- Posted July 18, 2014 by
Eshkol Region, Israel
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Night in the war zone
Today (rather, yesterday already – it is after midnight as I write this) Israel agreed to 5-hour cease fire for humanitarian purposes requested by the U.N.. Hamas “agreed”. (Not that they actually followed through with it – 3 rockets still came over the border in those 5 hours, but who’s counting?) From 10:00 – 15:00, I felt almost normal. I got some actual work done (not this interview-giving, CNN iReport writing stuff…. I mean my REAL work. Funny – I don’t remember ever signing on to be a war correspondent). I managed to have a nice long shower, and I even had the pluck to dry my hair in my bathroom (as opposed to taking the drier and brushes into my safe room for fear of not hearing a Red Alert over the noise of the hair drier).
Sure enough, the minute the clock hit 15:00, and I finished drying my hair, the alerts on TV heralding the renewal of incoming rocket fire, started popping up again, one after another. (Explanation for those of you who do not live in Israel: during this period of frequent rocket attacks, the civil defense authorities divided the country into areas and numbers. My area is “Gaza Environs” and my number is 231. When a rocket is launched, a little sign pops up in the corner of the TV set, regardless of what program or channel, saying that there is a Red Alert and lists all of the areas and numbers that are getting a rocket, so that people know towards where rockets have been launched, and if it is in their area, they can run to their safe rooms, or safe areas. Odds are they've already heard the wailing sirens, but I have noticed it pop up on my screen BEFORE our beeper or PA system have kicked in to warn me).
At around 15:30 I was talking to my relatives who are visiting in Israel and whom I hardly got to see thanks to all this, when there was a Red Alert. The TV was on, my windows were closed and I was focusing on the phone conversation, when suddenly my dogs ran in with their ears pricked up, looking at me expectantly. I put my aunt on hold, opened the window, and sure enough I could hear the Red Alert. I had lost precious seconds (the Red Alert only leaves you 10 seconds to run… I had no idea how many I had lost) and as I sprinted to the safe room, I lost the phone connection with her. I didn't want her to worry, so I phoned her from the land line in the safe room, spoke to her for another few minutes and promised to get back to her later on. They are leaving Israel early Friday morning.
At the same time the phone died, my electricity extinguished. The Red Alert was over, but no electricity – so no TV, no computer….I went out to water my garden. And then I heard it: shooting. Not the big artillery and tank fire that has become our elevator music here recently, rather automatic gun fire. Now I was REALLY apprehensive. I saw my neighbor out back. She came running into my house. She, too, had heard the gunfire, and wanted to report it to someone. (How very level-headed of her! Why didn't I think of that?) She had come to see if my phone was working, because her land line wasn't. The most daunting fear that haunts us in our area is that terrorists from Gaza will infiltrate through tunnels. Just this morning, that scenario played itself out down the road from us, when 13 Hamas terrorists popped up out of a tunnel into Israel. Eight of them were killed, the rest managed to escape back to Gaza. A tragedy was averted, thanks to intelligence tip offs, alertness and partially, luck. We were hoping that that recipe would play out for us, as well.
The ensuing hours were frightening – VERY frightening. But by talking together, we kept each other brave. As if the gun fire weren't enough, we kept having more Red Alerts and running to the safe room. The safe room, in order for it to really protect you, must have the heavy iron shutter closed over the single window, affording no light or fresh air. Usually, if I am in there for more than a few minutes, I have to turn on the AC to breathe comfortably. At least there was the emergency light in there. Until the battery ran out.
The text messaging system was working only sporadically. Our mobile phones were out – but, What’s App messages were getting through at times. We started receiving text messages telling us all to stay indoors and lock our houses. That’s a joke. I have large windows (when we designed the house, I wanted the windows to be as big as possible, to feel as if the outside were part of the inside….little did I know at the time that I would someday desperately want the outside to stay OUT). Some of the windows don’t even have shutters or curtains. My doors can be locked, but easily kicked down by someone who really wants to get in. There were also frantic message coming in, family, friends and acquaintances saw that my community was being targeted, but couldn't get through to me to ask how I was. When the messages finally popped up, more often than not, I was unable to respond to allay their concerns. Needless to say, I was incapable of calling my concerned, octogenarian aunt, as promised earlier.
After three nerve wracking hours, after thoroughly combing the region, the fear of infiltration was declared a false alarm. However the electricity and communications had been knocked out by the first rocket. Due to the whole area being in lock-down, the Electric Company was unable to get though and fix it until the “all clear” was announced, and the roads reopened.
That was six hours ago. I know they have been working on it. The electricity has been popping on and off a few times (I hate to think what that is doing to my refrigerator motor!) but as of now –01:30 – we are still / again without electricity.
So why don’t I just go to sleep? First of all, it’s not comfortable in the closed safe room. Even with the door open, the air is getting heavy. Secondly, with artillery booming just under my window (or at least it SOUNDS as if it is that close) there is very little hope of getting much sleep tonight. So I figured I would just get this part of what is turning into my installments of “War Diaries” written, at least until the battery gets depleted, in hopes that the electricity will come back on.
And then, I keep thinking of the mothers in Gaza. I have heard on my radio, that the decision has been taken to send in the ground troups. Their goals are to find and destroy the tunnels of terror that make our lives here so unsafe. The mothers in Gaza are sitting in the dark, too. They are in far worse conditions than I, protecting their children with their bodies. The Hamas didn't bother to build them a safe room in which they can feel, and be, out of harm’s way. I hope this ends quickly, and brings safety and security to the people on both sides of this border. I fear it will not.
BTW: You are probably reading about Iron Dome and the miracles it is enabling. FYI: Iron Dome does not protect our communities – we are simply too close. In order for Iron Dome to be able to intercept a rocket or missile, said trajectory needs to have time to achieve a minimal altitude. The short-distance rockets that plague us, do not get to go that high before they come down to endanger us – but we do have the Red Alert system that gives us a around 10 seconds to reach safety. Think of that next time you’re driving to the grocery store. Can you stop the car, get the baby and three year old out of their car seats and make it to cover in 10 seconds before the rocket hits?
Post-script: It is now Friday morning. Electricity and internet finally returned, after about 10 hours, and I can now post this. The picture that accompanies it is the candle in my safe room from last night’s darkest moments.