As the shell shock effect wears off, now more than 24 hours after leaving my Beer Sheva home, I guess its time to write the compulsory “this is my life in a war zone” blog post. I can usually be trusted to write one of these thoughtful, liberal pieces that people forward around between friends to show what is really going on in Israel. But today, the only voice I can conjure up is the five-year old girl inside: I just wanna go home.
A day and a half ago I unwillingly left my house in Beer Sheva which was and continues to be under heavy rocket fire from Hamas militants in Gaza. For nearly a full day we stayed and at least once every hour we would hear the soul-piercing whine of the air raid siren, announcing incoming rockets. We grab the dog, run down the stairs and enter our neighbors’ back door- to the bomb shelter we share. With tired half-smiles we warmly greet them, and we pack into the small room, with our dog and their dog, and we wait. The siren goes on for 15 more seconds, sometimes in the case of multiple rockets the siren will be run two or three more times in a row. Then we get quiet, waiting to hear the release of the Iron Dome, our anti-missile messiah, and the “booms”, trying to decipher what their tone means. There is one sound when the Iron Dome explodes the rockets in mid-air (yes!), another sound when the rocket hits far off in open space. There is yet a third sound, and it usually comes with a little bit of ground shaking, when the rocket hits a building or the earth nearby. The third sound is rare, but there is no mistaking it. Continuing to wait a few more minutes, refreshing the news on our phones and answering worried text messages, we eventually leave the safe-room. “See you soon”, we tell our lovely neighbors.
In between sirens we try to rest, with no success since we have our shoes on and I have been wearing this damn bra for 12 hours straight. Peeing is a risk we take only right after we return from the safe room, stealing time, but we don’t dare shower.
So there is your “day in the life” of a citizen of the south of Israel right now. What you can’t read into that is howmuch I love my home. I have been living in Beer Sheva for two years and I feel like I have met my match. Beer Sheva has just enough city: food, drink, culture and shopping, and just enough edge: a grungy Old City and the people who have lived and worked there for 50 years. It is a budding metropolis with real character and charm. It is just enough Israel, with a lot of immigrant flare and somehow a spirit that reminds me of my other home- New Jersey. I love it there, and do not yearn for weekends in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, so leaving my home may have been as traumatic as the 24 hours spent under rocket fire. I know I had to go and my partner, who grew up in a kibbutz in the area surrounding Gaza in a time when there were no bomb shelters and no air raid sirens, suffers from post-trauma, so leaving was no question. But we were in no shape to pack, having had no sleep for 24 hours and we were probably too tired to drive. This explains why I am in Jerusalem in November with 4 tank tops, one pair of jeans and one thin fleece. My only pair of shoes: boots (and I NEVER travel with only one pair of shoes). No toothpaste, no soap or shampoo.
We arrived in Jerusalem, with only one air raid siren catching us in the car. No, we didn’t stop and get out and lay on the ground as we are told to do, I put the pedal to the metal and speed-racer-ed my ass north bound. By the grace of great friends, we have an amazing place to stay, warm clothes, toiletries and meals. Slowly, we start to remember what normal is. Our dog, after a good night’s sleep, stops looking so nervous and skittish, and we can identify with that. The hardest part is the refugee feeling, and seeing that life and work go on outside of the south of Israel. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, they know we are at war, yet it is a distant news story to them, even with one or two air raid sirens of their own.
As my work is outside of the south, I could physically be expected to work on Sunday, while I expect the war will rage on well into the week. But just the thought of focusing on work induces anxiety- not to mention the follow-up thought of what the hell do I have to wear? But this feeling is nearly impossible to explain to someone who has not been where you have been and simultaneously depends on you and pays you to further their cause. My work ethic says yes but emotional capacity says no.
And all of this happens before I start to think of the lack of regard for human life on both sides. The trauma of the children; the soldiers I know and the Gazans I don’t know. It is not for ignorance or lack of empathy, I just can’t find the strength to hold all the pain.
I miss my friends from Beer Sheva and I worry about them and their children. I miss the feeling of home and my routine. I miss laughing without feeling guilty and the ability to dive into work without another thought elsewhere.
Wishing and praying for a rapid and safe end to this senseless conflict but mostly, I just wanna go home.