I don’t want to sound dramatic. I used to hate when I was living in Tel Aviv and American friends and family would call me and act as though the world was coming to an end, due to the latest border skirmish between Israel and either the West Bank or Gaza. I remember being there during December of 2008, when Operation Cast Lead conducted 2 weeks of IDF air strikes into Gaza as a defense tactic against Hamas firing rockets into southern parts of Israel, going as far north as Ashkelon.
I remember feeling totally confused, and powerless, watching both domestic and international media reporting the situation. Tel Aviv is only 25 miles from Ashkelon, and 48 miles from Gaza. That’s nothing. That’s a 1 hour drive. Israel is a tiny country, surrounded by enemies. These are facts.
Now, Israel is once again at war with Gaza, in a very similar situation as for years ago. Only now, Tel Aviv was hit. And I feel just as if not more powerless than I did four years ago. Now I’m far, far away from people I love, in a city I miss every single day, that’s actually experiencing incoming attacks.
I know of 3 reasons for a siren to go off in Tel Aviv:
1. The army conducts drills a couple times a year, to prepare citizens for what this morning was a reality.
2. Every spring, on the morning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. At around 10 or 11:00am, a 5-minute period of silence is observed by everyone on the street – in the city, on the highways, in buses, cars, bikes and on foot. Drivers stop their cars and get out and stand in the street in total silence. Traffic stops.
I remember my 1st time experiencing this, during my 1st spring in Israel in 2009. I was on a bus on the way to work. I didn’t hear the siren, but my bus stopped, the driver got out, and I had no idea what was going on. It took me a second, and then this feeling washes over you: everyone else is observing a ritual. They knew what day it was, and realized what that meant for their morning commute. From the perspective of an “outsider” (an American), it seems as though everyone is suddenly connected through a shared experience as Jewish Israelis. Yes, I’m Jewish, but as an American, I had never experienced a national observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
3. To announce a real attack.
I never heard this third type; only the first two. I know that so far no one in Tel Aviv has been hurt. That 3 Israelis have been killed, and 12 Palestinians (or 19? I’m hearing conflicting reports). What’s so hard to digest is that a missile actually struck the city I lived in. Israel’s largest city. Four years ago, no matter how confused and emotional I was, I never truly feared for my safety. I was never afraid to be on the streets, to ride a bus. Once that war ended, and things went back to normal, I ventured all over Israel without much hesitation.
I hope that Israelis can return to their “version of normalcy” as soon as possible.