The bomb shelter I share with my Jerusalem neighbors was uninhabitable when I first moved into our residential building five years ago. And that wasn’t surprising, since air-raid sirens hadn’t wailed over Jerusalem since the early 1970s.
Of course, Jerusalem wasn’t exactly peaceful all those years.
During the two Arab uprisings – intifadas – when terrorism cost Israel more than a thousand lives, no bombs, rockets or mortars rained down from the sky.
Instead, suicide bombers – many of them Hamas terrorists – blew up buses, pizzerias, coffee shops, wedding receptions and busy markets.
It was only in the early 2000s, after Israel began to install its unpopular but highly effective security barrier, that suicide bombings became déclassé with the local killers.
Then, in 2005, in an ill-starred land-for-peace effort, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon forced Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. More than 8000 Israelis reluctantly left behind their villages, synagogues and greenhouses. The IDF also withdrew from Gaza, ending the “occupation.” But not the violence.
It was after the “Gaza disengagement” that rocket fire from Gaza replaced suicide bombing as Hamas’ primary weapon of choice against Israeli civilians.
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, over the years some enterprising souls had turned their bomb shelters into dance studios, libraries or man-caves. Others used them to stash worn out sofas, ripped beanbag chairs and various other items that had seen better days.
In fact, the only reason our shelter got cleaned out was that it was subject to floods. And during one particularly intense storm, three kerosene space heaters floated onto their sides, dumping their contents and filling the building with pungent fumes.
A team of workers arrived, cleaned out the shelter, and swept away the unlucky insects that were left behind. And the timing was excellent.
Because in 2012, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem for the first time in decades.
By now, Gaza’s little “Qassam” rockets had been replaced by larger and more deadly Grad and Katyusha missiles. And some of them could reach Jerusalem.
Today, during this present Gaza operation, even longer-range missiles have been added to Hamas’ arsenal, propelled toward Jerusalem on several occasions.
The sirens have sounded again. But this time I’ve missed all the action.
Instead of sharing the danger with my neighbors, I’m receiving emails and texts with sly versions of “Having a wonderful time – wish you were here.” Or, more specifically, “Missing you in the bomb shelter.”
My reasons for leaving Israel for the U.S. were wonderful – my oldest son was relocating for law school in Washington; my youngest and his wife were welcoming their second child into the world.
I wouldn’t have missed either occasion for the world. Nonetheless, during the rocket fire and the ongoing ground operation, my heart was stretched tightly between my American family and my friends in Israel.
Being conflicted is nothing new for Israelis. As my good friend Ruthie Blum so eloquently describes in Israel Hayom, during times of war, Israelis are forever torn between parenthood and patriotism.
When rumors that the infantry was given the order to enter Gaza were confirmed, I was among many Israelis who heaved a huge sigh of relief. I even apologized to Netanyahu under my breath and on Facebook for having doubted the skillful manner in which he was handling Operation Protective Edge.
I simultaneously began to panic.
It is one thing to be convinced, as I was and still am, that a ground incursion (with Israeli soldiers going literally and figuratively door-to-door to snuff and stomp out terrorists and tunnels) is the way to go. It is quite another to cheer on such a campaign when one's own child is taking part in it.
An infantry reservist, my son was called up on July 9. Contact with him has been sparse, as he has had limited use of his cell phone. Nor did I get a chance even to give him a hug before he left….And though he is a married man, in addition to being one of the most mature, capable, talented and dependable people I know, he is still my baby….
Near or far, when friends and loved ones face violence – whether in combat or enduring terrorist attacks – there’s never enough information, never enough analysis, never enough personal contact.
Meanwhile, a heavy pall of sadness and silence falls across Israel at times such as this, and it includes sorrow for broken lives on both sides of the battle. Too many of Gaza’s children have been caught in the crossfire – sadly, some of them are even placed there intentionally. Israelis love life; they grieve over the death of innocents. And they know all too well that those who survive are forever scarred by the conflict.
During these times, Israelis come together as one family. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be included in that big family for eight years, even while cherishing my own small family in the USA.
There’s no question that if I were in Jerusalem, I’d happily join my neighbors in our bomb shelter, chasing off the fear and cherishing the camaraderie and solidarity.
But how I thank God that my own children don’t have to jump with alarm at the sound of a siren, rush to safety, or – like Ruthie – watch their kids head off for military duty.
May heaven protect the young soldiers who are going door-to-door, tunnel to tunnel, gunfight to gunfight, trying to restore peace and safety to their beloved country.
May bomb shelters and Iron Dome defenses continue to keep several million Israelis safe – mothers, fathers, babies, grandparents, disabled and elderly – while those deadly and relentless rockets fall.
May the innocent be spared from those who love death.
Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: www.lelagilbert.com. Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert.