This is the third draft of “Israeli Reality Check” that I have written and I’m sure that it will still not be current enough when it is posted due to the ever-changing situation in Israel. When I embarked on my journey to Israel in mid-June, I never imagined that I would be here during something like this. Now I can’t even remember how many days it has been since Operation Protective Edge started.
Rachel Wolf in Jerusalem, summer 2014
The mood in this country has changed dramatically in the last 38 days since I have been here and since Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar were kidnapped and killed. My first night in Israel was spent at my friend’s moshav. We watched the news of the kidnappings as it was being broken. When I found out the tragic end to the search, I was on a scavenger hunt that my madrichim abruptly cancelled due to the news.
The first time I went to a miklat (bomb shelter) was a sobering experience. I wasn’t scared for my safety, I knew that my madricha (who was luckily in my apartment building at the time) knew what to do. I was shocked that there would ever be rockets in Jerusalem. Earlier that day I had received several emails from my family, all of them begging me to go home before things escalated. In my detailed response of life here, in Jerusalem, I said, “If anything bad (i.e. rockets or terror attacks) happens, it won’t be in Jerusalem. No one is going to bomb the holiest and most well guarded city in the world, let alone G-d. Don’t forget that many people see Jerusalem as His house (that’s why we are in this whole mess).”
My complete denial that anything could happen to Jerusalem was gone the moment that the siren went off. I have been in a bomb shelter five more times since then, which is considerably fewer times than the majority of Israelis. Now, hearing busses screeching, car alarms and ambulances make me jump in terror.
After the first time I went to the miklat, it became more normal. One night, while in the bomb shelter, my friends and I were taking pictures and playing games on our phones while waiting for the ten minutes to be over. It takes 10 minutes for everything to settle, this was something that I, like many others who have never been to a bomb shelter, didn’t realize. I assumed that being in a bomb shelter took hours, as did my mother who suggested I pack a bag with food and water. I quickly assured her that, contrary to popular belief, Americans can go ten minutes without eating.
Israel is not an awful place to live, on the contrary, but fear can be a part of life here. When I originally wrote this piece, it was fairly upbeat since I had witnessed nothing. Now, I have a slightly different view of the situation. However, life is still going on. People all around Israel are still smiling, loving, laughing and playing. In Israel, the ability to live is essential. Without the ability to see each day as a gift and an opportunity, life here would have ceased to exist a long time ago, in 1948 during the Independence War.
“The Israeli Reality” is something that I have discussed frequently in the last few weeks. When people say “The Israeli Reality” they are usually referring to terror attacks, mandatory military service and metal detectors. Recently, my Israeli reality has included waking up at 7:30am with multiple “Red Alerts” on my phone, showing where rocket attacks have taken place. However, these are not the only things that make up “The Israeli Reality.” This reality is also about drinking Shoko (chocolate milk) from a bag, it’s hiking in the Golan Heights, it’s floating in the Dead Sea, it’s living with a revived language, it’s seeing the Kotel full of people singing and dancing on a Friday night. This is the Israeli reality.
Israel is more than rockets and fear. This is not to say that Israelis are oblivious to their surroundings. On the contrary, Israelis are aware of where they live and what that means for them and their children, but they are also aware of the fact that they cannot spend their lives wondering “what if” every second of every day. They cannot run scared at the first sight of danger.
The Israelis are striving to live each day in absolute normalcy. This can be difficult in some parts of Israel, such as Beer Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Sderot, but people succeed at being normal because living as if nothing has changed is a victory.
Many people have asked me how my life in Israel has changed since the rocket attacks started a few weeks ago. I have told them that I am living my life as if nothing has changed because doing anything else would be a victory for Hamas. If they were to scare me into changing my life or going back to the United States earlier than I had planned, I would be terrorized, and I will not allow that to happen.
Right now I am sitting in CAMERA’s Jerusalem office and my daily routine has not changed since I started interning here just about a month ago. I still come to the office, open my computer, hope that the Wi-Fi is functional and start my work. At the end of the day I go home, eat dinner and see everyone in my program.
I will not deny that my perception is skewed by virtue of living in Jerusalem. I am not in an area where rockets are constantly being launched. I know that I, like most people in Jerusalem, have not had the kind of Israeli experience that means being awoken by sirens rather than alarm clocks. This does not discredit the experiences of people in Jerusalem; rather it sheds light on “The Israeli Reality.” There is not one singular reality in Israel. There is the Jerusalem reality, the Tel Aviv reality, the Ashdod reality and so many more; they all come together to make “The Israeli Reality.”
Contributed by CAMERA Intern Rachel Wolf, a student at American University. This piece was republished under the title An American View of Israel Under Fire.