Suddenly, we're not out of range

Originally titled 'Reflections on the War with Hamas', this is republished from the 'Israel in our Hearts' blog from the Pittsburgh Federation.

The writer, Mara Linzer, is currently in Israel with her fiance, who is an Israel reservist. She is a Rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

January 05, 2009 at 3:26 PM
Arriving in Israel on Friday, December 26th, I knew that things were quickly escalating with Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, in Gaza.  Saturday morning, things began to intensify as Israel finally responded to the constant barrage of rockets that has continued since the temporary ceasefire with the Palestinians had ended the prior weekend.  Despite the temporary truce that Israel had established with them, the rockets had never completely ceased during the past eight years.  Hamas took the expiration of the temporary cease fire as an opportunity to attack Israeli civilians across the south of Israel.  Israel responded to the Hamas assault, by air strikes, attempting to destroy Hamas’ infrastructure. 

The phone began ringing Sunday morning at 2 am letting my fiancé and me know that reserve units were being called up and instructed to report to the South, in the event that ground troops were needed, in addition to the air assaults by the Israeli Air Force.  On Sunday, December 28th, we began to travel down south, to Be'ersheva, from the north of Israel. Everywhere you looked on the road, tanks on trucks were heading toward Gaza. Police lined the streets around the Arab villages to prevent them from throwing rocks at cars as we proceeded down south.

Monday was business as usual in Be'ersheva, although rockets continued to rain over the residents of the South.  Watching the television, I couldn’t even image the experience of the Israelis in places like Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ashdod.  Before going to bed Monday night, I asked my fiancé what would happen if a rocket reached Be'ersheva.  He told me it wasn’t possible.  I said that I didn’t care what was possible, what would happen if one did.  He assured me that Be'ersheva was 40 Kilometers away from Gaza, and that if one did fall in Be'ersheva it would be in the suburbs, but that we were in the city.  After applying a bit more pressure, I was told that if a missile did reach us, a siren would sound, letting us know that we had roughly one minute to get into the shelter or a “safe space,” before the impact.  I went to bed that night reassured that rockets had never reached Be'ersheva, and this would be no exception.

Tuesday, I found myself sitting in a café in Be'ersheva in the afternoon, when I learned that a rocket had reached the Bedouin area of Rahat.  My phone rang - a call from an Israeli friend, who lived up north asking if I was okay.  I thought, what a bizarre question, of course I am fine.  That night, getting ready to go out, the sirens began wailing at 9 pm.  Horrified and shocked, we began to quickly run for the stairs.  Staying in a students’ building at Ben Gurion University, students quickly filled the stairs and began to hustle down to the shelter.  We heard three “booms.”  After that, students hurried back into their apartments, turning on the news, to see where the rockets had landed-Ramot, a suburb of Be'ersheva, approximately 7 minutes from where we were staying.  We decided to stay in that night, glued to the television.  Suddenly, we weren’t out of range.  Going to bed that night, I carefully made sure that my shoes were right next to my bed in case the sirens would go off in the middle of the night.

Wednesday morning I woke up at 8:25 am and went online to read the news.  I read that one rocket had fallen, an hour and a half earlier, outside of Be'ersheva.  The siren sounded 10 minutes later, as we rushed out into the hall, just in time for two Grad missiles to fall, one landing only 40 meters away from our building into a junior high school.  The sound itself was scary, but it was the physical shaking of the building that causes you to leap forward and grab onto the person in front of you.

We learned that the missile that fell was a Grad missile, speculated to have been purchased from China and smuggled into Gaza through Egypt.  If school hadn’t have been canceled the day before, that room would have been filled with children.  These missiles aren’t just rockets; they are filled with pieces of metal and glass that explode upon impact, with the intention of harming as many civilians as possible.  Those that launch these missiles have no regard for human life.  The siren in Be'ersheva stopped working so one had to watch the television or listen to the radio to know when a siren was called, indicating that we should head down to the shelter.  After numerous sirens that afternoon, we were fortunate enough to be able to leave Be'ersheva and return to the middle of the country, where things are “safe,” and relatively isolated from the war with Hamas.  On the way home, it was possible to see where a rocket had landed earlier on the other side of the highway, as workers quickly tried to repair the road. 

This was only a brief glimpse into the horror that the Israelis in the South have faced for years.  It is impossible for them to live normal lives, living from siren to siren.  How does one go to school and work, not knowing when your lives and safety will be called into question?  Children in Sderot and the South have grown up with this as a part of their regular lives.  Entire childhoods have been spent in a constant state of fear and panic.  How can Israelis allow this to occur any longer?

Israelis are not lovers of war, but only desire to protect their citizens and maintain safe borders.  Nations of the world and the UN criticize Israel’s response as disproportionate, yet they only strive to bring about peace for their residents.  Hamas fires their rockets from inside apartment buildings filled with women and children.  Israel drops warning flyers to warn civilians of where combat areas are and what Hamas areas may be targeted. Israel has also opened up its borders to provide medical assistance and humanitarian aid to the civilians of Gaza.  What more is Israel to do?  They must protect their citizens, and this can only be achieved by destroying the infrastructure of Hamas.

As Americans sitting across the ocean, watching our brothers and sisters in Israel live in a constant state of fear and terror in the coming days, we must ask ourselves, what can we do?  We can give money to help support Israel and the residents of the South, but equally as important, we must speak up on behalf of Israel.  Our Jewish values teach us that we are supposed to seek justice and pursue it.  We should read a variety of news sources, because many popular American sources are biased.  Understand the situation and speak up on behalf of Israel.  The pro-Palestinian voice is so loud, and we must not allow it to silence our Jewish voice.  Keep Israel in your prayers and its people in your hearts.