We are safe at home in Jerusalem tonight, but the situation in Israel has gotten worse by the day.
I imagine that you have been hearing news reports out of Israel. The situation has escalated in the past 48 hours and in the early hours of Tuesday morning, July 8, 2014, Israel began a full-blown military operation against Gaza (so far just air strikes, but the government authorized calling up 40,000 reservists today and reportedly a ground operation will soon follow). Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have increased their rocket fire—85 rockets or more according to news reports were fired from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday (July 7, 2014). The rockets and Israel’s retaliatory air strikes have continued all day today (Tuesday, July 8, 2014).
Tonight we learned that Jerusalem was ordered to open its public bomb shelters in preparation for likely attacks and that private shelters should be readied. We called the building committee head and found out that she had anticipated the need and already had our building shelter unlocked and prepared (meaning swept and a few discarded pieces of furniture arranged, which is good enough). Aviva and I discussed what we would do if the sirens went off.
Not long after that, air raid sirens did indeed sound. These are called Code Red Alerts in Israel. Because we had already spoken about it, we immediately picked up our two children and our phones and went down to the shelter. We actually heard two booms close together as we entered the shelter, where we spent the next ten minutes with many of our neighbors. Shortly after, the all clear came and we returned to our apartment. The kids, who had been sleeping, woke up of course, but settled down again once we returned to our apartment.
The reports of what actually happened on news websites are not very specific or clear yet—likely the media are working with partial information themselves. It seems that Islamic Jihad or Hamas took credit for firing four rockets at Jerusalem. It may be that the Iron Dome anti-missile defense took one or more out. A picture of a rocket on a road outside of Jerusalem has appeared on social media. There is a report that one hit in East Talpiyot, which is Aviva’s mother’s neighborhood. She’s alright and some upstairs neighbors are staying with her so they can get to the bomb shelter more easily (Paul, the rabbi who married Aviva and me in Israel, and his wife). The rest of Aviva’s family is safe, too.
With cell phones, WhatsApp, Facebook, we all stay in touch. The rumors ran quickly through it all, but using more reliable sources (including some journalist friends’ FB posts), it appears that at least one rocket may have hit a house that is burning in a suburb of Jerusalem. Again, the news media are giving contradictory reports and FB is full of rumors. So what actually happened may take until tomorrow morning or longer for us to know.
We don’t know if it will be a long night with more alerts and rockets, or if this was a one-off for tonight. My theory has been that they wouldn’t aim for our neighborhood because an overshot would land in the Old City, potentially hitting the al-Aqsa Mosque, often cited as the third holiest site in Islam (possibly for the Sunni) and one of the religious reasons given as to why the Arab world wants to keep East Jerusalem. Apparently my theory doesn’t hold up, as East Talpiyot is also in that direction (and next door to us).
I will post new developments. We have our plan and it worked this time.
It’s moving towards midnight here and I think I’ll try to get some sleep. Not very damn likely, as this whole bomb shelter things is new to me (only once before, back in 2006). So odd to have to explain to a three-year old that there are people shooting rockets at us and other people on our side shooting them down when they can, but still it’s a good idea to go into a bomb shelter…
If you want to know a bit more of the subjective experience of hearing the sirens, I recommend “When You Hear Your First Siren,” by Ariela Rossberg.
If you want to see a remarkable approach to helping children through the experience of the sirens, I recommend this FB post with video: “What Israeli School Children Sing to Deal with Rockets.”