Weekend in a war zone
Written by Nina Sapir
This past Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began what is now known as Operation Pillar of Defense to put an end to the never ending terrorist rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. These bombings of Israeli citizens have been ongoing for the last who knows how long.
Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, over 8,000 people had to leave their homes and businesses.
Lives were shattered, a number of them were once successful business owners and are to this day still unemployed and living in temporary housing, swimming in debt, and suffering from emotional problems from having everything they knew and loved uprooted for an unsuccessful attempt at peace.
Yes it's ok, leaving will bring peace, Hamas will calm down and stop shooting rockets at us is what we were all told. You will get money from the government to help start your lives over again, rebuild your homes and farms and schools and businesses. Yeah, that was a load of bologna.
Life where we live in Gush Etzion (in Judea - the West Bank) is generally quiet. The worse we usually get is Arab kids throwing rockets at cars, which usually just causes damage to the car, but can also injure the driver or worse cause them to lose control and crash the car. We called friends who live down south and told them they were more than welcome to stay with us to get some peace and quiet. We reassured friends and family in the states that we are perfectly safe here and that nothing is going to happen.
Then a friend posted on her Facebook status that she was doing a practice drill with her kids what to do just in case there is rocket fall in our area. Then another posted that the IDF Home Front Command has us in the same rocket range as Tel Aviv, just a little more to the south east. Then there were more reports of rock and firebomb (Molotov cocktail) attacks on cars driving from here to Jerusalem or to other parts of Gush Etzion on their way to work and run errands. Then rockets started falling in the Tel Aviv area. Then 75,000 men were called up for reserve duty.
Friday night, shortly after candle lighting at the start of the Sabbath an air raid siren went off. Not the usual sirens that go off to commemorate Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day where traffic stops and people stop and everyone stands still for a moment of silence. This was the noise going up and down, real deal.
I looked out the window and saw people walking to synagogue, not sure if this was real or a test or what. My daughter looked at me and asked what the noise was. I told her it's an air raid siren and that I don't know if it's for real or just a test but just in case this is what we do. I took both kids to our room and we crouched down by an inside wall away from windows and put our hands around our heads (like in an earthquake drill). Then the siren stopped. And then we heard a boom.
The whole thing lasted literally 60 seconds. It takes more than 60 seconds to put on a pair of shoes and get out the door to an actual shelter next door. It takes longer than 60 seconds to hurry my kids up in the bathroom. It takes longer than 60 seconds for me to wake my husband up in the middle of the night if one of the kids wets the bed or throws up or needs a drink of water. How is 60 seconds enough time to get out the door to something more secure than a mobile home? If something happens in the middle of the night, 60 seconds won't be enough time to even get everyone out of bed, let alone out the door!
People ask what is going on. I don't know what to tell them. Do I tell them my kids in second grade and preschool now have air raid siren drills at school? That last night the mayor sent an email saying life should go on as normal, just be more aware of your surroundings? That last night the municipality had an emergency in-service for all the teachers, aides, and other school workers about what to do just in case. That psychologists and social workers will be making the rounds at all the local schools to help kids that need it. That even the bus drivers had drills for what to do if a siren goes off while they are on the road with a bus full of kids!
Do I discuss how my children came home from school yesterday and my daughter said if anything happens they go to the teacher's lounge or the computer room because those rooms are the reinforced rooms at school? That my son came home from preschool and told me that in circle they time they talked about rockets and the Iron Dome and whose fathers got called up for reserve duty in the middle of the night? That they all worked together to help the teacher and assistant move everything that was in their bomb shelter, which doubles as a storage room, so that just in case something happens they can fit 31 people in there?
Do I tell them that my brother in law and several friends and neighbors have been called up for reserve duty since Friday? That my brother in law missed his oldest child's first weekend event in her youth group that all the parents attend, that the kids have spent the last month working on?
Do I explain to them that my sister is a nurse in a government hospital in Tel Aviv and if a state of emergency is declared she will be called in to work until further notice? Won't see her husband and daughter for days at a time? That she can hear the Iron Dome intercepting rockets over Tel Aviv at home and at work?
Do I talk about my husbands elderly grandparents who live right next to Tel Aviv and that they, along with almost every other person who lives in their building, take more than 90 seconds to get down to the bomb shelter in the basement of their building. That each time the siren goes off they all meet in the stairwell to hear the boom together because none of them can make it all the way downstairs in time? That this happens several times a day, sometimes several times in an afternoon?
Do I tell them about our friends in Ashkelon, the ones who are foster parents in a youth village for 12 children from disadvantaged homes, who were all sent home Wednesday night for their own safety? How they spent the greater part of the last week and a half running for cover several, if not many times a day? How our friends took their own three children and went to her parents up north where it's quiet? How I spoke to them on Thursday and said they were more than welcome to come stay with us and now we had our own rocket too?
What am I supposed to tell them? Or our other friends who are looking for somewhere to stay with their six kids because they can't be at home in Be'er Sheva? Or our neighbor who can't go to work in Sderot because the factory he works in is closed until things quiet down?
Do I share the story posted by a single mother in Be'er Sheva about how she has no more food in her house to feed her children and no one to stay with them so she can go to the store to buy milk and bread and fruit and dog food? How she doesn't want to take them with her to the mini mart, a ten minute walk from her home, because what if they get caught outside and a siren goes off? How she wrote this message as an invitation to UN Human Rights workers, inviting them to come stay with her, to see what a day in her life hiding under her kitchen table with her children is like?
Do I tell them about my friend, the doula, who has graciously volunteered to accompany women whose husbands have been called up to go with them to the hospital?
Do I tell them about the friend staying with us, who just this morning packed a bag full of fun stuff for kids, clothes and toiletries for herself for a few days, looked at me and said "I have my fluffy scarf, I'm ready for war!" and walked out the door to head down south to go volunteer somewhere for a few days? She got a ride to Be'er Sheva with volunteer EMTs in a Magen David Adom ambulance on its way to help, too.
Do I tell them that we live in a double wide mobile home with no reinforced room in it? That we live in the older part of town and that the houses on our street don't have these reinforced rooms either? That the closest shelter is across the street or next door or the day care three buildings down, yet it takes longer than 60 seconds to get to any one of them so we are better off staying at home hugging the floor next to an inside wall away from windows and ceramic tiles so we won't be caught outside in the open in case, God forbid, something happens? That my husband who has nerves of steel keeps wanting to know why I'm scared? That I need to keep calm so my kids don't freak out? That I'm trying to keep my big girl panties on and it's really, really hard! That life goes on and the show must go on and we just have to keep on keepin' on?
Do I want to leave and run away to the safety of my parents' home in Memphis? Yes, sometimes I do. There are no rockets being shot at Shelby County from the other side of the Mississippi. There are no Iron Domes set up to intercept rockets on Poplar Avenue or Humphrey's Boulevard to protect the people living there. Families do not have to worry about whether they have gas masks or not because a few years ago the Home Front Command collected masks with the intention of distributing newer ones to everyone. Not everyone got new ones because there are not enough to go around.