When rockets come to Israel

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Also featured on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/annelia-alex/when-rockets-come-to-israel_b_5587484.html

This is what it’s like in Israel when there is a rocket attack. I’m doing whatever I’m doing—folding laundry, unwrapping a sandwich, crossing the street—when a siren begins to wail. It oscillates loud-soft, loud-soft, like a swing approaching-receding, approaching-receding.

The people around me have mixed reactions. Most rush for shelter. One woman huddles on the ground, with her knees to her chest, in tears. Some teens, nonchalant, lean against a wall, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Like most foreigners, I skittishly follow the “guidelines for an event of missile attack,” which boil down to, “duck and cover away from things that could collapse or shatter.”

There is a boom and a smoke cloud in the sky to the east. The siren continues. There is another boom and two smoke clouds to the south. The siren stops. Three rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome, Israel’s highly effective missile defense system.

The teens are snapping pictures of the smoke clouds with their phones. A stranger helps the crying woman to her feet. People come out from cover and go back to doing whatever they were doing. I continue crossing the street, unwrapping a sandwich, folding laundry.

The variable reactions are due to individuals’ previous experiences. People who have grown up with sirens, but have never witnessed a tragedy are desensitized. People who have suffered trauma related to this 50-plus year conflict are hypersensitive. I don’t feel like I belong to this scene, or that I am entitled to a marked reaction. I try to be stoic and inconspicuous.

This is not what happens when rockets are sent to Gaza. They have no defense system. Although I have not witnessed it first hand, by most accounts missiles to Gaza bring fire, screams, chaos, and death. They obliterate their terrorist targets, but these targets are located in heavily populated areas. Based on population density numbers, it’s like trying to take out basement terrorist liars in downtown Boston with long-range missiles. The missiles hit the targets and more. Israeli leaders claim they are trying to minimize civilian deaths, and yet the UN estimates about 70% of the fatalities have been civilian. The numbers keep rising, but the death toll from rockets approaches 200 in Gaza and remains zero in Israel.

The sides are not the Palestinians of Gaza against the Jews of Israel. The sides are parties within the State of Israel and terrorists of Hamas, and both of these sides should be condemned by the international finger-pointers. However, the difference in apparent moral culpability lies in the nature of the shields protecting each side. The State of Israel has the Iron Dome, which vaporizes offensive strikes into cloud puffs, whereas Hamas hides behind a human shield, the civilians and innocents of Gaza. Both sides understand the difference between these shields. Neither is ceasing their fire. The international community rightly expects Israel to take the higher ground, to spare the innocent Gazans, but we should not forget that Hamas is sacrificing the people they claim to be liberating. They fire at Israel to free the Palestinians, and then they hide behind the Palestinians when Israel fires back.

The physical threat of rockets in Israel is nominal. Less than ten injuries have resulted from over 800 missiles. But the emotional and mental toll is substantial. Yes, some Israelis are Instagramming the failed attacks, mocking them. But that woman crying on the pavement, she has felt the worst of this endless conflict. Maybe she has been in a bus bombing or witnessed someone beaten to death or lost a child. For whatever reason, for her and many others in Israel, every siren symbolizes past pain and imminent loss. This is not a healthy psyche for a country. There are too many decades of trauma for Israeli political leaders to not support firing back.

You still say, “Why doesn’t Israel just do the right thing and stop?” It’s a good question. The answer is probably similar to that of, “Why doesn’t the United States pass gun control legislation?” It’s because political popularity, not morals, are dictating the ethics and action.

My point is that you can condemn Israel’s recent behavior, but do it with awareness and empathy.

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17 responses to “When rockets come to Israel

  1. Most of us have never experienced a rocket attack like you so vividly describe. It is comfortable in our easy chairs to watch the news (or not watch) and wonder at this bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians that seems to never end. Your story is much more real than the news reports and the inevitable political handwringing. Thank you for sharing your insight. – Mike

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  7. Sorry Alex, but I think you have totally missed the point and you are right, as a visitor you have no right to judge the situation — which you said you would not do, but did. I have lived in Israel for 12 years — yes, left the safety of Canada to do so. I totally support the Israeli government’s approach to having its citizens regularly bombarded by missiles, day in and day out. Israel is doing the right thing — the right thing for its citizens; you know, the people who voted them into office. And contrary to your unfair final paragraph, this is not about political popularity on the world scale — it is the exact opposite. It really scares me when uninformed people like you show up and start blogging like a real know-it-all when in fact you know very little.

