Thursday, November 29, 2012

Operation Pillar of Defense

I'm sure all of you (my approximately four friends/family members who read this) have been anxiously awaiting an update regarding the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, here goes nothing..

I'm not going to make this a forum for any political stance for or against, if you're interested in this you can message/email me and I will send you my sister's email updates that she sent throughout the operation with facts and figures and true stories.

It all started on a regular old Wednesday, November 14th. I left my base to go to a base in Tel Aviv for a lesson on driving safety and drinking, before going home for the weekend. I reunited with some old friends from my course and caught up with my newlywed friend during the afternoon. We chatted and looked at pictures from here wedding, and of course read the news that Israel had assassinated the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jaabari (Chief of Staff, if Hamas was a legit military). I then met up with my boyfriend (who happened to be doing a temporary job in the army in Tel Aviv for a few weeks) and we got on the bus back to Jerusalem at about 6pm. After having read some not-so-settling news about things heating up in the south after the assassination I told him how hard it was to be home knowing that the rest of my friends are on base down in the south dealing with the escalation. I spoke too soon, I guess one would say, as I received a call at 6:30 from my officer telling me I have to be at the Southern Command base the next morning as early as possible.

My sister, boyfriend, and I shared some dinner, desserts, and drinks as a bit of a "going away" evening, since I had already been gone for 10 days and I was sure I'd be gone for at least another 10 (this meant a very quick laundry session for my uniforms, socks, and undies).

Operation Pillar of Defense was already in full force and there were countless rockets falling on southern Israel. I had a very scary car ride when I left the other base for my own with my commander later that evening. I'm used to sometimes being "under rocket attack" and having 15 seconds to run to shelter, but I know my surrounding well and I know the routine like the back of my hand, so when I was in the car with my commander and I heard a siren in a city that is over 40km from Gaza I didn't know what to do. I knew I had about one minute and thirty seconds to run for cover but...where is cover? I followed the lead of my commander and ran out of the car to the side of the road where we lied on the ground and covered our heads. I watched as the Iron Dome shot down rocket after rocket out of the sky. It looked a bit like fireworks, and the technology is so amazing you can't help but get excited while watching, still believing you are in some sort of a movie. Back in the car and on the road again we were stopped twice more by sirens before we got out of the city and back to our base.

The next day I moved to another base, as our forces were split up a bit to be more effective in the extreme circumstances. I stayed at this other base for the rest of the week, working and sleeping in a place that is protected from rockets. I saw and experienced a lot during the week but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a movie. I had that I'm-living-through-history-but-I-know-I-won't-understand-until-I-look-at-it-retrospectively kind of feeling. I worried about the civilians in the areas, and I was nervous for my friends, the soldiers on the border with Gaza, constantly waiting to find out if there would be a ground operation or not. One of those soldiers, by the way, was my boyfriend who got called back Friday night to go to the south to join the operation. I had an idea of where he was and was nervous every time I heard that rockets were fired to that area. The fear was intensified during the days when his phone was taken away and I couldn't call to check up with him. It was hard not being able to talk about things on the phone, but it's not worth risking harm to anyone by giving away information over the phone.

The specifics I can't talk about, but I have one, general, resounding feeling from this operation that I haven't felt in the past year. I have spent a year now in the south of Israel, every so often under rocket attack. I know that civilians in the area live a very difficult life and I can't imagine raising my kids in that type of environment. Whatever the reason is for each and every one of them to stay doesn't matter, the reality is that they, civilians, live under constant, intermittent, rocket fire from a terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. I find it tough, sometimes, coming back to Jerusalem after a week of rockets and realizing that no one even knew what was going on 1.5 hrs south of them. It's been the same old story for many years and it certainly doesn't make headline news anymore. I always felt bad, like I was "escaping" to my home away from the situation. This time I think the feeling in the south was that finally, enough was enough and the government was willing to take the risk of retaliation. One couldn't help but feel like this time, people cared. This time it didn't only make every headline of every local newspaper but also internationally, for good or for bad. It took a week long operation, many, many, many rockets (even to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), an unfortunate few casualties, many injuries, and immeasurable property damage, but this time the whole country stood together to defend those under rocket fire.

Whether Operation Pillar of Defense accomplished its goal or not is not up to me to decide, I guess we will see in the coming months the results. Let's hope for the ceasefire to hold as long as possible, and for the citizens of the south, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be'er Sheva, and also Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the rest of the country to go back to leading a normal and safe life.

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