At the end of June, I visited Israel for a month to attend a brother’s graduation and finish up a novel about daily life in Israel during the second intifada; the surprise ending is that a Palestinian hunger strike on the Temple Mount results in a two state solution in an alternate universe. Over the course of my stay, after the murder of the three kidnapped children, the imprisonment of hundreds of members of Hamas, and the torture and murder of the Palestinian boy, rockets eventually began to rain down from Gaza. I went through eleven air raids and wrote down my experience after each one, neglecting to record the dates.
1. Kefar Sava: The wail was louder and higher than the siren of an ambulance or police car. My father, two brothers (one a pacifist, the other a regular fascist), stepmother, and sister all looked at each other dumbly for a moment. None of us felt inclined to enter the shelter. My militant brother insisted on going outside; he said that he wasn’t afraid of the Arabs, and would prove it. I considered to myself that America was a more politically correct country than my birthplace. Half an hour later, my father took my thirteen-year-old sister out running, and I joined them nonchalantly enough. The town was totally empty. We heard two thunderous sounds when we reached the abandoned racetrack, but did a good job pretending not to be thinking what we were all thinking. Eventually, we drove home and met my militant brother in the elevator. He explained that he felt no sympathy for anyone in Gaza, just as they felt no sympathy for him. My father and I told him that he didn’t
realize how foolish he sounded, and asked him if he thought he would speak the same way if he were born a Palestinian. The next day, a couple of my sister’s friends refused to leave their houses in fear for their lives. And my grandmother got into a fight with her jogging partner for inadvertently laughing at her when she said that she was too afraid to walk along the beach anymore.
2. Qiryat Ono: When I woke up at my grandmother’s house a couple of days later after having a dream about a rocket killing my father, I thought to myself “I’ll hear an air raid siren now,” and I literally did. Realizing that the odds of a direct hit were astronomically low, I stayed in bed, exhausted by the nightmare. I then heard an explosion violent enough to shake the whole apartment. I later learned that this was the sound of the Iron Dome destroying missiles in midair. The official line was that Israelis were supposed to wait for this sound before leaving their shelters. It was hard for me to fall back asleep now, so I got up and ate breakfast. My grandmother made me freshly squeezed orange juice and fried up some bacon, a rarity in Israel.
3. Sde Warburg: I walked with my pacifist brother to his grandmother’s house out in the countryside beyond Kefar Sava. When we reached her farm, we all began to argue about the stalling peace process. She insisted that average Gazans were living in greater prosperity than my brother and I guessed, and that the international media’s insistence on Israel’s brutality but silence on the atrocities committed by Arabs against Arabs every day in the Middle East was veiled anti-Semitism. Just as she was explaining that Hamas’ extremism was the rule rather than the exception in Gaza, sirens sounded. She insisted that we rush to the shelter, and accidentally closed the door on Lucky the dog’s little head when we entered it. My brother and I wanted to leave as soon as we could, but we didn’t hear the Iron Dome’s effects this time, and stayed a full twenty minutes in the stuffy place out of deference to her orders. The room doubled as a closet, and I
spent most of the time observing the various polka dot patterns of her dresses.
4. Jerusalem: I insisted on visiting the Holy Sepulcher for a film project despite my family’s universal pleas that I not go. My pacifist brother backed out at the last minute, and I ended up travelling alone by bus. The Old City was full of Eastern European tourists, Orthodox Jews, and the Israeli police. Some Arab shopkeepers asked me if I was Israeli, and when I said yes, they literally turned their backs on me. I eventually began to feel nauseated and took a taxi ride back to the central bus station. The driver warned me not to puke in his car because it was Ramadan. He tried to drive me to a different location from the one I had requested, allegedly because “the central bus station might be bombed,” but really, I guessed, because he didn’t feel like driving all the way across town. Changing his tune about having exact change, he ended up cheating me on the price of the trip. When a siren sounded, some people left their cars and threw themselves belly-down on the street. On the bus, I leaned against the window and took a long needed nap. When I woke up, an old rabbi asked me what America would do if Mexico were shooting rockets at it from Tijuana. Rather than answering him, I pretended to fall back asleep.
