Friday, January 16, 2009

It's All Coming Back to Me Now

As this war continues with little hope of concluding any time soon, I can't help but to empathize with the hundreds of thousands who are just beginning to experience what we lived through for two long years. Without sounding like a drama queen (which is the the tendency in this part of the world) I find it helpful to read others who have verbalized their feelings because, for one of the few times in my life, words failed me in understanding what I was experiencing.

War in Israel is a different phenomenon than most other places in the world. Everyone wants to avoid armed conflict because the price for doing so is personally dear. Everyone here has a parent, child, relative, or friend who goes out on the front line to fight, sometimes hand-to-hand, against an enemy driven by hate. And this is why it is, in a way, surprising that 94% of Jewish Israelis support this conflict as righteously just one that leaves no choice but to fight.

Here are a few observations of what it is like to live in a place where the rockets are falling that describe better what it's better than I have done.

In this report a young boy describes how simply living life can be terrifying:

After relaying that "11,000 rocket and mortars" have landed in Israel in the last eight years, Roth recounted the words of an Israeli boy who complained of having to hide in response to sirens. Roth: "They've landed as far as 25 miles beyond the Gaza border, killed 15 civilians and put as many as a million people in range and in fear. ‘You wash your face and brush your teeth,’ a boy named Moishe told Israeli TV, ‘and then the siren sounds.’ He'd no sooner said that when it did."
I've been in that same sort of situation, like being in the shower with soap in my hair and suddenly hearing a noise that sounds similar to a siren (it's amazing how under attack EVERY noise begins to sound like a siren). In about a second you freeze and strain to hear if it is indeed a siren or not while your mind races about whether to stop and put the towel around your naked body (which will cost precious seconds) when you get out or just grab it on the fly and not worry about your dignity. Fortunately in those several times when it happened, it turned out to be nothing. Then, at that very moment you feel relieved that it was nothing, but immediately start feeling guilty for making a big deal out of (what turned out to be) a non-event.

In this JPost article we have the account of a Beersheva journalist who has often visited Sderot next to Gaza where the vast majority of rockets have fallen. She describes the difference between merely visiting a place under attack and having the attacks hit close to her own home:
"I know a little too much about rockets and what they can do. Over the last couple of years I've spent several days in Sderot, interviewing, taking pictures and reporting on the scene. With one exception, every day I was there, there was at least one Color Red Kassam warning, the alarm that signals a rocket is on the way.
But still, in Sderot, when the rockets hit, I was appropriately nervous, but not nearly as terrorized as I am here, in my own home. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because in Sderot, I was visiting. I knew that at the end of the day, I was leaving. Here, when the rockets hit and I'm in my own house, it's intensely personal. I'm not visiting here - they got me where I live.
At least as far as I'm concerned, the terrorists have already achieved their goal. I'm terrorized. I'm shaking like the proverbial leaf, although now that Beersheba is in its third day of being bombed, by the time a half hour has passed, I've pretty much stopped shaking.
Terror happens because I don't know when or where the next missile will hit - that's what's scary. It's living moment by moment, in a state of anxious expectation overlaid with dread.

When outside in the pathway in front of my house, a neighbor drops something - maybe a garden tool or a metal pan of some kind - and there's a "clang!" I jump so high you almost have to scrape me off the ceiling. When a jet overhead - our guys, thank God - breaks the sound barrier, I'm ready to dive under the bed. A car horn in the street makes me run for the kitchen, until I realize it was only one single bleat and can't possibly be the warning siren.

Knowledge doesn't help in these situations, it makes it tougher. Today, before the sirens went bonkers, I washed a tub of clothes. Now I'm ready to go hang them to dry on the clothesline in my yard - but as I put my hand on the doorknob, I stop and think. Just last week, 58-year-old Beber Vaknin of Netivot was killed when he stepped outside his house. The first rocket hit and Vaknin went outside to see if there'd been damage. At that moment a second rocket hit, and the shrapnel pierced Vaknin's heart, killing him. Do I really want to go outside and hang clothes?

That's what terror is. It's making the 800,000 of us - Jews and Arabs alike, by the way - who live within the terrorists' newly-expanded missile range in Israel's South be fearful every day, every hour, every minute. It's making us change our lives, it forces us to keep our children inside, to worry about family members who do nothing more dangerous than go to work.

I finally go through an "Oh, for crying out loud" moment, grit my teeth, open the door and hang the laundry on the line. Nothing happens, of course.
So far, all is well. But no matter what happens next, we know one thing: The terrorists are very good at what they do. They've packed every day with dread, fear and anxiety. Terror works. It surely does."
I don't care who you are, no one can live like that. For better or worse we as human beings are created with an undeniable sense of self-preservation and, especially as parents, you stop caring about yourself (not exactly a good thing itself) and feeling the responsibility for their well-being.

War is horrible, but what does one do when there is no other choice? Too bad that it has to get so bad before something will be done. May it end soon.

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