In the Shoes of an Israeli

What would it be like to live amid a constant barrage of rockets? I now know.

I often try to place myself in the skin of an Israeli southerner. It is an abstract exercise to envision, however inadequately, but I have often wondered: what would it be like to live amid a constant barrage of rockets, dashing for shelter with every renewed blast of the siren?

But never did I conceive actually taking a small step in their shoes.

Such was the case last week, as the “Code Red” early warning rocket alarm system blared throughout Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War in 1991. As I looked out my window, the tension was palpable. Nobody so much as flinched. It took 30 seconds—what seemed like a small eternity—for the enormity of the situation to sink in. As people regained their senses, panic set in, sending everyone racing for cover.

And then the explosion.

The whole surreal sequence lasted all of 45 seconds—less than one minute to find shelter; not a bomb shelter, mind you, as there simply is no time, but rather any enclosed space, devoid of windows of course, preferably a hallway or staircase.

Fourty-five seconds. Count it out. In Israel, it can be the difference between life and death.

Tragically, three more Israelis fell victim to this harsh reality last week, after their apartment building in Kiryat Malachi was struck by a rocket fired by Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists.

The missile was one of approximately 1000 fired towards Israel from the Strip between Wednesday and Sunday, following the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense, a military offensive which saw the Israel Air Force strike an equal number of terror targets in Gaza over the same period.

It is important to keep this in mind as accusations of “disproportionality” inevitably begin to be hurled form all directions at Israel. It is hogwash. The Jewish state cannot be faulted—but rather should be hailed—for investing billions of dollars to develop a technological miracle: Iron Dome. By intercepting in the last week upwards of 300 rockets destined for Israeli civilian centers, the anti-missile defense system saved countless Israeli lives. Likewise, it also saved Palestinian lives, which surely would have been lost in the event the IDF was forced to retaliate to a direct hit, say, on Tel Aviv.

This is in stark contrast to Hamas’ practice of concealing weaponry in residential buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques thereby guaranteeing the unnecessary loss of life despite the precision of Israeli strikes.

On this point, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement to the foreign press at the outset of Pillar of Defense was particularly poignant:

“Seven years ago, Israel withdrew from every square inch of Gaza. Now, Hamas took over the areas we vacated. What did it do? Rather than build a better future for the residents of Gaza, the Hamas leadership, backed by Iran, turned Gaza into a terrorist stronghold.

“I’m stressing this because it’s important to understand that there is no moral symmetry; there is no moral equivalence, between Israel and the terrorist organizations in Gaza. The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians, and they hide behind Palestinian civilians.”

The fact of the matter is that Israel had no choice but to act, given that residents of the south have been living in a state of paralysis for nearly a month. The mission, after all, was initiated only after Palestinians fired over 150 rockets into southern Israel from November 9- 11; mass terror attacks which came on the heels of the more than 100 rockets fired from Gaza into the Jewish state in a span of 24 hours in late October.

But with restraint comes consequences, and the bitter truth is that, even with this temporary ceasefire in place, it may be too late to defuse the Gaza ticking time bomb. The geopolitical conditions in the region have changed, and Hamas’ newfound assertiveness is the direct outcome of the emergence in Egypt of its progenitor and patron, the Muslim Brotherhood. In the result, any future ground incursion into Gaza, which constitutes the only way to root out Hamas’ terror infrastructure, now risks setting off a full-scale war with Cairo.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made this clear by recalling Egypt’s ambassador to Israel at the onset of the “brutal assault” on Gaza. Last Friday he vowed that “Cairo will not leave Gaza on its own. Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday.”

In a further show of solidarity, an Egyptian prime minister for the first time travelled to the Strip; the visit was, in Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh’s words, “a message to the occupation.”

The nature of that message was repeatedly conveyed throughout Hesham Kandil’s trip—the beginning of which was supposed to usher in a three hour ceasefire—with the launching of fifty rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv. That Egypt’s new Islamist government backs Gaza’s terrorist rulers was expressly confirmed by Hamas’ armed wing, which claimed responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv while Kandil was still in the coastal enclave. And for good measure, as Shabbat descended on Jerusalem, an emboldened Hamas fired two rockets at Judaism’s holiest city.

The point is this: when strategic threats are permitted to fester, they inevitably intensify. In this respect, for far too long one million Israelis living in the south were left to endure inhumane conditions. The eventual outcome of inaction in the face of terror was entirely predictable: what was tolerated in Sderot became the norm in Ashdod and Ashkelon, and then in Beersheva. Now, the rockets are being fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as the front lines of the Arab-Islamic war against Israel shift to the heart of the country.

(Charles Bybelezer recently moved to Israel to begin working as a breaking news editor at The Jerusalem Post.)

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