By Rolene Marks
(*This article appears in the “Jewish Report“)
The site of the Iron Dome stood upon a hill in Modiin is both comforting – and yet fills me with dread. Israelis know that when Iron Dome batteries are rolled out across our cities, that we will face the now all too familiar barrages of rockets and mortars, fired by terror entities in the Gaza strip.
Last Friday, the IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn, preemptively striking, with pinpoint precision, Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza strip. Following the arrest of PIJ leader, Bassam al Saadi during counter-terror operations in Jenin in the West Bank, military and security officials had received intelligence that the terror group was planning on launching attacks on Israeli civilians. The IDF moved quickly – shutting down access roads to the Gaza border, locking down communities and shutting off train services between the city of Ashkelon and Sderot, the most bunkered town in the world.
Israelis waited for the storm that would inevitably follow the tense calm.
The storm started with barrage after barrage of rockets fired at Israel’s southern communities. Over 1 500 000 of us who live within an 80 kilometre radius were advised by the IDF Home Front Command about the dangers of incoming rockets. City after city opened their public shelters and families prepared their personal shelters for any inevitability.
The sirens wailed, the booms from Iron Dome interceptions followed and the cycle continued. My peaceful Shabbat reverie was interrupted on Saturday by the wails of our siren, sending my husband and I (and our very disciplined cat) running into the shelter. A boom followed. An explosion was reported just outside the city that left a small crater in the ground. The obligatory “are you guys okay?” What’s App messages soon circulated amongst everyone.
I am not embarrassed to share that sirens scare me. The warning wail of an air raid siren makes me anxious – a feeling shared by many of us. Despite working in the media and being particularly busy during these times of tension, I still feel anxiety and tension.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad would continue to pound our Southern communities but would also fire rockets as far as Tel Aviv, Beer Sheba in the Negev desert and Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. They fired their weapons of destruction towards Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting, reflection and mourning for our holy Temples that has been destroyed.
At 23h30 on Sunday night, an Egyptian brokered ceasefire had gone into place, ending 66 hours of fighting. The IDF claimed it has achieved all of their aims and it believed PIJ, pressured by Hamas who stayed out of the fray (for a variety of reasons but don’t be fooled into thinking they are going soft!) to accept. By the end of the weekend 1 100 rockets had been fired by PIJ, 47 Israelis injured, 95% of incoming rockets intercepted by Iron Dome systems (thank G-d for our “Domey’s”) and over 200 misfired rockets falling in the Gaza strip, killing 16 out of 27 civilian casualties. This has been acknowledged by Gaza media as well as PIJ who have offered compensation to the families of the victims. Will they pay from their swollen Iranian-backed coffers?
Living on the frontline are Israel’s southern communities. You couldn’t meet more extraordinary people. I visit the south often, taking groups or individuals to visit our rocket proof WIZO daycare centres and to meet with the staff who work at our centre that helps the people of Sderot and surrounds cope with the profound trauma they have experienced for several decades.
The people of Israel’s south are exceptional and a true inspiration. They have a fierce spirit of Zionism and community and are determined not only to stay put and not be chased out of their homes and their towns; but they experience trauma few of us can understand. Over the last two decades, through countless attacks, children have grown up with the all to-familiar sound of “Tseva Adom” (Red Alert) being called out from speakers. Sirens do not wail because that is far too scary for many. There are teenagers who still wet the bed, small children who can recite exactly what they need to do when they hear “Tseva Adom” and parents who feel the strain of helping their children deal with their PTSD while coping with their own.
Just before the Covid pandemic, I had the privilege of leading a WIZO delegation on a visit to the south that included visiting our rocket-proof daycare centres, trauma centre, a terror tunnel with an exit point in the middle of a sunflower farm as well as a visit to Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara, located just metres from the wall that divides Israeli sovereign territory from the beleaguered strip.
The residents have buried several of their own over the years, who have been killed as a result of rocket attacks. It is this kibbutz that in 2014 reported “strange digging noises beneath us”. WIZO evacuated the entire kibbutz, hosting residents in our projects further up north. This past weekend, my heart sank every time I saw the alerts for the incoming rockets and mortars.
The residents have fought back in the most Israeli way possible. They have started a project called “Path to Peace”. Visitors are encouraged to choose a small tile from the collection made on the kibbutz and place it on the “peace wall” that divides Palestinians and Israelis, in the hope that the message of peace will someday manifest into reality. They have hope. Hope is the greatest weapon against hate. Israelis carry that hope in our hearts. Make no mistake, we will defend ourselves with everything we have but will stubbornly pursue hope with everything we are.
This resilience is the spirit of the south, it is the character of Israel and it is why try as hard as they might, terrorists will never defeat us. Am Yisrael Chai !
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