I can describe the reality here, I can ask you to imagine what it's like, but no matter what I say, it will be very hard for anyone who's not here to comprehend.
In the past two weeks, hundreds of missiles were fired at Israel from Gaza, which is ruled by the terror organization Hamas. Since the beginning of the year, Gaza terrorists have fired more than 450 rockets towards Israeli civilians. This reality is unbearable. Israel is under the attack of a terror organization, and the Israeli Defense Forces are doing the best they can to protect Israeli citizens.
As you read these words, rockets and missiles are being fired into southern and central Israel, and Iron Dome cannot intercept all of them. Israelis who live near Gaza have only 15 seconds to run for shelter during the tseva adom "code red" rocket alert.
Lihi Vaanunu from Sderot and B (who requested to remain anonymous) from Ashdod have been running in and out of shelters in the past several days. From sheltered rooms, while missiles are falling around them, they agreed to share with you their thoughts and experiences of living under fire.
Describe your daily routine since the missile launch started:
Lihi: “We sleep in the Mamad (residential secure space.) There are routine morning tasks, such as brushing your teeth and washing you face that we do with fear. We need do leave the Mamad in order do go to the bathroom, which means that if in this short time we hear a “code red” alert, we must leave everything and run back to the shelter. We brush our teeth with fear, get dressed in fear, and basically live in fear as long as we’re not in a sheltered room.
Driving to work is the scariest part of the day. We do it with the windows open, and the radio and air conditioniing off, because we need to be able to hear the alarm. I can’t even describe the fear when the alarm is heard while you’re in the car. There is nowhere to run. You actually see signs of fallen missiles on the sides of the road. Everyone is driving fast, trying to get to safety as soon as possible, praying there will not be an alarm.
I work with children at a summer camp, and we hardly leave the Mamad there. There was a “code red” this morning, and I didn’t even get in the Mamad, because I ran around the area to make sure all the children got inside. Sometimes they cry and I need to calm them, which is hard to do when you’re so scared yourself.”
B.: "For me, it starts and ends with my children. They are 9, 6 and 1.5 years old. When you have small children, the way you deal with such things is different. They are afraid, and don’t want to leave the Mamad, even to go to the next room. At the same time, they are children, which means they cannot stay between four walls for too long and get bored easily. The older ones understand the reason we cannot go outside. They are clever, and cannot be fooled. They watch the news and see how our government and army deal with the attacks. They also ask questions, and want to know if the other rooms in our house are also safe and why are we being attacked."
Less than two years ago, you were at the same position, during Operation Pillar of Defense. What went through your minds when you realized the situation from 2012 is repeating itself?
Lihi: "We are afraid, all the time. Even in the past two years, when it was “quiet,” we were afraid to drive and were always alert. It’s a trauma that never leaves you. During Pillar of Defense I was a soldier, serving in the IDF, and wasn’t home with my family. I saw my city being attacked from afar, and it was stressful. Now those feelings have resurfaced, and I am constantly scared for the lives of my family members.”
B.: "Disappointment. Because it shows that there’s no solution, and that our leaders don’t want to reach one. There is no decision maker with the ability and will to solve the problem. Our leaders say they are handling the problem, but it has been 14 years since they started shooting at us from Gaza. There is no magical solution, but as our leaders, they must deal with this difficult situation. A Prime Minister needs to make a decision: Give them an independent state, or choose the far-right winged solution. The middle simply doesn’t work."
Does it feel like a routine in a way? Running for shelter several times a day?
B.: “No. Each time when a missile explodes, my wife and I call each other and catch up. There is also the very frightening reactions from people on the streets. The scariest times are during transitions, from one house to another, from home to work. People want to get to their destination as fast as possible, and drive unsafely.”
Lihi: "We always call or text each other and catch up, every time. When the phone rings after we hear an explosion, the heart misses a beat.”
So why leave the Mamad at all?
B.: “We have 40 seconds to get inside the Mamad or find shelter, that’s enough time for us to be able to go to another room at the house. Besides, we cannot let this stop our lives, we must go on. There are children, there’s the daily routine of working, eating…If it was a one-time event, I would probably spend more time inside the Mamad, but when it happens several times a day, we can’t afford doing this.”
Lihi: “Each time we only have 15 seconds to find shelter, but eventually, you cannot let this break you completely. I must continue my daily routine, and the children I work with must see that the situation does not break us. The second I return home from work, I enter the Mamad and don’t come out. The streets are empty, no one leaves their house, and…Wait, I hear an explosion…Point is, we are afraid leaving our homes. Even if a missile doesn’t end up exploding and Iron Dome intercepts it, the sound of the siren alone can paralyze me, especially when I am outside. Every single time I cannot help but thinking “for how long will luck be on my side? How many more times are the rockets going to miss my house?”
Why not leave? Move to someplace up north?
Lihi: “Because we can’t and won’t cave in. This is our home. We trust the IDF to keep us safe and know they can do the job. We have a house that our parents have worked hard to build, and what is the message we’ll send to our younger family members and out enemies if we just get up and leave?”
B.: “Because of the family. We love Ashdod, the mentality, the people. We love the land we live on. Moreover, I am a bit of an ideologist. I will not cave in and won’t move because someone is trying to scare me away.”
What do you think of the way Israeli decision makers have dealt with the situation so far?
B.: “I don’t believe anything right now. I don’t believe the media and think that the newspapers don’t write the whole truth. Decision makers want to show us they are dealing with the problem and that everything is under control, but it is not. I think they must pick an agenda and follow it.”
Lihi: “I am glad that they have finally launched this operation, but also think it took them too long. It should have been much earlier. It is a bit disappointing, because they waited until rockets hit other cities but our city, Sderot, in order to respond. I think they should have launched this operation the day the three Israeli teens were abducted, and not waited for things to escalate. Now that the operation is launched, we fully support the IDF and are willing to sit quietly in our shelters and let the army do whatever it takes to finish this as soon as possible.”