Horrors of Gaza war seen up close and personal

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:34 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I landed in Tel Aviv on Dec. 27, the day Israeli air strikes started in Gaza. Although no rockets landed near our group in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, riots in the West Bank and East Jerusalem restricted some movement. Turning left out of our hotel would put us in the local market; the front lines were just off to our right.

After Hamas shot more than 20 rockets into the town Ashkelon, located just 11 miles north of the Gaza border, Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center moved some of its essential departments into an underground bomb shelter and relocated the remaining patients into safer, windowless rooms previously used for storage. Security concerns were even extended to incoming aircrafts; all passengers were forbidden from getting out of their seats for the last 45 minutes of every flight into Israel.

My mother begged me to withdraw from the trip the morning of my flight and hoped it would be canceled altogether. Had it been any other country, the trip wouldn't have happened. But this was Israel, a country where citizens are accustomed to war: Its paramedics are proficient in handling mass casualties, and city workers are used to washing blood off the streets and sidewalks.  They quickly replace glass shattered by suicide bombings and do anything to prevent the slightest blip in anyone’s daily routine, as if to show the suicide bombers  and terrorists that they are unable to disrupt life in Israel.

The Dec. 27 air strikes were in response to the 8,700 rockets that have been shot at Israelis over the past seven years, an average of 40 rockets daily. The majority of the rockets have been aimed at the town of Sderot, which lies less than one mile outside of Gaza. The air raid alert systems give residents about 15 seconds to find cover before a rocket hits.

In the U.S., fire and tornado drills are laughable, especially in elementary schools. Students awkwardly try to fit themselves under their desks in the famed “duck and cover” position as their teachers hush them silent. But in Sderot, the sirens are never for practice — their sheer number alone makes it all too real and horrifying.

Children’s soccer games are restricted to half fields because it would take players more than 15 seconds to run from the far end of the field to the school building should the sirens go off.

And they’re always going off.

Mothers can only take one young child with them to the grocery store because to get more than one child out of a car seat in less than 15 seconds isn’t possible — and no mother wants to have to choose which child to grab when the sirens go off.

And they’re always going off.

Buses stop mid-street, doors fly open and passengers stream out, heading for the closest building. Sderot’s economy has fallen apart, and the number of residents suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder includes almost the entire town, according to NATAL, Israel's Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. Those who could afford to move left long ago, and those who remain collapse with anxiety because no one is able to protect the children anymore.

The U.S. media has been flooded with images of Palestinians killed by the Israeli air strikes and ground forces, but too often fail to mention the past seven years that Sderot has been under fire. The Israeli response wasn’t against the citizens of Gaza, but instead Hamas, a radical, terrorist organization.

Hamas chose not to extend its six-month truce with Israel. Its actions of putting rocket launchers and supplies in heavily populated areas, encouraging women and children to use themselves as human shields against artillery and placing the highest value on suicide bombers is what caused Israel to react.

President Barack Obama didn't even take the oath of office before he named George Mitchell as the Middle East special envoy last Thursday, a signal of the region's priority among other international concerns. Mitchell left for the region Tuesday.

Many are skeptical this latest Gaza conflict will result in any lasting negotiations; Israel's goals of ousting Hamas, or at least significantly weakening them for the time being, is one that any nation would desire in the name of protecting its citizens against terrorism. Perhaps it will be this administration that will bring a lasting solution, so the children can once again play soccer on a full field.

But even a hope for that is dashing. It is rarely silent in Israel; for in the distance, are the air-raid sirens, again.  

Lauren Rosenberg is a former Missourian reporter and currently works on the Missourian production desk. She has traveled to Israel three times; the above trip was with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a bipartisan organization that works to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. She is a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism and is graduating in May.

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Kent King January 27, 2009 | 12:30 p.m.

No conflict is pretty or clean and there are always innocent people who are casualties on both sides. I've read the articles and comments from both side of the fence (anti-Israel and anti-terrorist) and the truth is that Israel is defending their citizens the same way the U.S. would if we were being bombarded by terrorist or troops across the border or from more distant shores.

Like it or not (and elected by the citizens of Gaza or not), Hamas is a terrorist group and their actions reflect it. The key to this article and the Israeli response is simply ... "And they’re always going off."

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 27, 2009 | 12:52 p.m.

Thank you so much for your report from the side of an observer in Israel. I have known what you have posted to be the case for all too long now and so do alot of others.

