On Tuesday, July 7, 2014 at 7pm outside a second-hand bookshop on Allenby Street in Tel-Aviv, I heard the first siren since the Operation “Protective Edge” began. In fairness, it did catch me by surprise, the siren, for it’s rare that you hear them in Tel-Aviv, about 80km away from the Strip.
By Vukasin Potic
On Tuesday, July 7, 2014 at 7pm outside a second-hand bookshop on Allenby Street in Tel-Aviv, I heard the first siren since the Operation “Protective Edge” began. In fairness, it did catch me by surprise, the siren, for it’s rare that you hear them in Tel-Aviv, about 80km away from the Strip. In between heaven made up of over 60 thousand used and relatively rare books, and one of the busiest streets in Tel-Aviv, I was confused but this limbo was nice in retrospect. Residents of the Gush Dan region have approximately 90 seconds to find a shelter from the moment they hear the sirens, and in my confusion I lost about 45, until the owner approached me, stood, and said “the shelter is right here, if you want”. He was at ease. He knew, and I heard, that the Iron Dome would protect the city. Within 5 seconds of his generous offer, there was a loud explosion. The Tamir rocket had intercepted 3 of the M-75s from the Strip just over the beach, in the southern suburbs of the city. The sirens maybe, but then we knew that when you hear the siren you lift your kids by their limbs and run for your life and hope that in that stretch of bare land you wouldn’t become a collateral damage.
«This siren/rockets/Iron Dome/interception baptism didn’t remind me of Belgrade 15 years ago»
Three separate, but distinct, patches of smoke billowed above for about a minute or two. That night, there were 3 more sirens and about 6 loud booms, the interceptions. The procedure that needs to be followed in such cases is laid out by the Home Front Command. The southern regions of Eshkol, Sdot Negev, Bnei Shimon and Hof Ashkelon have their special restrictions: the residents of there spend their time in the safe room/shelter, while us, located in the bubble, that is in Tel Aviv, have it easier. Siren, go down, stay put for 5 minutes, say ooh-ah when you hear the loud booms, and of course, hope that when you go up, you’ll still recognize your apartment and there won’t be any casualties reported. Even if the latter doesn’t happen, if your property does get damaged in one of the barrages, the Finance Minister (of Serbian origin) Yair Lapid promised that the government will reimburse your damages. So far, the list was filled with crop-field, car, and infrastructure damages, and according to the minister himself has cost Israel, or his ministry, 10 million shekels (2.1 million Euros). Again, the latter is mainly to be disbursed in the south, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva come to mind where there were 2 or so direct hits. The Iron Dome has downed 90% of the rockets fired at what the machine estimated were aimed at populated areas, at 377 people per square kilometer. Commentators who deal with grim statistics like to compare it to the 80% of 2 years prior, during the Pillar of Defense- as if it mattered.
«Siren, go down, stay put for 5 minutes, say ooh-ah when you hear the loud booms, and of course, hope that when you go up, you’ll still recognize your apartment and there won’t be any casualties reported»
It is day 5 of the Operation today, as I write this, I have gotten used to hearing the siren, the Iron Dome doesn’t excite me anymore. There is an application provided to the public free of charge, which signals alerts wherever and whenever sirens blare throughout the country (if I may use the term without defining the boundaries, I’m not in the mood). I am ashamed to say that the application improved my cognizance of Israeli geography. Despite, I’m not afraid of death by rockets, at best, it makes me uncomfortable every time I hear the siren (if I could choose, I would postpone my death indefinitely of course).
Five days is a significant amount of time given to an individual whom the media describe to be under constant barrage of rocket fire. After the initial “will I survive”, for better or for worse, the conscience came back to me. I think of Gaza.
