Bomb shelter Sderot playground

Stories from the ongoing conflict

Its hard to be studying when there is so much going on, even if thousands of miles away from campus. My Mom says that I never need an excuse not to study, perhaps its my Israeli roots that’s causing me to check the news and Facebook every two minutes in order to see how my friends and fans in Israel are doing.

I want to share with you just a few of the stories that I have seen from the past few days.

The first is a short video of Israeli toddlers in a playground. They are actually playing in the North, out of range of Hamas’s missiles. They were taken up North for a day of ‘fun’ and relaxation. Most children play all kinds of silly games, but see what happens with these children


First Person: Cloudy with a chance of missiles

By FAYE BITTKER (originally published in the Jerusalem Post)

For the past year or two, missiles have come raining down on southern Israel every few months. Somehow, as the pundits endlessly talked it out on different evening news programs, this became an acceptable situation, as unavoidable as bad weather. The Israeli government was trying to avoid “escalation” in Gaza and confrontation with Egypt and the “oref” — the citizens at the front line — would have to tough it out — or not.For the past year or two, missiles have come raining down on southern Israel every few months.

Resilience was the key to maintaining the status quo.

We, the residents of southern Israel who live within a 40 kilometer radius of Gaza, were encouraged to build safe rooms in our house, seek support if we were feeling nervous and otherwise learn to adjust to a situation where we were in ultimate waiting mode — waiting for the next alarm, the next school closure, the next “episode” when an occasional missile or two might fall nearby.

And oddly enough, like good lab rats, we did just that. We learned to drive with our car windows open so that we could hear sirens while on the open road. We taught our children how to fall asleep again once they were moved into the safe room in the middle of the night. We developed a whole slew of coping mechanisms that range from “dressing for missiles” – no heels or straight skirts allowed – to black humor, acknowledging the absurdity of living in this kind of situation. A child wakes up from a crash of thunder last winter screaming, “missiles,” and we get to make jokes about how children of the Negev are more familiar with the sound of falling Grad missiles than actual rain. We became old war heroes, exchanging stories of close calls from the missiles of 2009 versus those of 2010 and 11.

But as time has gone on, our resistance has worn away.

Our kids are showing signs of severe stress. Our spouses have stopped eating when there is news about an attack in Gaza. Our blood pressure goes up as we count off the locations where missiles have fallen – sometimes when we were only a few hundred meters away. The sound of a distant car alarm sets off a crying jag that simply has no real justification other than that burning feeling of not being able to take it anymore.

The unified, resilient front is still there, but it is being propped up by a million people living under threat of missile fire, each of us forced to confront our own individual fears. My own response has already become physical – clearly a manifestation of PTSD. And I am not alone. All my rational understanding of the futility of war has simply become raw, unpolished fear that comes over me when I hear that piercing sound of the siren.

Forget politics. This is Chinese torture. Adrenalin in overdrive. Kids crying. Powerlessness to the logical extreme. All I want is for someone to make it stop, but for that to happen there would have to be an acknowledgement that something was wrong. There would have to be international pressure on the Palestinians to stop these missile attacks.

But when I look at the international press coverage, beyond the scope of my circle of friends and family on Facebook, I find the world is indifferent, or even hostile to my situation. Israel is blamed no matter what it does. And this only strengthens the resolve of the extremists in Gaza to keep the missiles coming.

So as I sit here at home, listening to the booms of the endless barrage of missiles falling over Beersheba, I want to make myself heard. This is an unacceptable situation! War is not like the weather.

Missiles are not something that we have to learn to live with like the seasons of the year. This is not the blizzard of 2012. And telling me and my neighbors otherwise is only turning this forecast into one of despair.

Faye lives right outside the Southern city of Beersheva


In Sderot: Organizing Life Around Hamas

By Laura Bialis:

Before the IDF had a Facebook page with exciting info-graphics and sleek videos, I showed up in a small town that nobody I knew had ever heard of called Sderot.

An Israeli friend had sent me emails describing a small Negev town that was being hit by 50 rockets a day. When I read her messages in my Los Angeles living room, I naively assumed that Sderot was some disputed settlement in Gaza; I quickly learned it was well within the green line and had been attacked for seven years. More research uncovered Sderot’s music scene: The city had produced a disproportionate amount of famous Israeli rock bands—a Jewish Liverpool. As a documentary filmmaker looking for an angle, I had found it in the combination of rockers and rockets. So, I showed up in July 2007 and began to shoot my movie.

