Columbia woman shares her experience in Israel during conflict

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 | 7:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Fifteen minutes before accepting a phone call from the Columbia Missourian on Monday, Hannah Alexander was in a bomb shelter with her family. She did not expect to make it through the interview without having to seek shelter once more.

Alexander, a retired MU associate professor in biological sciences, is an eyewitness to history. She has been in Arugot, Israel, for most of July helping her brother and sister care for their elderly mother.

Since arriving in Israel on July 2, Alexander has witnessed the crossfire between Israelis and Palestinians, who are caught in a violent chain of attack and retaliation. The Associated Press reported Wednesday morning that at least 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have been killed in the current fighting.

Alexander and her family are within 15 miles of the Gaza Strip. This distance gives them roughly two minutes to get to safety after a rocket launch from Gaza as opposed to the 15 seconds faced by those who live closer to the border. She writes periodic reflections and shares them with friends and family in the U.S.

Alexander said in her reflections that seeking shelter is a short process.

"You hear the alarm, you seek shelter, you wait for the explosion sound, wait several more minutes and get out," she wrote.

Alexander is staying at her sister's home, where her sister built a bomb shelter last year.

"I told her that it is my sincere wish that she just wasted $25,000 and that I hope she will never use it," Alexander wrote. "This week I sadly acknowledged that it was the best $25,000 she ever spent. To date (July 12, Saturday morning) we have used it 17 times."

Sometimes when the bombs go off Alexander must leave her mother behind in the house because she cannot make it to the bomb shelter in two minutes. Alexander wrote that her first priority is getting her younger family to safety.

"Yet every time when I leave her behind, it feels like it adds another scratch to my heart," she wrote.

In her latest reflection, Alexander recounted a time when one of her nieces dozed off in her home 10 miles from the Gaza border. The niece was abruptly awakened by her 7-year-old son yelling to his younger sisters. His explanation: "Mom, I hear so many booms, I thought they should sleep in the protected room."

"These are instances when I tear up: a 7 yrs. old kid should not have to feel responsible for his sisters' lives," Alexander wrote.

Alexander was born in Israel in November 1947 and lived there for the first 30 years of her life. She was 9 during the Sinai War of 1956. She was on active duty in the Israeli Defense Forces during the Six-Day War of 1967. She was in Israel during the war in Lebanon and when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

"I am very familiar with the feeling of living under fire," she wrote in an email to the Missourian.

As conflict thickens in the Middle East, Alexander is aware that life in Israel is much easier than life in Gaza. Two of Alexander's nieces were able to travel to northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee, a part of the country not under bombardment.

"I am also cognizant of the fact that they are lucky that they can afford it and that they have a place to go," Alexander writes. "The kids in Gaza don't."

Most people in Israel have money for bomb shelters, something not many in Gaza have access to, according to Alexander.

"The reality is that the residents (many still in refugee camps) have nowhere to go. There is the sea on one side, Israel on the other, and the absolutely sealed border with Egypt on the other side," Alexander wrote in her reflections. "They cannot even run away."

In a separate reflection, she wrote, "I guess what I am trying to say is that in this ongoing situation in this region there are no winners. Everyone is a victim."

Alexander had planned to return to the U.S. within two weeks, but a rocket falling near the Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday has caused all flights to be suspended indefinitely.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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