Israeli Civilians Pay the Price of War

A day in Israel starts just like any day in America: The sun rises, you eat breakfast, say “good morning” to your family and sit down at the table. However, the only real difference is the occasional missile that might strike your house, or your neighbor’s house, at any given minute. But here, trivial things like rocket launchings do not affect us. CNN does not cover it; media reports include the new president’s first dance and a man talking to a squirrel, but not the constant rocket attacks barraging Israel. We don’t think it can happen here because we are invincible. This is America; rockets don’t fall here, and if they did, immediate action would be taken to protect its citizens. The mentality here is different because that quassam rocket launched from Gaza into Israel will not hit us; it is irrelevant.
But that quassam rocket, filled with shrapnel, specifically designed and manufactured to create as many casualties as possible, almost hit me.
I was staying with my 92-year-old grandfather, a holocaust survivor, the first time that I heard the piercing sound and rhythm of an air raid siren. A 92-year-old man does not run. But to save his life, he has to. In Be’er Sheva, the southern part of Israel where I was staying, people have 45 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter or bunker. What can you do in 45 seconds? The people of Sderot, another city in Israel close to the Gaza strip, have 15 seconds. These seconds are the longest, slowest and scariest seconds of your life.
Stop! Drop everything that you are doing, and run! Forget about turning off the oven or the iron. Forget about personal belongings — just forget about everything. Grab your kids, your loved ones and run. Yet, by now, the children know what to do. A 5-year-old Israeli child knows. They know in pre-school, before they even learn to read. They live in constant fear and anxiety. It’s not normal that 96 percent of children in Sderot suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; even grown children, up to the age of 12 are having nightmares and flashbacks. They wet their beds and suffer from living in a constant state of anxiety and shock. Their daily lives are interrupted by the wailing sirens, warning them that a rocket is coming. And it will hit. The scary part is that you don’t know where; you can only gauge how far it hit by the …
Boom! It hit, as you knew it would, and you’re relieved because that missile, that flying shrapnel and pieces of metal that exploded just seconds ago, though intended to find you, did not hit you. This is a day in the life of an Israeli.
While normally a typical day would include going to the market or walking around the park, the entire neighborhood, myself included, sat at home. When that first rocket hit Be’er Sheva, the city fell silent and I was scared. My family and I sat at home, waiting for the next time we would need to run out of their houses to the nearest bomb shelter. No one rode the buses and restaurants were closed for days at a time. I watched the news on the hour, every hour. I watched four different news stations in three different languages to understand every detail and all aspects of the conflict.
When operation Cast Lead began, we mourned the death of every Israeli soldier. We hurt for the families of the wounded. What we did not do, in comparison with the Palestinians in Gaza, was rejoice. There is a difference between the people who value life and the people who value death, because the people who value life do not base a government off of hatred and do not breed children to become shahids, martyrs in the name of Allah.
Israel not only has a right but also an obligation to defend its citizens from such terrorists. For years, it has remained silent about the terrorist attacks while 8,000 rockets have been attacking its citizens. But on Dec. 27, 2008, it finally said, “enough.” In its proportionate response, Israel solely targeted Hamas members and anyone who was helping the terrorist organization. Had Hamas not used its own people as human shields and refrained from hiding themselves and their explosives in mosques and schools, there would be a significant decline in Palestinian civilian casualties.
The big picture is not the number of Palestinians who were killed, but how and by whom. Any death is tragic, but the Palestinian government continuously uses its citizens as pawns to gain favor in the media. This is my story and a side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is important not to alienate ourselves from a story that comes from thousands of miles away, and important to remember to think of the families in Israel living in fear and hope for peace with all its borders. I lived in fear for a month, and after my stay there was over, I got on my flight back to Los Angeles and returned to my life here. But Israel is always on my mind and I encourage us to understand why Israel must defend its citizens and its right to existence.

Ilana Zelener is a second-year international studies and social ecology double-major. She can be reached at izelener@uci.edu.