Jerusalem – Midnight, and the sirens are blaring. The kids are long asleep. I have one minute to wake them up and get them to our shelter. Whom do I carry there first? My youngest daughter, or her older sister—my eldest child—who always finds it difficult to wake up, or my 10-year-old son? I somehow manage to get them all into the shelter and then back to bed after the all-clear sounds.
My husband, a reservist in a special Air Force unit, is on alert call. This means that when the destined phone call comes he will have one hour to get to his base. Our house has become a miniature “war room”—his uniform is ironed and ready, and his high military boots have been shined. The children know from experience that once he leaves for reserve duty, they may not see him again for a very long time.
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Leaving home and going to work each day is not easy. It’s summer and the children have no school. Each morning I give them an early “briefing,” reminding them not to keep the television on too loud, so they can hear the sirens and run to the shelter. Just to make sure, in addition to their video-game apps, my kids download the “code red” app—it beeps when the sirens are activated.
My youngest asked to go over to a friend’s house one afternoon after I came home from the office. That created a dilemma for me: in times like these I would like to have my children near me, and yet she is a normal child and deserves to live like one. I let her go. She and her friend played in a little plastic pool filled with 40 centimeters of water. The air raid siren went off suddenly and they had to seek shelter. I still think I made the right decision in letting her go.
Before accepting the position of director of the AJC office In Jerusalem this past April, I spent 22 years in the Israel Defense Forces, and served as chief IDF spokesperson to the international media. It is from this perspective that I can say, without hesitation, that the hero of the current Israeli conflict with Hamas in Gaza is the Iron Dome—actually, it is the heroine, since the Hebrew term for this missile defense system, Kippat Barzel, is a feminine noun. Strategically placed in or near populated areas, it has intercepted and rendered harmless an estimated 90% of the incoming missiles. Other projectiles from Gaza have fallen in unpopulated areas. While there has been property damage and some injuries, as I write, no one in Israel has been killed. We hold our breath!
This crisis, like others that preceded it, has united the Israeli people. In normal times we tend to be a contentious lot, neighbors arguing against neighbors, political parties bickering bitterly in the Knesset and in the media. But all of that has disappeared, ideological and personal differences blurred or suspended. Israelis know that they are all in this together.
It is precisely as a mother that my heart goes out to the innocent Palestinians in Gaza. A cruel and inhumane Hamas regime has deprived them of freedom and dignity, and endangers their lives in the name of radical jihad. It commandeers their homes for military posts, and to store and fire rockets, using them and their children as human shields to die for propaganda purposes.
I am proud to live in a country that makes phone calls to the residents of buildings that have been targeted, warning civilians so they can get out in time; a country that even now, in the midst of battle, continues its ongoing practice of providing medical care for sick and injured Gazans, just as it does for Syrians fleeing the bloody civil war there.
The average Israeli would like nothing more than peace and quiet. But that will have to wait. I just learned that another barrage of rockets was fired moments ago toward Beersheva.
Avital Leibovich is director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Jerusalem Office.