5. Tel Aviv: I went to an ill relative’s apartment for dinner. She was a Holocaust survivor. Her bed was turned toward the television so she could see the news, a ubiquitous and depressing fixture these days in all Israeli households. I asked her if she thought that the world was a better place now than in the 1930s and 1940s. She said that it was no better, but at least now it was the Jews who were driving their enemies into the sea, and not the reverse. I couldn’t believe that she actually said that. When the sirens sounded, most of the party scrambled into the shelter. But my ill relative couldn‘t move. I volunteered to stay with her in the living room, categorically refusing to leave her alone there. My confidence affected the others, and many of them stayed behind as well.
6. Tel Aviv: After returning from a play, I visited my aunt’s house to find the family huddled around the television. Hamas announced that it was going to fire an “unprecedented new type of rocket” at Israel at 9:00. We whispered that this wouldn’t be one of their home-made contraptions, but a proper Iranian missile this time. As soon as 9:00 came, sirens began to blare. My father chose just this time to drive my stepmother and two of my siblings home on the open road rather than enter the shelter. I retreated with the rest of the family in and out of the safe room; pizza bagels were cooking and leaving them alone for too long could result in a fire. Eventually, there was a knock on the door, and my stepmother joined us in the shelter. She’d evidently told my father to turn back. He remained outside with my pacifist brother, though, trying to make out the progress of the rockets in the sky.
7. Qiryat Ono: Sirens sounded just as my grandmother and I were returning from the candy store. We listened for the telltale explosions of the Iron Dome, but failed to hear them. After a time, we shrugged and carried groceries into the elevator. We began to argue about bias in the Israeli press. I insisted that the state-run media’s constant attention to falling rockets but relative ignoring of the situation in Gaza was tantamount to propaganda. She explained that it was natural for the news to focus on “our side,” blamed Hamas for imbedding themselves into civilian infrastructure, and said that Israel was setting new standards for trying to spare civlian lives. We learned later that day that Israel had suffered its first casualty when a piece of a rocket crushed a man who’d been supplying troops with food.
8. Qiryat Ono: Air raid sirens woke me up in the morning. This time, the telltale BOOMS took place during the shrieks themselves rather than directly afterward. I was able to fall back asleep without too much trouble, though, and dreamed about taking a trip to India.
9. Kefar Sava: The sirens sounded just as my father and I returned home from a shopping trip, evidence that a short lived cease-fire had ended. We went out onto the balcony and looked to the southern sky. I saw the long streaks of the rockets just over the horizon, and two bright white clouds where the Iron Dome had evidently done its work. My father and I drank coffee together, even though I hate coffee. Then we spoke for a while about the pitiable situation in Gaza. This instigated my militant brother, and we all got into a screaming match. At the end of the debate, my pacifist brother said that these days, he found himself leaning more and more toward the center politically. Later that night, the ground invasion was underway.
10. Kefar Sava: About to leave for a goodbye party at my aunt’s house, I heard sirens begining to blare again. The family all procceded to the balcony and saw the trails of four rockets high above us. Down below, the excitable and the cautious walked dutifully toward shelters in their apartments, and the reckless and non-conforming went about their daily business as if nothing were happening. The Iron Dome destroyed all the rockets, but it took a few seconds for us to hear the thunderous impacts even after seeing the explosions themselves.
11. Tel Aviv: My aunt held a farewell dinner for me. Just as we were eating cake, an alarm sounded. All fifteen or so of us retreated into the small shelter. The sense of togetherness was nice, in a way. It’s rare that I spend time with my family, and I was about to leave again. My father joined us most reluctantly, and then got into a heated political argument with the rest of the family defending his right to do as he pleased. My grandmother took it badly, and drove home frowning. She explained that though none of us usually bothered to go into the shelters, refusing to do so in somebody else’s house was bad manners.