Eleven days have elapsed since the tenuous ceasefire between Israel and Gaza—which was preceded by eight days of war (some would rather stick to the more sterile term “operation”) and twelve long years’ worth of indiscriminate firing of missiles and rockets over Israel’s southern farms, towns and cities (e.g., Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Sderot, Qiryat Malachi) and their chronically battered inhabitants, many of them too poor to relocate, about one in four traumatized.
Whereas the citizens nearest the Northern border have also weathered the outpour of rockets time and again, culminating in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, this has been the first time since the nineties and the first Gulf War, that the people of the greater Tel Aviv area and their children have been under fire.
For these children, the reality of being under attack begins to sink in:
Givatayim: At my godson’s school, a drill was followed by the real thing—but this time the shelter was locked. “Many children panicked and many girls screamed.”
Tel Aviv: The following day, minutes after reviewing what should be done in the advent of an attack while one is out on the street or in a moving vehicle, my eleven year-old godson was forced to practice this in vivo, as belly down like a seasoned SAS commando, he inched his way towards a bush, mindful of protecting his neck and eardrums with his elbows and hands. The backdrop of the wailing sirens, the witnessing of the abandoning of cars in mid-street by frantic people running for shelter, and seconds later, the sound of a rocket being blown to pieces in midair by the miraculous Iron Dome (having a mere few hours earlier been rushed in from the assembly line and primed for action by a newly formed team headed by a woman, a lieutenant)—all these conspire to make my brave boy “frightened for the first time.” Meanwhile, I try not to freak out, safe in the bomb shelter on my floor, an assortment of neighbors at my side, having left three cats and a parrot to brave the sirens as there was no time to grab them and take them to the shelter. Several blocks away, my mother rushes to a tiny, windowless corridor in her apartment to sit out the mandatory ten minutes since the first siren sounded (after which it is supposedly safe to venture to another room), preferring to remain at home rather than rush off to an empty and inhospitable shelter with a useless wooden door. Minutes later, my friends phone to tell me they are still in one piece despite having been ‘caught’ outside, and now hastily on their way home.
Jaffa: My daughter and her friends rush down the stairs to an underground shelter as there is an ominous explosion that sounds blocks away. I later pick them up, vigilantly listening for the piercing roller-coaster sirens as I drive south, avoiding the freeway and sticking to the right side of the street, so I can stop the car more easily, should the sirens wail. Soon the ‘service-year’ group will disperse, its members off to different parts of the country, where they can rejoin their families.
Rishon: A high-rise condominium sustains a direct hit, the upper floors getting the brunt of it. Miraculously, no one is fatally wounded, the residents having ‘made it’ to their fortified rooms. Numerous families are evacuated, spending what remains of the night in a neighboring school, until other arrangements can be made.
What about all those innocent people on both sides, who either don’t have or can’t make it to a bomb shelter? Not to mention all those who are left homeless through no fault of their own? Boys taught to hate the Zionists and become shahids. Civilians targeted by terrorists or callously used as human shields by same. Soldiers on both sides, conscripted by rulers whose agendas they don’t necessarily embrace, swept along in the flow of events that leads to the outskirts of Gaza and the unknown. Will there be a land attack? Has it started? What will trigger it? Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, are unable to sleep, in their incessant worry for their loved ones– even when the sirens are finally quiet, the “surgical” strikes over. For some, they keep ringing in their brain, rekindling the traumatic event/s.
Imagine if the contents of the war-bound coffers of the world were used to improve the lot of the people in the Middle East and other afflicted areas. Spent on cultivating health and the prevention of sickness, on unbiased education, vocational training and conflict resolution by peaceful means.
I choose to dream.