Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pillar of Defense

I wrote this at 4:30 in the morning. I was lying in bed attempting sleep while simultaneously dodging the mosquitoes in my bedroom when I realized though my eyes were closed and the light was off, I was writing and formulating a post in my head. So I got up, and wrote it all down.

Every so often, I think about 'Amud Anan' - Operation Pillar of Defense. The 8 day IDF operation in the Gaza Strip that happened last November
Before I made Aliyah, before I moved to Israel, I along with most people that I know, would sit in America and hear about the war, the terror attacks, the deaths and it would be a distant thing. Something that happened in a different country, to other people. Not to me, not to my friends.

I remember the week of the Gaza Operation vividly. I barely slept. I was on my computer the entire day watching the updates stream in from around the country. I had the radio on listening to live sirens in the south, knowing that as I heard the siren, people just 40 miles away had 15 seconds to get to shelter. 15 seconds in middle of the night, to shake the sleep out of your eyes and grab your kids. 15 seconds to run to the closest bomb shelter. 15 seconds to take cover. 15 seconds to run to whatever safety you can find.
How long does it take you to wake up in the morning? From when your alarm rings until you are coherent. For me it takes a lot more than 15 seconds. But 15 seconds is all that they had.

I would sit in my dining room reading the updates -- IDF missile strike on site of rocket launchers. Siren rings in Ashkelon, Ashdod and surrounding areas. Waiting to hear the injuries.
I would hear the siren on the radio, getting chills every time it rang, knowing that somewhere very close people were frantically running to safety. I get chills just writing about it.

My friend and I organized a worldwide campaign on Facebook for the safety of our soldiers and of everyone in Israel. We reached over 45,000 people. People invited to take on an extra good deed to help guarantee the safety of the people of Israel. Strangers from all around the world were pledging to do extra acts of goodness and kindness, things that they aren't regularly inclined to do. As these promises flowed in, I knew that every time the siren rang, these promises were keeping the soldiers safe. The soldiers that are my friends. The soldiers that I go out drinking with every week. The soldiers that my family has opened up our home to.

Every time the siren rang, I would think about these soldiers and where they were, what they were doing so that I could sit in my dining room relatively safe. Every time I would think about these soldiers, who watched every missile fly overhead, I would find myself struggling to breathe.

I read a letter my friend wrote to his wife as his unit was preparing to go into Gaza. He had called his parents and said goodbye to them. Said that he was sorry he had caused them so much grief when he was younger. And then he sat down and wrote this beautiful letter to his young wife, less than 6 months into their marriage, and placed it in the pouch that held his dog tags.
I read this letter a month after the operation was over. I was sitting in a bar in town, crying. No shame, tears streaming down my face. As I am crying now thinking about this letter, about what the implications of such a thing means.

My sister was in Tel Aviv for school, and was walking back to her dorm with a friend when the siren went off. They were standing in the street, 2 seventeen year old girls from America, with no clue what to do.
The missile landed a few blocks from where they were standing. My sister said she felt the ground shake on impact. Just a few blocks away from her. No one was hurt.
We heard that a missile landed in Tel Aviv, for the first time since 1991 and frantically called her and told her to get on the next bus home. The siren rang 2 more times before she could get on the bus. She brought with her 5 girls from her school, all Americans who were scared out of their minds. Jerusalem is the center. Jerusalem is safe.

Hamas released a video threatening attacks in public places such as bus stops, cafes, the shuk. I was terrified to leave my house. I stayed by the safety of my computer and my constant updates.

I was taking a shower Friday afternoon and had a full blown panic attack for fear of a siren going off while I was in the shower, fear that I would be trapped in the bathroom. This of course was a ludicrous idea because why would the sirens go off in Jerusalem? I texted my friends in America and laughed saying I don't know if I would be able to deal with the sirens ringing through out Jerusalem.
Not 20 minutes later, my dad had just left to go synagogue and I was setting up the tables for the 30 guests we were going to have for the meal. I was in my dining room sitting down for a minute. My friend was sleeping on the couch. My sister's friend was in the bathroom. When the air raid siren went off in Jerusalem.

It took what felt like a minute for it to sink in, but in reality was maybe 3 seconds. The siren was ringing and my mother and I looked at each other and I yelled 'Mom! That's the siren! We have to go to the bomb shelter!'
The world started moving again. My sister's friends all running down from the bedroom, my friend jumping off the couch, spilling a drink on the way, my 83 year old grandmother who had no clue what was going on, all of us running down the steps to the shelter in the basement.

I am not proud of this, but I totally lost my mind. We were standing in the basement, 12 of us in this tiny room, listening to the air raid siren, not knowing what is going on.
I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't understand such hatred for an entire nation. Why would someone want to kill me? I had only just moved to Israel. What had I done to deserve this?
What are we supposed to do against such reckless hate?

The siren stops ringing, the allotted ten minutes are up, and we all file upstairs. I crack open a bottle of wine and go outside. I went to see if the world outside had changed, because the world that I was living in had been rocked, the naivety that I was experiencing had washed away.
We see people walking in my peaceful neighborhood. We ask our neighbor what we are supposed to do now. He said to do nothing, to go make our meal. What are you afraid of?

Soon after that we had our guests arrive, people mentioning the siren casually. I stood up and made a joke about going to the shelter in an orderly fashion if the need arises again. And life went on.

I slept on the couch that night, afraid to sleep in my room on the upper floor for fear of not waking up in time. I tried to stay up as late as I could, because I wasn't sure I could handle being woken up by the sound of the siren. My father closed the metal shutters and sat with me until I fell asleep.
I prayed. I prayed for my friends on the front lines, for my family, and for my country.

Sunday morning the siren went off again in Jerusalem. By this time I was a pro, something that had completely unraveled me the first time was quickly taken into stride. I grabbed my coffee, the radio and the dog and went down to the basement.
Another miss. And time went on.

I left my house, walking through the streets picking out potential shelter, and imaging what I would do if the siren rang right at that moment, regardless of where I was.

Throughout the 8 days of the operation, over 1400 missiles were fired into Israel.

I was walking to school a couple weeks ago and thought I heard the beginning of a siren. I frantically looked around and saw that there were only glass store fronts, my constant vigilance had relaxed and here I was caught unawares. Then I saw the motorcycle whining as it struggled to get up the hill, and I started breathing again.
To this day, I lie in bed and every night I hear a motorcycle revving up the main road in the distance and my heart starts pumping, the adrenaline starts flowing.

I know that no matter how much time has passed, the week of the Gaza Operation will never be forgotten, because I sit here nearly a year later and remember it as if it had happened yesterday.

I am no longer naive. The news isn't about people in a far off land that I don't relate to. The news is about me. The news is about my friends. The news is about my country.

Watch this video -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygb6VrW8WZw