    • Just to clarify, you are actually agreeing with and supporting the point I was trying to make. By “political popularity,” I meant internal, not on a world scale. Israeli leaders are doing what some people within Israel, like you, have voted them to do based on your long-term experiences there. I’m saying to people outside, “you may not think this is right, but it’s what many people there want and the political leaders are serving them not you.”

      • Then my apologies — I did not understand it that way. And that is definitely what I think. In fact the government has has some trouble this morning because the popular opinion seems to be the a ground war in necessary (unfortunately) and Netanyahu is not responding as his voters want — at least not yet. i am not saying one way or the other because I think it is a Sophie’s Choice moment.

  8. Iron Dome is the best missile defense system in the world, tested and proven. Even the American government is taking the proactive position to work closely with Israel, seeking technology transfer. Israel is definitely doing a fantastic job. They could have done better with a special force that penetrates the network of terrorists to achieve targeted assassination. However, they are already doing a great job by proving that Hamas is morally corrupted enough to hide behind a human shield. We are not in a position to ask for more from Israel. If we really want the situation improved, we have to help them. Otherwise, it’s better to stay neutral and let them work out a solution on their own.

    • twdyen, I agree with you. And perhaps there is more that could be done in terms of penetrating the terrorist network — I would love to know but I doubt Bibi will say any time soon. The thing that worries those of us on the ground here is that if and when ground troops go into Gaza — they are boys (and yes, they are barely men) who we all know personally. They have names and faces and back-stories — to us they are not a bunch of strangers that we read about in the newspaper, “Israeli soldiers”. It really changes your thinking when you are in this position. That said, I really do trust our government to make as good a decision as possible under terrible circumstances.

      • My position is actually between yours and bannelia ‘s. Yours is that Israel is already doing its best. Hers is that Israel should do better, to a point that they actually become blameless with international expectations, which are somewhat unrealistic. Mine is that we are not in a position to expect anything if we are not helping them, while offering a possibility for what it would mean to do better. A special force committed to anti-terrorism is definitely better in the sense that these soldiers are better trained and more mature. They can be tracked with GPS and remotely terminated for the purpose of euthanasia. Physical occupation presents greater risks that could be putting Israel against the entire Arabic world. Yes, they won before, almost miraculously in their Six-Day War. I am not sure about a repeat performance. If they lose, it will mean the end of the world for Israel. They better think twice. Again, if they want it, I am not in a position to object. I just hope that they will be wise in their decision-making process. That’s all. Other than that, all three of us are in very good agreement. It’s the seventh paragraph where she said of “the international community rightly expect[ing] Israel to take the higher ground” that caused the disagreement. Well, the international community does not really have the moral ground to criticize in this case. In fact, they are supposed to offer at least one recommendation when they say what Israel does is not good enough. Concession is not an option, given that Hamas started fire. Israel is not supposed to give them a message that they could do whatever they want if they are willing to hurt the innocent. However, a talk between the two parties, Israel and Hamas, will definitely help. The Jews cannot afford to lose their nation again, so Hamas has to agree on a border with Israel so that both sides shut up. Of course, they can always come back with a different terrorist group, each time wanting more, but at least we know they are hopeless. They have to work out a solution on their own. It’s tricky to be on either side.

      • Lots can be done with a special force when remote euthanasia is enabled, all of which are better options than a war, which kills far too many, including the innocent. A device in a soldier’s body can be connected to many wearable rechargeable gadgets to maintain communication. A default trigger can be set when all wearable gadgets are lost. This protects the soldier even when he is unconscious, presumably drugged or knocked down from behind and later tied up for tortures. This way, if he is to be tortured, his gadgets must be nearby at all times, keeping the communication open at all times. If we can make death the worst scenario, then the sacrifice made by a special force is justifiable when a war can be prevented. Of course, Israel can do much better than that if they are willing to research better technologies. They really have to be wise. That’s all.

  9. I believe Alex did a great job at addressing a complex issue in simple and objective terms.

    I will disagree over several points in the comments though.

    – Kendall, we now have the pictures of several kids being killed by an Israeli bomb while playing football in Gaza. This should severely minimize Israel’s international sympathy credit. Despite what you seem to believe, international political popularity has been very carefully managed by Israel (or zionist lobbies before that) since the late 19th century. This is the role of powerful lobbies in most western countries, and has for instance led to a change in US’s behavior towards Israel post-1967. It would be clumsy to underestimate the PR aspect of the question since it explains why, despite countless breaking of UN resolutions, Israel has not been penalized once (in part due to the USA vetoing more than 20 resolutions going from condemning Israeli settlement policy to requesting that Israel halt its operation in Gaza)

    – Connected to the previous statement, it is also why Israel can afford and co-develop such system as the Iron Dome. Believing that technology transfer or cooperation take place in a political and ideological vacuum is oblivious at best. USA’s funding allowed the IDF to purchase 10 of these systems in the past few years.

