Sunday, November 18, 2012

"... לא ימיש עמוד הענן"

Thursday night, 6:30pm, H and I hopped on his scooter for a night out in Jaffa.  A short drive from our home in Tel Aviv, we planned to eat dinner at a new kosher restaurant and wander through the charming city using a new app developed by a friend, we had just downloaded as our guide.  Fifteen minutes later, as we cruised into the northern edge of Jaffa  a warning siren blared through the city.  Cars and buses screeched to a halt.  People scattered, seeking whatever shelter they could find.  We jumped off the scooter and ran to a nearby alley and stood against the exterior wall of a large building.  Instinctively, I removed my helmet when I got off the scooter.  An Israeli man standing against the wall across from us yelled at me: "Put your helmet back on NOW!"  He was absolutely right; we were standing outdoors and no one knew where the rocket might land.  After several seconds we heard a large, terrifying explosion. The siren had been petrifying; the sound of the explosion was shocking.  I was no longer able to suppress my tears.  Thankfully, H remained calm, having been through experiences much more harrowing in the army.  We later learned  that the rocket exploded at the beach just outside of Jaffa.

This siren, lasting 90 seconds, introduced the people of Tel Aviv to the desperate reality experienced daily by 1 million Israelis living in Israel's southern communities and cities.  Over the last 12 years, Hamas and other terror networks in Gaza have bombarded southern Israel with nearly 12,000 rockets.  All the while, they continue to stockpile thousands of more sophisticated rockets.  In the last three days alone over 750 rockets have been launched at Israel.  In 2006, I led a solidarity mission to Sderot, a border town with Gaza, hoping that we would soon see an end to the rockets falling on southern Israel.  It is hard to believe that six years have passed and the situation has only worsened.  This, despite the fact that Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005.  It is clear that Hamas and its terrorist affiliates have been raining rockets on Israel with only one purpose: to destroy the lives of innocent Israeli men, women and children.  The recent escalation prompted Israel to launch Operation Pillar of Defense, an attack against terror sites in Gaza in an effort to protect Israeli citizens and destroy the terrorist infrastructure.

Our night out in Jaffa was cut short on Thursday.  After an uneventful morning Friday, we decided to take advantage of the good weather and attempt the walking tour we had missed the previous evening.  We grabbed our bikes and enjoyed a leisurely ride down the coast, with a brief interlude to wade in the refreshing Mediterranean water.  When we reached the northern edge of Jaffa we locked our bikes and headed toward our first stop.  Only moments later the warning siren blasted through the streets.  We rushed to find cover and quickly entered a small restaurant just a few meters from the shore.  Several seconds later we heard the explosion.  I felt the vibration of the explosion and knew that this time, the hit was even closer to us.  Emerging from our shelter, we discovered several police cars rushing to park right in front of us and immediately understood that they were collecting eyewitness accounts from the people beside us.  We listened as a man described watching the missile fall into the water about 50 meters from the restaurant where we took shelter.  Below is a photo of me standing next to the policemen as they try to catch a glimpse of the missile in the water.
The events of the last several days -missiles landing not just in the south, but also in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem- have forced millions of Israelis to consider what life has been like in the south for over a decade.  Almost everyone I've spoken to, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, has expressed disbelief that the people of southern Israel have lived with this terror for so long.  Over the weekend several more sirens were sounded in Tel Aviv as several more missiles were fired on the city.  In fact, I was interrupted mid-sentence just now by a siren and a large explosion.

The Israel Defense Force is doing a remarkable job precisely targeting underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels, ammunition storage facilities, and senior Hamas operatives involved in terrorist activities.  Throughout this process, the IDF has sent over 12,000 text messages and dropped leaflets warning Gaza citizens to stay away from Hamas operatives and terror sites that may pose a risk to their safety.  

This video, in my eyes, captures the unique essence of the men and women serving in the Israel Defense Force.  The video and accompanying article are in Hebrew; here is my translation:
In one of the many incidents of Day 2 of operation pillar of defense, 3 israeli soldiers were wounded (-their injuries were designated as 'light' to 'medium'-) from a rocket exploding in the Eshkol region.  They were airlifted via helicopter to Soroka hopsital.  As one of the soldiers is evacuated, lying on the stretcher, you hear him ask the army doctor: "Where are my soldiers?"  It is clear from his voice that he has no strength remaining and it's difficult for him to talk.  The doctor reassures him that his soldiers are fine and that he should rest.  Unconsoled, the chayal (soldier) continues: "My wounded soldiers, two wounded soldiers, where are they?"  The doctor responds: "The commander of the brigade is there; don't worry."  The chayal insists: "Speak with the commander and confirm they're okay. are they missing fingers?  legs?"  The doctor finally reassures him once he has confirmed with the commander that his soldiers are fine and the wounded are being treated.

ומי כעמך ישראל
"And who is like Your nation Israel"
(Chronicles 1 17:21)