By Jeremy Jacobson
I was unbuttoning my pants when the war came to Tel Aviv.
It was just after 6:30 p.m. and I had recently returned from work and was getting ready to take a shower and head off to meet up with friends.
The sound of the siren was faint at first – so much so that it took several seconds for me to notice it. Then I looked out of my bedroom window down onto Dizengoff Circle – and saw men, women and children running for cover. That was when I understood.
I ran into the living room of my apartment half naked, shouting “tzevah adom!” [literally “color red” – the code for a full scale alert]. My roommate and I ran into the stairwell, leaving behind shoes, shirts, wallets, cell phones… After a minute, huddled in the reinforced stairwell with several neighbors, we heard the “boom,” immediately followed by a woman’s scream from several buildings away. After a few minutes we returned to missed calls and texts from friends all across the city — everyone was checking to be sure their friends and family were safe.
Entering a fifth day now, so-called “tzevah adom” stories abound. One of my friends was riding his bike down Ibn Gabirol, a major Tel Aviv boulevard, when the blast of the siren sent him racing into a shelter with strangers from off the street. There, several people, previously unacquainted, attempted to calm an hysterical woman and her child. Another friend was in a cab with his mother when they were forced to take cover, cowering against a wall as the taxi’s meter continued to run. Another friend was naked, about to step into the shower, and couldn’t find her pants. She now refuses to bathe without an “emergency” outfit within arm’s reach.
And that is exactly what these missiles do. Whether at work, at home or walking down the street, thoughtless, everyday actions have now become stressful, deliberate undertakings. You fear putting in earphones to listen to music or sleeping with the window closed lest the siren be inaudible. Between the office and the bus stop you identify places where, if necessary, you can successfully take cover. Your heart skips a beat when you confuse the sound of an approaching car or bus with the rising moan of the tzeva adom. Your entire life is altered because at any second of the day you may have only 90 more to reach safety.
After five days much of this has become routine. During a tzevah adom, shelters now look like high school cafeterias, as people bury their heads in cell phones, sending mass SMS’s to check in with friends and loved ones and make sure they’re safe. After ten minutes, life goes back to a quasi-normal state, though the rockets continue to dominate everyone’s thoughts and conversation.
All this is after having experienced only five attacks since the first siren burst what is often referred to as the Tel Aviv “bubble.” While Israel’s cultural and economic hub is no longer immune to rockets, we here are still quite lucky. In southern Israel a siren sounds on average every seven minutes, each time leaving residents with as little as 15 seconds to reach a shelter.
When operation “Pillar of Defense” began, a friend who attends Ben Gurion University in Be’ersheva described what sounded like a scene out of a movie. Sirens whaled every five minutes as the streets were filled with civilians running for cover. Explosions and screaming children could be heard constantly throughout the city, he said. Bus and train stations were packed, as hundreds of people attempted to flee north. It was like a war zone.
This morning that same friend – Dror Markus, with whom I grew up in West Hartford and who now lives in Israel and served almost four years in the IDF — received a phone call ordering him to report for reserve duty. He is currently being processed to serve as a combat officer as Israel gears up for a ground invasion to end the constant bombardment and terrorization of its civilian population. Everyone has at least one friend who has already been called up, and many wonder if they will be next.
One day this round will end. The volume of attacks will subside; the reserves will return, and we will be lulled back into the life we once lived. Israel will remain resilient in the face of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to call for the extermination of the Jewish people.
In the meantime, we continue to fight our own war against Hamas here in Tel Aviv, as we emerge from the shelters and return to the cafés and shopping malls after each tzeva adom. As long as we do that, we’ve handed Hamas a defeat just as great as any military force could.
Jeremy Jacobson is a senior intelligence analyst with Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in the Middle East. A native of West Hartford, he is a graduate of the Bess & Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, Hall High School and The George Washington University. He recently received a Masters degree in security and diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
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