Columns | First Person

Struggling to maintain normalcy amid the terror

I am suffering from Periodic Missile Stress Disorder (PMSD), which is being aggravated by the world’s indifference to my situation.

Once again sirens sounded last night in our sleepy town of Meitar and the non-stop booms of missiles falling in nearby Beersheva could clearly be heard and yet we are not at war or even worthy of mention in the international press.

Like PMS, this syndrome makes me unexpectedly irritable and short of patience in otherwise normal situations. But (thankfully) it isn’t quite Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as I have been so far lucky enough not to be in the actual vicinity of direct hit.

But my psyche has been hit time and time again. My PSMD is based in the well-founded knowledge that the end is nowhere in sight and more missiles are coming. As a resident of the south of Israel, I am on a first name basis with more people than I care to count who have had missiles fall in their living room, on their street/school/car, or who have been horribly wounded when they fell only a few feet away.

Over the last few months, hundreds of missiles have been launched from Gaza into Israel – reaching as far north as Ashdod and as far east as Beersheva. Over the past week, the situation has intensified with tens of missiles being launched every day, many of them falling in and around Beersheva. Though reports of ceasefires come and go, small barrages of missiles let us know that the break is an illusion and sure to pass sooner rather than later.

The truth is that we knew it was coming. Sometime this spring Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where I work, replaced the haphazard handwritten pages directing people to safe rooms with nicely printed, laminated ones – a sign that they were here to stay until further notice.

And yes, there is now a wonderful Iron Dome defense system which has remarkably intercepted many of the missiles as they approach Beersheva and Ashkelon, but there are only two units stationed in the south of the country and that is simply not enough.

We have learned to tell when a loud wailing noise is an air raid siren, which leaves less than a minute to find a place to take cover, or something else. Without a doubt, being caught on the open road is the worst. Nothing can compare with the terror of lying flat on a road with your hands on your head waiting for the inevitable boom to arrive, particularly if your children are with you. I cannot imagine how I would cope if my kids were still hooked into car seats. Helplessness does not even come close to describing the feeling of futility.

Every day we are forced to make critical decisions. Today is my son’s 12th birthday. Will we go see a movie in Beersheva as promised, or not? Is today worth that trip to buy back-to-school supplies? Let’s see what the morning brings before we set out. On Tuesday the same son went with friends to the Ashkelon beach – a risk? Of course. But so is sitting home letting the PMSD drive you crazy.

Our daily lives are filled with small reminders that we cannot let our vigilance down. Coffee shops in Beersheva ask for payment when the food arrives so that if you have to run to the shelter in the middle of your meal you won’t be tempted to disappear without paying the bill. Enter a store and the saleswoman will probably let you know where the nearest shelter is, just in case.

Yet a glance at Facebook or any international paper online shows that the world’s eyes are turned elsewhere – to what is happening in Libya and Washington, and to the beach in Cape Cod as the summer vacation draws to end. I realize that all news is local and that earthquakes and hurricanes are truly scary, but what can I say? My PMSD makes me short of temper and lacking in empathy. It is not your sympathy I want, but your awareness that something has to change. That these missiles exist and are being launched by Palestinians who claim to be ready for statehood but who are behaving like lawless terrorists.

Of course we could leave for a day or two, make the most of the summer vacation, but there doesn’t seem to be much point as the same situation will be here when we get back. This is our home and a million people cannot just pretend their lives are going on as normal.

This isn’t about politics. I am sure there are pundits who will argue that one side or the other started the attacks first. This is about living in an impossible situation, with the knowledge that there will inevitably be more missiles.

The world is constantly calling upon Israel to act with restraint, but when will those same voices call for an end to the daily launching of missiles into civilian areas of Israel? When will the UN (or at least the New York Times) acknowledge that no country can sit quietly while their citizens are being held hostage? When will someone force the Palestinians to take responsibility for their actions?

When will the world realize that PMSD is a real condition that first has to be recognized before it can be solved?

(This article originally appeared in The Forward on Aug. 25, 2011.)