In Sderot, Israel a city located less than 2km from the Gaza Strip everything is a bomb-shelter.
In any other place you would think they are public restrooms – not public bomb-shelters. They are inconspicuous as the residents have attempted to dress them up with artwork.
The local playground doubles as a bomb shelter. Thick rubber matting lies below the jungle gym so the children can jump down safely if a red alert is heard.
Surprisingly the town has a strange sense of calm, order, and self-confidence.
Israelis have learned to live with life under threat and rather than sulk in fear actually rank among the happiest people among the Western nations.
In Boston there of course was no rubber padding to cushion the marathon runners struck by a homemade bomb. However, we Americans also lack the psychological rubber cushioning that Israelis have developed through years of war, death, and terror.
For Americans terror is the exception, for Israelis, especially in Sderot peace is the exception. Terror is ingrained into daily life.
However, one thing that both Boston and Sderot have in common is that their respective governments attempt to protect the citizens and bring the terrorists to justice.
In Syria the Government is the Terrorist.
On the day of the Boston attack 80 Syrians died. Of course death is to be expected during war, but what makes this figure startling is that 42 of these deaths were civilians.
But this is a bright spot considering that the day before 160 Syrians perished – Including 31 children below the age of 16.
Most of these civilian deaths come from the al-Assad Regime’s indiscriminate mortar shelling and airplane bombardment of densely populated civilian areas. As one Free Syrian Army soldier told me “If we advance on the Assad checkpoints, they [al-Assad Regime] won’t bomb our soldiers for payback, but the homes of our families and friends.”
When I walked through Sderot a few days ago I could not stop thinking about Syria. The Syrian people are facing terrorists just like the Israelis of Sderot. But the Syrians have no bomb shelters, no Iron Dome, and no pre-warning siren. Furthermore, they are being bombed by million dollar warplanes and advanced artillery, not like the crude Qassam rockets coming from Gaza.
How do the Syrians cope with this? Surprisingly well considering the circumstances.
The Syrians have remarkably stood strong in the midst of their own slaughter. Families still laugh and joke, mothers take pride in keeping a clean house, and children play games next to freshly dug graves.
What is more remarkable is that Assad’s brutal assault of civilians has not only failed to quell the people’s desire for freedom, but hardened their commitment to fight to the al-Assad Regime.
“Either Assad will die, or I will die” states one FSA solider. “Before he shot us with guns Assad did not need to die, but now he must pay for his actions.”
It is a strangely perverse thing going on within the Syrian mindset. The more they are met with violence the less fearful they get.
I would argue that it is because of their personal, vivid, and daily encounters with death that many Syrian opposition soldiers no longer fear death.
Ra’id a former FSA troop commander who lost his leg told me that he “should have died for Syria instead of becoming useless.”
For Syrians violent death is not an idea, not something seen in movies, but a reality and because of this reality they have come terms with it. In the United States the majority of Americans live free from the fear of a violent death and only encounter such things in Hollywood and perhaps the news. But still for most Americans murder and violence is only an idea, an imagination, or voyeuristic reproduction (Thankfully).
When attacks such as the Boston Bombing, the Newtown Massacre, or 9/11 happen Americans are forced to face these realities.
For a short period of time we come to actually experience the violence man is capable of.
However, because terrorism is relatively sporadic in the USA we do not develop a thick skin like the Israelis and the Syrians. Each attack is not a continuation of the last but an entirely new event. One that shocks the system because we have no tolerance.
As one Sderot resident told me “We have had rockets fired every year for the past thirteen years, many kids think this is just normal life.”
The Syrian people have built a tolerance to violence. Like a heavy drinker the Syrians need more and more to have an effect. Death tolls of twenty or thirty civilians will not even bat the eye of a hardened Syrian.
I’m not saying that the American People are spoiled or detached, what I am saying is that we should be thankful that occurrences like the Boston bombing hurt us deeply, because this pain shows the relative beauty of our lives. Lives in which terror still causes fear because it is the exception, not the rule of daily life.