For the rest of Laura’s story, please click on this link for Tablet Magazine


A Letter from Tel Aviv

by David Ya’ari (originally published in ejewishphilanthropy)

Last night at 6:45 pm, in the middle of dinner with our three kids at home, a siren blared reminding us that Tel-Aviv, the business and cultural center of Israel is now well in range of Hamas missiles.

Before moving to Israel three years ago from NY, Sivan and I knew Israel was located in a rough neighborhood. With Hamas terrorists in the South, Hezbollah terrorists in the North and a fundamentalist regime in Iran that has publicly called for its destruction, Israel does not have the blanket of security that the US, Canada, or other western democracies enjoy.

But nothing could have prepared us for the air raid sirens that first shook the city this past Thursday. I was driving home and our kids were at an after school program when the first siren went off. My heart dropped as I frantically tried reaching Sivan and the nanny by phone. Sivan, forgetting all danger, immediately ran from our home to ensure that the kids were safe in a bomb shelter.

Lesson in Theoretical vs. Reality. The last time a rocket fell in Tel-Aviv was over twenty years ago in 1991 during the first Gulf War. And while it was always theoretically possible, there is a vast difference between the distant potential that a rocket may someday be launched against you and the stark and harrowing reality of grabbing your kids and running for your lives to a shelter. No child,  father or mother should ever have to experience that.

Tragically, in the South of Israel, citizens have grown accustomed to this way of life. The infamous 15 second rule, which is the amount of time provided to get from where you are to a secure location, can mean the difference between life and death. In the South of Israel, more than 1 million people (the proportional equivalent of 46 million people in the United States) spend sleepless nights shuttling into bomb shelters. In the South of Israel, children at a day care center, the elderly at a nursing home, kids in an autism home, commuters on a bus, etc. all know that they have 15 seconds from the time the siren begins to blare until impact.

Just in 2012, more than 1,000 missiles and rockets have been launched at Israel. How has this been tolerated? Not one missile should ever be launched into Israel’s sovereign territory. I cannot imagine that the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, China, etc. would tolerate missile attacks against its citizens.

But despite the fear, the people of Israel remain strong and resilient. If Hamas thought that missiles would break our resolve or weaken our union, they bet wrong. We are more determined than ever to defend our homeland and secure our homefront. The people of Israel live. And live vigorously.

Many of our friends have been called up for reserve duty and there is over a 100% response rate, meaning people are volunteering for reserve duty. The level of esprit de corps and camaraderie in Israel during a conflict is unparalleled. As a people’s army, both enlisted and reserve soldiers come from the broad economic and ethnic cross sections of Israeli society. Doctors, Lawyers, hi-Tech engineers, school principals, factory workers, small business owners all report for duty and serve together. In a modern day military of high tech gadgetry and satellite generated computer images, these every day people who put their businesses on hold and their lives at risk are still the real heroes.

And throughout the country volunteers are collecting toys for kids in the South, Musicians and artist are performing in bomb shelters, NGO’s are attending to the underprivileged and needy and Hotels, hostels and families are opening their doors to citizens of the South who want or need a respite from the incessant shelling. And we are bolstered by the incredible outpouring of support from friends abroad. Support from Jewish communities, Christian communities, elected officials, and other nations emboldens the justness of our cause in defending Israel against terror. In the past few days, politics and talk of the elections have been put on hold as the country unites behind our leaders to end the senseless violence launched by the Hamas terrorist regime against our cities.

Sadly, as I listen to the words and the bitter hatred of Hamas leaders, I wonder how this can ever end. My heart goes out to those innocent fathers and mothers in Gaza who are victims of their own poor leadership. They deserve better. They deserve a government that will protect its citizens; not use them as human shields to launch rockets from heavily populated areas.

In this never ending cycle of blame and competing narratives, Peace will come when the Hamas leadership cherishes life more than it celebrates death. Until then, we in Israel will stand behind our government, sit in bomb shelters if need be and continue to defend our homeland and our right to exist. And we will mow the lawn when the weeds take over.

To help lessen the fear for our kids, we have been telling them that every time an air raid siren goes off and we run to the shelter, they each get a candy. Last night after returning back to our apartment, my son Aaron turned to me and said “Daddy, when is the next siren so I can get another candy?”

May the pursuit of candy be the lasting memory for the children of Israel from this period. May the soldiers who defend my family, our country and our people find safe passage and swift footing. I pray for the welfare of the citizens across Israel and I pray that leaders on both sides exercise good judgement on behalf of their citizens.

David (Borowich) Ya’ari is a businessman residing in Tel Aviv and also the founder of Dor Chadash and the Council of Young Jewish Presidents in the USA.

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