Shlicha's/Shaliach's View

Gaza clash evokes painful memories of rockets, shelters

As these words are being written, an Israel-Gaza truce has been already achieved, after 48 hours of intensive fighting. The attack from Gaza — retaliation for an Israeli action against an Islamic Jihad leader — included over 300 rockets fired at Israeli communities near and far. Eighty Israelis were treated by medical emergency units, among them old and young, men, women and children. School was canceled for over 1 million children and workers were told to stay home. A “special situation” was declared.

In summer 2014, my family and I experienced Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. We lived, then, 40 kilometers from Gaza, and had a shelter built inside the house. If a warning siren sounded, we had exactly 60 seconds to get from wherever we were into the shelter. The residents of Hof Ashkelon have less than 30 seconds to do the same. It is extremely frightening to be in this situation. Sirens go off again and again, bombs explode above your head. You might be on the phone, in the restroom, or the shower. You might be just trying to put your child to bed, or picking them up from a routine after-school activity. Code Red is announced and all of a sudden you are in a different world.

One night, back during Protective Edge, I was sleeping when the siren went off. My daughter Alma was then 5 years old. She heard the siren and went to our bed. Her dad was already awake. I remember her trying to wake me up. She wouldn’t let me stay in bed when I should be inside the shelter. The fact that she had to take this responsibility hurts.

After this incident we decided to go north, take a break from this madness. After a short drive out of town we found ourselves lying in a ditch, beside the car, with a 5-year-old beneath me, looking up and seeing the Iron Dome missile defense system in action. I couldn’t stop thinking — my god, we are in the 21st century. I have all the technology in the world, I am healthy and self-sufficient. Why do I have my daughter experiencing war?

For those who live closer to the border, this is routine. My friend who lives in the Hof Ashkelon area once told me her child is a “missile child.” She was born into an ongoing fighting situation and is affected by this. Another friend from the area described an afternoon during which he could not find his daughter throughout the kibbutz, while sirens were going off and everyone else was already sheltered. He could not hold back the tears when he told me this.

In Ashkelon, a building this time received a direct hit. One Israeli woman died from her injuries; another worker was injured. In another place, an 8-year-old was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. Thanks to Iron Dome, these were the only major physical injuries reported on the Israeli side. Most of the others were injured by falls running to a shelter, or were treated for shock.

Some 34 Palestinians, including children, died in Israeli airstrikes.

These few days of fighting will pass, and fade into the background. A new routine will begin. Organizations that specialize in mental health and assistance will continue to work with groups and individuals. Medications will be prescribed to help those who need them to overcome symptoms of stress and anxiety. Mothers and fathers will tell funny bedtime stories. People will go back to work. School will re-open. Teenagers will go back to the mall. At dinner, people will talk about politics, money, and TV shows.

Until the next time.

Inbal Shtivi is Tucson’s shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.