On the tenth day of Operation Protective Edge, the ground war has just started. Today, it really hit me— the great dissonance between the reality of missile attacks and red alerts, and going about our lives. This was really driven home for me yesterday when I visited one of Israel’s army bases near Gaza.
I went to see one of my relatives who has been called up along with some 50,000 reserve soldiers. He was drafted as soon as Operation Protective Edge began and is based at a temporary military base near Gaza. Last night we were allowed to visit him so we could bring him some new supplies and more importantly, give him a very, very big hug. It is the only advantage of having the fight so close to home – our troops, our loved ones, are close by.
When we were driving down south, not more than one hour from our home in central Israel, I prepared myself to enter a war zone of ghost towns, devoid of all but military traffic. The reality I encountered was very different: We took our solider out for dinner at Ofakim, a town not too far from Gaza and a frequent missile target. First, we confirmed the location of the nearest bomb shelter. Then we sat down for dinner. The place was busy and the food delicious. We saw children ride their bikes alone. We saw families going out for an evening walk and others for their daily jogging. Life goes on even just a few miles from Gaza.
We drove our relative back to his base, which 10 days ago was an open field. It is not much more than sand, dust and many, many tents, tanks and soldiers. It was hard seeing him leave the car and walk away. But not for one second did he, or the thousands of soldiers with him, complain. They know this is what being Israeli means, and they are proud of that.
This morning began with a hope for a few hours of quiet, when both Israel and Hamas agreed to respect a UN request for a “five-hour unilateral humanitarian pause.” This would have allowed supplies to be delivered to Gaza, starting at 10 a.m.Israel time. Although Hamas agreed, they did not hold fire. Rockets from Gaza continued throughout the “cease-fire.” Israel, however, refrained from bombing, as agreed.
The hopes were that the five-hour cease-fire would eventually be extended and follow the original Egyptian peace initiative that Israel has accepted and Hamas rejected.
Before dawn today, IDF forces identified 13 terrorists who attempted to enter into Israel through a tunnel – part of a network Hamas has burrowed under the Egyptian border for smuggling goods and weapons — from the Gaza Strip. The terrorists well-armed and carried several weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades. If this group hadn’t been caught by Israel, it would have succeeded in penetrating an Israeli community and attacking residents from the ground. Throughout the IDF operation to stop these terrorists, local residents were asked to remain locked in their homes.
At 2:58 p.m., minutes before the five-hour humanitarian cease-fire ended, rockets were fired across Israel. Throughout the afternoon, Israel has been under massive and constant missile firing from Gaza.
Earlier today 20 rockets were found hidden at one of UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools in Gaza. UNRWA condemns the cynical use of a school in the middle of Gaza to hide missiles.
I know it’s hard to understand how under these circumstances ordinary life in Israel goes on: People go to work, kids to day camps and in between sirens, we manage. I just returned from spending the day with one of our JMI teen groups by the Dead Sea. The desert was packed with tourists from all over the world, enjoying one of the most beautiful places on earth.
And out in a dusty field, my relative, along with all the other reservists, waits knowing they are going into a ground war we do not seek. God willing soldiers like my relative and his comrades, all of our children, will return home fast, safe, well and sound.
JCC Israel Center