential new friend. Win. But, I hate feeling like I've wasted time. I'm having a hard time these days spending long stretches of time all in Hebrew. I was exhausted. And meeting new Israelis always follows the same pattern (with slight and seldom variation):

"Where are you from?"
"Do you have a lighter?"
"How long have you been here?"
"Why did you come here?"
"What are you doing now?"
"What do your parents think?"
"Isn't your family back in the US? Don't you miss them?"
"Why Israel? It's so hard."

Imagine being asked ten times a day (after over a year of being asked almost EVERY day) if you miss your friends and family back home. It means thinking about how much you miss home that many times. Or, as I've learned to try to do, it means actively trying not to think about it, lest you burst out crying. By the end of this day, I had wanted to cry at least ten times. By the time I got home from work. Then, I was so tired that Itzik and I ended up having an argument (cause he was so tired fact I'm sure his day was worse than mine). It was just that perfectly terrible alignment of all things that happens now and then. The kind of day that leaves me sitting at my computer when I should be sleeping, cause if I don't write it out, how else will I get rid of it?

So do I hate it here? I did on this day. But this happens from time to time. I fight with my boyfriend. Or miss a bus I needed. Or get stuck with a cab driver that over charges me while telling me I've waited too long to have babies. I see an ad for a movie I should be seeing with Steph and Kim over Thanksgiving.

But I came to Israel for a reason, and tomorrow I'll find a new one, I'm sure of it. I always do. I'll use a new word in Hebrew (today I learned a few), and I'll remember the new shower curtain Itzik bought (thanks, baby!), or I'll come across something awesome on the streets of Tel Aviv like this:

A tiny man? or a giant shekel? I'll give you three guesses.

or this:

An archaelogical dig I stumbled upon on my walk home from yoga earlier this week. That's so cool.

and slowly I'll remember some things that I love about being here. I'll remember what it feels like to be the person who followed her dream and started over somewhere completely new. The person I'm proud of. 

But in order to be that girl I need to sleep. So for now, layla tov.