Israel is always in my prayers as being of the same spiritual blood of the houses of Ephraim and Manasseh unto whom many great blessings have been promised and fulfilled.

Strength,hope and blessings be upon the house of Israel always. May her protector avenge her when those who seek to destroy her do her wrong.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 27, 2009 | 1:00 p.m.

Dear Ms. Rosenberg:
Your honesty and integrity places you high above those who condemn Israel for defending its people against the Iranian supplied missles of Hamas.
Your courage is awesome.
I will pray for all of the children who suffer in the Middle Esst and for the Israeli people, government and IDF.
I also hope that someday, reason will prevail in the radical, fundamentalist Islamic cleric driven world and their reformation will bring forth humane reason.
Jihad must stop and the Koran needs to be reinterpeted for the 21st. century.
Thank you for your firsthand account. It is one of the best stories I have ever read in this paper.
Your mother may be concerned about the risks you take, but she must also be very proud of her daughter.
Stay well and stay safe.
Ray Shapiro

(Report Comment)
Eric Niewoehner January 27, 2009 | 9:33 p.m.

I appreciate the Missourian printing a first hand account of Israel's perspective. I have personally felt it important in the longterm to address the Palestinian position, but the media has generally tilted heavily towards covering the impact of the war on Gaza, rather than providing a balanced report on the conflict. This does not do justice to either side.

Hamas has been totally irrational. All you have to do is look at how the Arabs (yes, the Arabs) respond to Hamas. Egypt loathes the group.

What I find interesting is how Hezbollah did not respond, either. To be quite frank, the media has also been lopsided in reporting Israel's campaign in southern Lebanon. Even though Israel's tanks did not roll into Beirut, they seriously pounded Hezbollah. This probably gave Hezbollah's leaders a sober assessment of the cost of conflict with Israel. Maybe Hamas is learning the same lesson.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 28, 2009 | 1:27 p.m.

A few questions to ponder before opining on this topic:
Since 1947 what is the ratio of Palestinian deaths to Isreali deaths? What is the ratio for women and children (under the age of 10)?
What is the total land area gained/lost since 1947 for each side? Of this land what percentage is arable?
Is water equally accessible? If not, how is it limited (for whom, by whom)?
What are the life expectancies for each group? To what extent does this conflict impact life expectancy both directly and indirectly?
Do you favor a one state or two state solution? If you favor a one state solution, what preconditions are necessary before giving Palestinians the right to participate in democratic processes? For a two state solution what are the preconditions? Should the Palestinians be allowed any preconditions of their own, if no why not?
Does Isreal have a right to occupy land acquired after 1948 and 1967? If so, what is your legal justification for giving them this right?
Should Palestinians have a right to return (what is your legal justification if your answer is no)? Should Isrealis have a right to return (what is your legal justification if your answer is no)?
Do you think the United States should actively deter (both militarily and diplomatically) Palestinians from acquiring armaments? Do you think the United States should actively deter (both militarily and diplomatically) Isreal from acquiring armaments?

I think in the U.S. people would answer these questions with a strong bias towards Isreal. That is they would understate Isreali aggression and consequences and overstate Palestinian aggression (see Ms. Rosenberg's article). Likewise, in solving the crisis a much higher burden would be placed on Palestinians than Isrealis. If you disagree with this sentiment how did your answers stack up?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 28, 2009 | 1:57 p.m.

So many questions, I might get a headache.
Better leave it to the United Nations to do their job.
(If fundamentalist Islamic clerics ever allow this to happen.)
And special thanks to Syria and Iran for all your help in making the world a safer place to live.)

(Report Comment)
shahd duzdar March 10, 2009 | 5:41 p.m.

I don't know if you have been to the palestinian side of things, but at least the Israelis get to go out of the country, out of the city, out of their house. The Palestinians have Israeli soldiers even at the borders from city to city. The ordinary people can not take their cars to go from city to city. I absolutely can not feel bad at all for any Israeli casualties when I know that they have it much easier on their side than the Palestinian side. They are the ones controlling everything and the Palestinian just want their rights as a nation back.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 10, 2009 | 6:58 p.m.

shahd duzdar so you condone bombing innocent women and children as honorable in trying to get their freedom back?

Maybe they should kick the radical Islamic terrorists out of their country first if that is the case.

(Report Comment)

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