(This post is about my recent 3 week visit to Israel, where I spent most of my time in Jerusalem.)
Words just don’t cut it when describing what it’s like to be caught outdoors when an incoming missile alert siren sounds. Especially the part that news reporters don’t record—the ten minutes after the siren goes silent. So here are two pictures: one showing an Iron Dome interceptor hitting four incoming rockets near my Jerusalem neighborhood when I was visiting, and the other showing two cars decorated for a wedding ten minutes later.
And here’s the connection…
It was about 5:45 pm a week ago this past Tuesday, and my wife, Terri, and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. We were on a very popular path, and it was crowded with families with young children, an elderly person being pushed in a wheel chair, joggers, and middle-aged couples like us. At about 5:55 pm, the siren sounded. We were nowhere within the approximately 30 seconds that we had to find a bomb shelter. Terri turned to me and said, “What do we do?” to which I said, “Run like everyone else around us and drop to the ground. And that’s what we did, along with an older woman near us, and a family with three young children under the age of five.
Then I looked up and saw the awesome power of the life-saving Iron Dome missile defense system. And Iron Dome does not just save Jewish lives. It saves the lives of all Israeli citizens: Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. And it also saves the lives of more Palestinians in Gaza, for without Iron Dome, Israel would have needed to undertake ground operations in Gaza many times to destroy its massive arsenal of missiles that are hidden under deep tunnels, sometimes near schools and hospitals.
So while the government of Israel instructs its citizens and visitors what to do if an attack occurs, and tells them to find a bomb shelter, pop-up bomb shelters don’t magically appear. Sometimes, the only option to is to lay flat and pray hard—and so we did, along with the others near us.
But what I felt at that moment was that we, and all of the others around us, became a pop-up extended family for the ten minutes following the siren. (Ten minutes is estimated time that it takes for shrapnel to fall from the sky and possibly injure people who are exposed.) Everybody asked one another if they were okay. The older woman in our group got up first when she was assured that we were all fine, and proceeded about her business. My wife and I then listened to the parents near us, who calmly explained to their children why they had to run and cover their bodies, what the loud “thud” sounds were and why there was a siren. We then asked them what they were planning to do and they said, “We’re going out to dinner as we planned. We have no choice. If we don’t, we won’t be able to raise our children here.”
We decided to return to our apartment, a few blocks from where we were, as this attack rattled us a little bit more than the prior one, where we did indeed continue about our business. But within the ten minutes that it took us to arrive to the entrance of our building, there were two cars decorated for a wedding, as a couple in our complex was about to get married. No missile attack was strong enough to stop a couple’s love, and the love of family and friends for this life-affirming event.
The trip that I had was not the one that I expected, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because while you see the news reports of people running after the sirens blare, you don’t see the resilience of people picking themselves up and carrying on with life. Hamas rockets don’t discriminate—they target rich and poor, able-bodied and disabled, Jew and non-Jew, young and old. Every Israeli citizen is now on the front lines. And even Jerusalem, a sacred city to Jews, Christians and Muslims—is a target.
All Israelis have to be prepared for rocket attacks wherever they live until a lasting political solution can be found. I don’t see one coming from the leaders, but I do see it potentially in pockets of grassroots organizations that are trying to break down stereotypes by having face-to-face interactions with Israelis and Palestinians, so that each people can have a normal life.
Israel has invested in apps that alert citizens for the imminent death threat of missiles, systems like Iron Dome and other lifesaving technologies. Hamas has chosen to invest its foreign aid for longer range, more accurate missiles. Israel is not blameless in the ongoing conflict with Palestinians, but it’s hard to understand a way out when the “leaders” of one faction of Palestinians hide behind its own citizens, while inflicting terror on another population. I wouldn’t blame any visitors to Israel for canceling a trip, especially after the phrase from the Star Spangled Banner, “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” took on literal meaning for my wife and me as we drove to Ben Gurion airport for our return flight, which was under a massive missile attack. But my Israeli family members and friends have taught me the meaning of resilience and I already have tickets for my next two trips.