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Reesa Cohen Stone

Former Winnipegger Reesa Cohen Stone from Beer Sheva, Israel, Dispatch #2: I'm so not in the mood for war

by Reesa Cohen Stone, May 15, 2021

On Monday May 10, Jerusalem Day, we set out from Beer Sheva to a town near Rechovot for a wedding. It was our first wedding in 17 months. In fact, it was our first anything in 17 months. Corona was basically behind us; Israel is just about back to normal. The kids are in school. Shops, restaurants and hotels are open. Sporting events are taking place. Masks are coming off. People are back at work, and everyone is planning their summer vacations.

But this is Israel, and stuff is always happening here; riots in Sheik Jarrah and at Damascus Gate; flag parades through the Old City; rockets on the villages near Gaza; drive-by shootings and other terrorist activities – just another day in the Holy Land.

On the way to the wedding, we listened to the news – sirens had been sounded in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Explosions had been heard, but nobody was sure if there was damage. This is not an everyday occurrence!, and I immediately phoned my daughter who lives in an older neighborhood in the city.

She had heard the sirens, and being a southerner and experienced, she recognized the sound. It took her a few seconds to react, but she ran into the stairwell of her building and waited there until she heard the booms. But she was the only one. Her neighbors did not understand what was happening.

The wedding was in a town close to an airbase. All evening long we heard planes taking off. We kept checking the news – there were no more rocket attacks on Jerusalem, but the Gaza envelope was being hit, and it was announced that all schools were closed in a 40 km radius of Gaza.

“I’m so not in the mood for war”, I said. I have two sons doing reserve duty near Shchem (that had nothing to do with what was happening), a daughter hearing gunshots and stun grenades from the riots in Jerusalem, a son with kids who, after finally settling back to school after a year of staying home, were again told to stay home and he would probably get an army call-up soon, and another daughter home alone waiting for the sirens. Who should I worry about first?

That night, Tel Aviv was badly hit, and by morning – after a sleepless night listening the planes fly and waiting for a siren that didn’t come, it was apparent, that, despite my mood, we were, once again, at war with the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza.

My Facebook page was full of information: buses were running, but some trains were not; schools were closed, but shops were open; only people who had easy access to a protected space or a shelter were to go to work, it was recommended that those who don’t should stay home.

My building where I work does not have an official safe room. Employees were told that crouching under the stairs is ‘perfectly safe’. I went to work.

Beer Sheva was quiet that Tuesday. I spent a good portion of my time at work reading news updates showing the riots in Lod where synagogues had been torched and other properties had been destroyed by Arab Israeli citizens. Bombs were flying in the Tel Aviv area, destruction was considerable.

That night, Beer Sheva stopped being quiet. We all knew it was coming, the tension was thick. Most people had kept close to safe spaces, knowing that any second the warning sirens could start. Public shelters had been opened and cleaned out, families who had private safe rooms in their homes put their children to sleep there, and there were several posts on Facebook from friends preparing to run to outdoor shelters or stairwells, “I’m putting on my prettiest pajamas tonight, just in case!”

My family is lucky. We have a safe room in the house. My computer is there along with a bunch of other junk. It used to be my Jerusalem daughter’s bedroom. 

When the sirens roared at 3 AM, I don’t think anyone was surprised. What was surprising was that they continued to sound for more than half an hour – one salvo after another after another. We heard many explosions, over 20. We couldn’t tell what hit and what was Iron Dome. There was no more sleep for me that night.

I went to work again the next day, but, exhausted, I left early. Instead, I went to babysit my grandkids at their house. And sure enough, half an hour into my visit, the sirens sounded again. The younger kids were only mad that I bodily picked them up and took them away from the computer, but the older one, aged 8, needed some assurance that we were safe in the safe room.   

Later that day, I received a whatsapp from the new manager at work, who, until that day, had not experienced a missile attack while working in our building, telling us not to come to work on Thursday, as crouching under the stairs was, in her opinion, NOT safe.

I was happy to comply.

Since then, Beer Sheva, and the rest of the country, has experienced an enormous amount of missile attacks – over 2400 in fact, reaching as far north as Nazareth, and as far south as Eilat. Each missile has the potential to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of people. Israel has invested millions in protecting its citizens by building shelters, safe rooms, and the Iron Dome missile system.

This is not, as one of my Facebook friends put it, my first rodeo. I can’t count the wars and operations and attacks I’ve experienced. What’s different this time around is 1) As the meme said, Hamas did not use this past Corona year to learn how to make sourdough bread, but rather in stockpiling missiles. The number of missiles being sent at the same time is far greater than in the past and our Iron Dome can’t get them all. The damage to property has been extensive. What is far worse, however, is that many more people have been killed and injured mostly because they could not get to a safe space fast enough. The missiles are aimed at civilian cities, towns, and villages that have no military value. Their only purpose is to kill civilians.

The other difference is the horrifying rioting in the mixed towns – Lod, Haifa, Akko, and even here in Beer Sheva, where an 18-year old was stabbed in the chest for being Jewish. His father davens in our shul. This phenomenon is terrifying. Neighbors, colleagues, employees, students, almost all younger than 23 and male, have risen up, vandalizing, destroying, and burning.

We know that these rioters don’t represent the Arab population of Israel, any more than the Jewish thugs represent the Jewish population.

We know that, sooner or later, this too shall pass. We just hope and pray that it will be sooner rather than later.

Israel is here to stay. Nothing will change that. 

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