Jerusalem, July 30, 2014
I experienced my first siren last night: the signal warning of an incoming Hamas rocket.
Darkness had fallen and I was visiting my cousins at their moshav (a uniquely Israeli planned village) for dinner. We decided that my cousin Tamar would walk us around to see the features of the moshav.
We were strolling – Tamar, her two-year-old son, her mother-in-law, my husband, my daughter and I – and chatting. We had just viewed the dinosaur footprints that were recently discovered there, and the life-size dinosaurs (a diplodocus and a velociraptor, if I’m not mistaken) that have been installed to enhance the dinosaur theme.
I didn’t even hear the sirens at first, but Tamar did. She stayed calm, looking around to see where we could shelter. We had, she said, a minute and a half to get to a protected spot, which wasn’t enough time to return to the house to use her family’s official shelter.
Official shelters are reinforced, and have metal shutters over the single window. The door is also heavy and metal. They are signposted in hotels and other public places, and many homes have their own, usually in the basement, or on the ground floor if there is no basement.
Instead, she led us to the nearest building, where we sat on a low wall tucked into a corner of the building. Huddled there, she explained that the rocket must not be nearby, because the nearest and loudest siren had not gone off. Probably it was somewhere in Jerusalem itself.
We heard a rumbling series of bangs: about four, I’d guess. My cousin explained that an Iron Dome missile installation was very nearby. Probably those bangs were the interceptor missiles being fired at the incoming Hamas rocket.
A minute or so later we heard a single bang: less loud this time, and a bit muffled. My cousin guessed that that was the sound of the interception itself. Iron Dome had prevented the rocket from reaching its target.
Taking our cue from Tamar, none of us was particularly scared. All of us were visitors to Israel besides her and her son, and we felt reassured by her calm reaction.
Although we are supposed to stay in a shelter for ten minutes, we decided after about five that it was safe to walk again. We went back to the house to check on the rest of the family there. It turned out that they’d been busy playing music together. With a guitar, a bass guitar, a clarinet and singing going on, not to mention the hum of the air conditioning, they hadn’t even heard the siren or the bangs.
When we checked on-line, we learned that the rocket was aimed somewhere in Jerusalem, to whatever extent the Hamas rockets can be aimed, but was indeed shot out of the sky by Iron Dome above Beit Shemesh, outside of Jerusalem. Another cousin of mine, who lives closer to there, experienced the full alert: a loud siren and, because her husband wasn’t home, she had to shepherd her four children to their shelter (which isn’t even a proper shelter; it’s just a concrete stairway outside).
The toddler with us, Tamar’s son, when he saw his father afterwards, pointed at the sky and said “Boom!” He didn’t seem traumatized, but did look worried, and nodded when his father asked him if it was scary. It made me wonder, when our experience was so mild and our cousins so casual about the alert, how it affects the children here when it’s more serious: when the siren is loud, or when it’s in the middle of the night, or, as in Gaza, when there are actual explosions on the ground.
Are the Israelis and Hamas, in continuing this war, creating a whole generation of traumatized, angry, fearful adults in the future? And, if so, will that perpetuate war, or will it make them more likely to create a lasting peace?