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 Avivians, all 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 ....it 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!