A loud noise punctures the quiet Jerusalem night. At first it seems to the unknowing ear that it may be just be the wind picking up and dying down.
This idealistic musing is quickly dispelled as the strange sound continually recurs and disappears. After the third or fourth such sound, the mind begins to understand that this is an abnormality. It is the dreaded sound of the rocket siren.
When I heard my first siren, I bolted to the nearest shelter. Luckily, this happened to be right next door.
My friends had different experiences. One was at a Tel Aviv grocery store when the Iron Dome — Israel’s anti-missile defence system — intercepted a rocket near his location, resulting in a shock wave that was felt at the store.
On the roof of a Tel Aviv building, partygoers heard a loud noise, and saw the smoke trail of a rocket intercepted by the Iron Dome, not far from where they were standing. Others I spoke to were at a beach and saw rockets in the distance, which were luckily intercepted by the anti-missile system.
I have lived in Canadian tranquility my entire life. I have never before experienced violence and hatred perpetrated against a civilian population. For this reason, my first experience with Hamas’ rockets shook me to my core.
After pulling the secure metal cover over the window of the apartment and bolting a massive door shut, my hands started to shake.
I was scared. Would this occur frequently? What if I didn’t hear the siren? What if I was in an exposed area without a shelter?
I was angry. How could human beings deliberately target an innocent civilian population? Prior to this experience, I had read of the frequent rocket attacks by Hamas in the southern part of Israel, but this all seemed like a theoretical exercise.
I was worried. How would this increased barrage of rockets impact other people? In Jerusalem, residents have a minute and a half to reach shelter once the siren sounds. However, in the southern areas that are located near Gaza, there are only 15 seconds to reach cover. For the elderly and those with reduced mobility, this time may not nearly be enough. What happens if you have multiple small children to bring to safety?
There is a kibbutz very close to the Gaza border that I visited recently where a woman narrowly survived a rocket attack. She was in her kitchen when a rocket tore into her bedroom and blew it apart. It was only after this incident that the kibbutz began to build shelters attached to each house.
In areas where there is no shelter, like the Old City of Jerusalem, people lie down in the streets when they hear a siren and cover their heads with their hands. For those in the middle of the highway or in a bus, they must pull their cars over, exit their vehicles, and lie down on the ground.
Other people view the situation completely indifferently. I was having dinner at a hotel when the siren sounded. I made my way inside to the shelter, but a large number of people continued to go about their business as if nothing had happened. Some nonchalantly continued their meal on the terrace.
Most bizarrely, some derive pleasure from the rockets. One woman, as reported in the Times of Israel, opened her home’s windows and went outside with her family:
We were very happy. The children were shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great) and we were clapping. We explained to them that Jews have attacked children and this is retaliation. They say ‘My God, may they (the rockets) hit the Jews, and may they die, just the way they hit us.’
Another man said: “The Jews, the police, the army, everyone got down and lay on the ground, while we continued normally, and my children signalled the victory sign.”
At the school where I am currently studying in Jerusalem, a few students booked flights home, fearing for their safety. For a few others, their sponsors required them to return home. But for the majority of the students, and Israeli society at large, life resumed as usual. We were taught the safety procedures and now it has become part of the routine. The school also provided counselling services for those who needed them, and cancelled field trips in danger-prone areas.
Life goes on.
For Israelis, these incidents are not isolated. Despite the thousands of rockets that have been launched into Israel since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 7, only two Israeli civilian casualties have been recorded. This is because of the Iron Dome missile defence system, which intercepts an estimated 90 per cent of rockets, and the extensive siren system that spans the length of the country.
For a nation constantly under attack, the continual barrage of rockets enacts a heavy psychological toll on the civilian population. Egypt proposed a ceasefire last week. The result? Israel ceased, and Hamas fired within a few hours.
The victims of this conflict are the civilian populations of Israel and Gaza, held hostage by an ideology that glorifies death and destruction. A plethora of pundits and politicians have suggested what should be done to end the impasse so I will not dwell on them here. One thing, however, is certain: the status quo is unacceptable.