If you live somewhere other than Israel, I know what you’re thinking. I get it. I’ve seen the TV reports that you’ve seen, and I’ve read the slanted coverage that you’ve surely read by now, painting Israel as the aggressor. I understand why you think Israel is overreacting. So let me make it personal for you:
What is the first thing you do when you step off the bus in a new city? Pull out a map to get a sense of your surroundings? Perhaps ask a fellow passenger where you might find a nice place to have lunch? When you get off the bus in Sderot, Israel, the first thing you do is locate the nearest bomb shelter. When a rocket is fired at Sderot from Gaza, just over a half-mile away, the siren sounds, as it has thousands of times in the past decade, at which point you have 15 seconds, at most, to find cover. I say fifteen seconds at most because after speaking to several Sderot residents during Monday’s visit, I learned that many times the missile lands before the siren goes off, or as little as seven seconds thereafter. Seven seconds to run for your life. Accompanying the sound of the blaring siren is the terrifying sound of the rocket launching, a loud, explosive, hissing that always seems as if it’s heading directly towards you. Imagine, for a moment, what your life might be like if you lived in Sderot.
What would wear if you lived in Sderot? Sandals in the summer, or running shoes, which might spell the difference between reaching shelter before the rocket hit or not? How would you sleep at night? Would you ever know the relief of resting your head on a cool pillow, burrowing under the covers, and falling into a deep, peaceful slumber after a long day at work? If you had young kids, would you ever have intercourse with your spouse? All married couples are entitled…right? Not if you live in Sderot. The time you would spend getting dressed if the siren went off would cost you the time you needed to grab your kids from their rooms and take them to the bomb shelter.
And speaking of kids, what is it like to be a child in Sderot? A study published in 2011 found that approximately 75 percent of the city’s children show signs of suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the constant rocket fire. Think of your own childhood: how does it compare to growing up in Sderot? Did you ever have trouble focusing during exams? How hard would it have been to focus if you knew that at any moment you might have to run for cover from an incoming missile? As a parent, would you allow your children to play outdoors in Sderot? One parent, faced with this problem, helped build the world’s first bomb-shelter playground: a 30 foot long cement caterpillar wraps around the side of the playground and doubles as a bomb shelter, so that young children are never more than a few seconds from cover. One child in Sderot, when asked why turtles had shells, replied, “To protect them from Kassams.”
But what about the elderly? How would you feel if your parents lived in Sderot? The elderly are not quick enough to run for cover in 7-15 seconds. During yesterday’s siren, I watched two men in their eighties who were playing checkers at a café when the siren went off. Their stress was palpable as they shifted around uncomfortably, flicking their eyes towards the sky every few seconds, but continuing to play their game of checkers. They knew full well that even if they had 50 seconds they could never reach a shelter before the rocket hit.
When we think of casualties of war, we think of physical injuries. We imagine the horrors of limbs torn from bodies, of children crippled in their youth forever confined to wheelchairs. But what about the psychological wounds inflicted by a life lived in constant fear? What about the wounds that form after a decade of sleepless nights; of jumping every time a door slams or a glass breaks? What about the pain of a son who found his father doubled over and clutching at his pacemaker after 3 consecutive rocket-sirens last week, wondering how many more sirens his father’s fragile heart can handle? Two people in the last week have died of heart-attacks in Israel related to rocket-fire, and thousands more have been traumatized. Make no mistake about it: stress can be as deadly as a bullet. A study in the Journal of Bio-behavioral Medicine found that exposure to rocket attacks increased the risk of miscarriage by 59 percent.
Think about the 24,000 citizens of Sderot that have known no peace for over a decade and ask yourself, if the people of Sderot were your citizens, what you would do? Where would you draw the line? As I write this, IDF soldiers have begun a ground operation in the Gaza strip. They do so in the name of Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, and all of the cities of Southern Israel that have lived in the shadow of terror for far too long.
As I wrote in a blog-post in 2012,
“We asked for peace, and our enemies responded with rockets. We asked to send our children to school without worrying that they will not return; to drive to work without fearing rockets will begin to fall from the sky during rush-hour traffic; to live our lives free of the threat of terror, and we have been answered with a resounding “No!” Since pulling out of Gaza in 2005, our desire for peace has been met with thousands of missiles; missiles that are tantamount to a declaration of war. We have tried time and again to reach a cease-fire agreement, and time and again Hamas has answered with rockets. We did not ask for this. And we did not want this. But at a certain point, the cost of inaction becomes too high. As John Stuart Mill once wrote:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”
May God watch over the soldiers of Israel, and help them to bring about a swift cease-terror, and only then, a cease-fire.