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.