I was busy washing dishes yesterday evening when all of a sudden I heard a wailing sound and doors slamming in my building. An air raid siren; the first in Tel Aviv since Operation Pillar of Defense back in November of 2012.
I picked up my dog, my purse, and ran down the stairs with my neighbours. The funny thing is my dog was at the door whimpering, looking back and forth at me and the door. She knew that we had to find shelter.
In Tel Aviv you have a minute and a half to find shelter. A big difference from the 7 seconds I had when I was in Sderot, but still not enough time to get to the bomb shelter in the garden behind my building. I used to go to Sderot every weekend a few years back and I remember my friend’s mother saying, the first time I visited, how quiet it was. Not one breath later did the siren go off and we had to run to the bomb shelter. We were safe, but the sound and feeling of the impact from the Qassam (a rocket from Gaza) has stayed with me.
Sderot was also where for the first time I heard the Kipat Barzel (Iron Dome) go off and intercept a rocket headed towards Ashkelon, a city with a population of 120,000 inhabitants. The Iron Dome has been a life saver for the citizens of the State of Israel. Since the start of this latest operation, with over 220 rockets launched, the Iron Dome has intercepted 53 that were launched towards Israeli cities. Today one was deployed in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, after a Katyusha (long range rocket) was fired at it.
While the Iron Dome has been able to intercept medium and long range rockets – sources say that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have over 200 rockets that are capable to hitting central Israel, less than 20 have been launched – it is not able to intercept the short range Qassams that target the small communities that are on the border with Gaza, like Sderot.
Those communities have been dealing with the latest rocket barrages from Gaza for weeks, but last night the citizens of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Gedera, Nes Tziyona, Rishon Leztion, Kfar Saba, Hod Hasharon, Ramat Hasharon, Raanana, Herzilya, Kadima, Pardes Hana, Or Akiva, Cesaria, Binyamina and Hadera heard the same wailing, felt the same fear, heard the same booms. And just today, so did the citizens of Zichron Yaakov and Haifa. Those cities have not been targeted before by Hamas, that makes it over 80 percent of Israeli citizens now within range of rockets from Gaza.
Hadera is 100km away from Gaza, and Haifa is 150km away, the rockets that hit those cities were Syrian-made M-302s. Likely made in Iran, the rockets launched at Hadera, Haifa and Zichron Yaakov were probably smuggled into Gaza from Egypt through their countless tunnels. Those tunnels have been made famous for citizens in Gaza smuggling in KFC and goats, but they are mainly used to smuggle weapons into Gaza and to smuggle infiltrators into Israel to kidnap soldiers. Remember the Klos-C? The ship that the Israeli navy intercepted back in March? Well that ship was full of those missiles, all of them likely destined for Gaza.
Hamas promised Israel that we would be surprised this time around. And we are.
In the past, Hadera was the southern-most point that Hezbollah, firing into Israel from its northern border, could reach. Now Haifa, even more north than Hadera, is the deepest that Hamas has ever been able to reach from Israel’s southern border. That’s scary. And a massive escalation. Not only have citizens all over the country scrambled to find shelter from Hamas’s arsenal, but we have also seen infiltrations from the sea.
Yesterday five Hamas “navy commandos” were spotted exiting the Mediterranean Sea in full scuba gear headed towards Zikim naval base, but they were engaged by the IDF shortly after and all were killed before they could get close to the base. It is likely that Hamas is not looking for any strategic victory, but like before, they want a symbolic victory. They have shot at low-flying helicopters and jets with MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) and have launched rockets towards military bases as well as trying to infiltrate them. Thank God nothing has succeeded, but we are only two days into Operation Protective Edge. I, along with the entire state of Israel, am just waiting for more surprises from Hamas.
Like in past operations, the Israeli military has given advance warning to civilians in Gaza to evacuate homes or areas that would be hit, but recently we have seen pamphlets being distributed by Hamas urging citizens to instead of finding safety, to head to the roof, to act as human shields. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed, and over 230 wounded since the start of Operation Protective Edge. My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones during this operation, and the innocent women and children who are brought up to the roofs of their homes by their loved ones to try to stop the IAF from destroying their homes. But what kind of culture urges their citizens to run towards danger instead of running for safety?
The day before Tel Aviv had its first siren, I went to my favourite spot to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean sea. I went to go clear my head after seeing all the updates on my Twitter feed about what was happening in the south and reassuring all my family and friends back in Canada that the rockets haven’t reached Tel Aviv yet.
Next to me was a young family, and my dog being super friendly went up to them. We started chatting, and they told me that they are from Be’eri, a small kibbutz in the south, one that I remember well after a Qassam fell less than 10 meters from me when I went for a picnic there with friends. This couple told me that they had just given birth to their first child two weeks ago. They had come up to Tel Aviv to get away from the rockets and live with the in-laws until things quietened down back home. But now it’s not quiet here either.
Yesterday when I ran into the stairwell (I have no bomb shelter in my apartment or apartment building), there was this small boy looking up at their mothers crying “Ima [mother], I want to go home, this siren is scary” and his friend cried to his mother “Ima, what have I done to Hamas?”
These young boys, no more than eight, should not be subjected to this kind of terror, they should not know the name “Hamas”. They should be playing soccer with their friends in summer camp. Camps in the south have been cancelled due to ongoing rocket barrages, and instead kids are spending their days and nights in bomb shelters. But when I see those kids crying to their mothers, I also see the Palestinian children in Gaza looking up at their mothers asking the same questions. What have these innocent children, on both sides, done to deserve the horror that they are experiencing?
I saw a sticker the other day, a few days after three of our sons, Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, were buried and after our young cousin Mohammed was brutally murdered in revenge. The sticker said “חלאס!كاف!”: enough. That is exactly what I have been saying these past few weeks: we’ve had enough guys.
But until those launching rockets at civilians also cry كاف [enough], I will sleep with my keys in the door, ready to be unlocked at a moment’s notice.
Anna Ahronheim has a B.A in Criminology and Law, an M.A in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security, and tweets at @AAhronheim