Events unfold so fast in the Middle East, you need to hit the “pause” button on the TV remote to slow down the action. Just four weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and killed by Arab terrorists. Just two weeks ago, a group of Jewish boys kidnapped an Arab boy and killed him in revenge. In this part of the world that’s ancient history. Today, we’re into day 13 of operation “Protective Edge,” an all out war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
Don’t ask who started it. If you’re Arab, the Israelis started it. If you’re Israeli, the Arabs started it.
Hamas launches rockets into Israel, day and night.
Israel’s warplanes pound targets in Gaza. A ground offensive of tanks and infantry went in. Casualties, although disproportionate, are mounting on both sides.
Media coverage in Israel is round-the-clock. Network television updates viewers minute-by-minute. Commentators and experts abound. Psychologists speak of ways to help children deal with anxiety. On the radio, songs are played occasionally, often interrupted by the military: “Red Alert! Red Alert!”
That’s the signal to run for your life.
Israeli villages, towns, kibbutzim near Gaza have 15 to 30 second to run for cover before the Hamas-launched rockets fall. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are farther away. People there have 60 to 90 seconds. I live in Galilee – too far from Gaza.
There are bomb shelters of every kind, variety. Israelis stranded outdoors can run for cover inside public bomb shelters made of reinforced concrete and steel. In my house there’s a bomb shelter at the lower level. Like most Israelis, during periods of quiet, the shelter is used up as an extra bedroom or storage room.
All single family homes must have them, at the least the newer homes. Apartment buildings have them. Theaters have them. Restaurants have them. Some can accommodate just a handful of people, others can accommodate hundreds. It’s a way of life. Security is all around you.
Earlier this week I went to visit my father and mother, and my sister, in Bat-Yam, a seaside town bordering Tel Aviv. It felt strange to hear their stories of near-misses, stories of explosions, and sonic-booms. They spoke of how “Iron Dome” — Israel’s missile defense shield, was able to knock out Hamas rockets out of the sky. It was strange, because for once, my village in Galilee was in the clear – no longer the target of rockets coming in from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But the rockets did not stop us from arranging to meet at Cafe Joe for breakfast the next morning. Cafe Joe is on the beach, with views of the blue waters of the Mediterranean. At that hour there were a few “crazies” like us who’d had enough of running and hiding.
We looked at th menus and ordered a sumptuous breakfast. A faint siren sounded in the distance. The waitress rushed to our table. “Alert! Alert!” she said. Within seconds we all assembled inside the restaurant’s bomb shelter. Soft-drink bottles, jars, boxes, bags of coffee were all around us. Employees and diners spoke nervously. I stood next to my mother and sister, thinking this was mad.
The all-safe signal was given and we returned to our table, not before my brother-in-law took me outside and showed me the trail of smoke that the rocket had streaked across the sky. The plume was white, puffy, like an innocent cloud. Then it vanished. Blue skies again.
We went back in and finished our breakfast.
Israel’s “Home Front Command” is strict about its instructions on bomb-shelter maintenance. But during times of peace the shelters fall into neglect; they’re used to store mattresses, old bikes, unwanted furnishings. But not today. An extra-large bomb-shelter in Ashdod, Israel’s seaport town, and only 25 miles from Gaza, was converted into a live concert venue. Residents of Ashdod, tired of being holed up in their homes and shelters came to watch and cheer Israeli rock bands.
Rockets might be flying. Tanks might be rolling in the street of Gaza.
But the music must go on.
Welcome to the Middle East.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com