    – Targeted assassinations are already taking place (Al-Rantissi, al-Atal, al-Qaisi, Ahmadi-Roshan, there is a long, very long list) but Israel decided to keep up those regular large-scale attacks on Gaza for several reasons (see below).

    – Kendall, the media have acknowledged Israel’s efforts to “warn” population and target. Something you seem to be buying. Now, I do not live in Israel, and surely do not have to undergo the daily trauma of hearing the sirens etc… However, we’ve seen how efficient surgical missile strikes have been in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is hypocritical to believe that one can bomb an area that’s almost the population density of New York city without civilian casualties. And yes, both parties are responsible for it, either because they use them as human shield, or because they decide to shoot missiles not matter what.
    In the end, the death tool speaks for itself: around 200 (300 says Reuters)- 0 for Israel. In 2008, it was 1,100 Palestinians for 13 Israelis. This is Ben-Gurion’s disproportionate riposte strategy, created to answer to a direct military need for nascent country under systematic attack (whereas these attacks where justified or not is hardly the point here). This strategy is now used for political purposes only, when it is clearly not a military necessity. Israel is repeating a pattern that has proven harmful for both parties. In this sense, Israel, is respecting neither La Haye 1907 nor Genève 1949. So no, if efforts are being made, this is not good enough. Just not good enough. If Israel wants to differentiate itself from cowardly terrorist groups, it needs to do better.
    So, Kendall, let’s be honest here and say that supporting this strategy also involves supporting a strategy that’s based on exaggerated riposte against Palestinians, that always ends up killing more civilians than “terrorist leaders”, and that they are “riposting” against attacks created by a situation they imposed themselves.

    Because, let’s not forget how all those Palestinians got crammed into this piece of land in the first place. There is no reason the right to self-defense should be unilateral. Except that one side is the official IDF and is supposedly trying to aim at terrorist target, when the other one is described as a terrorist group (which it mostly is) blindly shooting at civilians (which they mostly do). Twyden rightfully points out the lack of legitimacy of any western country to “expect better” since we have created the problem itself (not saying the creation of the state of Israel is a mistake, just that the way this creation was carried out, and in general the creation of borders in this region, was a recipe for disaster). But in the end, I will disagree with Twyden’s somewhat glaucous discussion about “remote euthanasia”. First because considering Israel behavior towards the Palestinians, the fact that “hamas started it” is irrelevant here. Seconf because the Israeli government has been clearly opting for a strategy where these collateral damages are not only expected, but also integrated in global, more comprehensive development of psychological warfare. Indeed the numbers for the death toll since 2000 (UN-OCHA/B’Tselem) show that in both camps, there is a majority of civilians being killed and that more that there is up to 9 palestinian deaths for 1 Israeli’s.

    Israel should and most likely could do better, but isn’t because this is also part of a war of attrition that has been going on for 60 years now. None of these strategies will bring anything positive. Now, the bottom line of this is that living in Israel sure gives you more right to discuss the topic, but in no way makes you more informed. That you do not represent the entirety of Israel’s population. That this is eventually an international matter and has to be solved as such. That young israelis get killed in the IDF for the purpose of sustaining a self-destructive strategy makes me as sad as seeing young palestinians getting bombed or making themselves exploses in israeli buses for pretty much the same reason, although opposing ideologies. But accepting different perspectives and allowing foreigners to take part in the debate is a good start. A lot of bullshit comments will be found on internet, written by israelis and non-israelis. The work of Alex here, an outsider who had to go through similar experiences was a good shot at explaining a foreigner’s perspective on the conflict, which makes it extremely valuable in the end.
    Peace

    • Hi. You have made lots of interesting points — some of which I agree with and some I do not . I do applaud any efforts of outsiders to understand what is going on here — I do not ultimately believe that is possible. The emotional underbellly of this is too complex for the average visitor. It’s too complex for me half the time — but at least I know it is there and I respect that. Unfortunately me (and pretty much everyone else I know) is home cooking for the soldiers on the front lines so I do not have the luxury of writing more right now. I hope to get back to this later, but the soldiers come first.

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