I think of that wretched rectangle of 360km² that whoever was designing (think of 1948, 1955,1967), placed in between the Mediterranean and the desert. I think of the warning systems there. Do they exist? Is there a difference in the amount of time you have to run for your life if you live in Gaza City or Khan Younis? The Israeli army says, and it does as it says, that I have no doubt of, it phones the houses to be targeted and warns them of the impending strike. It also fires smoke shells and sound bombs to further the removal of the civilians. What is it like knowing that in 10 minutes time from that phone call, you will not have a house to return to? What is it like knowing that this would be your 2nd, 3rd, 4th time losing the place you call home? For most of Gazans were once residents of Jaffa, Lydda, Ramle… How do you make the decision to leave your house? Or better, in light of the circumstances and occurrences, how do you make the decision NOT to leave your house? I see videos of Hamas spokesman urging people not to obey the phone calls and go out on the roof. Is life in Gaza obtained through death, or is death better than life? I think of the levels of resignation, despair, hopelessness and determination one has to achieve in order to stand on the top of the house, resigning to the possibility of being F-15ed to death. It didn’t happen once, it didn’t happen twice, as the footage shows, but will it happen the third time? Some say it happened the third time, when a family of 8 was killed. I think of the mothers who are giving birth amid this hell. Could the offspring be said to be entering “life”? Does the presence of extended family erase the unemployment rate, the lack of educational opportunities, the power shortage, the open sewers, the fact of living on the coast but being unable to go to the sea, to fish beyond 3 nautical miles off the shore? Is the family enough? I think of those 1160 targets. How many are there? Targets are described as underground and mobile rocket launchers, weapons and rocket storages, communication and operations centers, alongside the combatants. I hope this strict obedience of the Geneva Convention is upheld. But even the hope is false, for how could it be upheld in the most densely populated area in the world, 5046 people per km². The militants in Gaza have a variety of rockets that are not GPS guided, allowing for the easy accusation of firing at pockets of dense civilian population. I wonder if their targets would remain the Azrieli Mall in Tel-Aviv, or as they stated, Ben-Gurion Airport, if they had F-15s themselves? How do you wage a war here and there? What is the point of having the protocol for the conduct of war, when they only get worse and worse. I think of the 100 dead and 600 wounded, I think of the shortage of medicine, fuel and electricity to power up the hospitals. Where will they be treated, since Egypt is not opening the crossing at Rafah in order to fulfill its own domestic agenda of striking a further blow to their own Muslim Brothers? Even they engaged in combat yesterday, as some reported. The European Hospital and al-Shifa Hospital said 2 days ago that they’re expecting to run out of medicine soon. Some news sites report that some of Gazans are treated at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, among them children. I think of my peers, I think of their age. Could it be said that I have peers in Gaza? Years of “life” in Gaza count faster than elsewhere. No, I don’t have peers in Gaza, I cannot compare my life to anyone or anything in Gaza, except perhaps to the unborn and the non-existent.
«What is it like knowing that in 10 minutes time from that phone call, you will not have a house to return to? What is it like knowing that this would be your 2nd, 3rd, 4th time losing the place you call home?»
There is no sign of cease-fire, no truce, despite the appeal for one from various places. Ban Ki-Moon called for one, as if he can do anything. France, Russia and Germany support Israel’s right to defend itself, missing the aim of the overwhelming calls for truce and cease-fire, in Israel, and I’m sure in Palestine. Obama called Netanyahu and said the US was willing to broker a cease-fire, he knows the easiest way to profit is on other’s suffering; I hope something ceases soon, either the war, or the theatrics surrounding it. Of what use is it playing a 15 second siren at the special session of the UN security council, and of what use is it to portray Abbas as a Likud member? It feels as if children are given the permission to play war games using reality, Israel and Palestine, as its playground.
I call for the end of war because it’s ugly, because it radicalizes everyone involved and further distances the peace. Private benefits in this war, become societal costs. If your house is destroyed by a Qassem, Grad or M-75, or by an F-15, and a member of your family or your people (as if there’s a difference) dies, you will join the rocket launchers, you will revive Kahane. I guess it’s the same.