Vignettes from life under conflict

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#1

In a seminar about the impact of military service on Israeli society, deeply debating whether the IDF is an Israeli army or a Jewish one, and whether it or its government are to blame for its mistakes.

The first incoming rocket siren sounds. We sit in the basement shelter a little sheepishly as 9-year-old ballerinas cry in confusion around us.

#2

Going to bed prepared to head to the shelter in the middle of the night: sandals by the door, only one latch locked, wearing clothes, and leaving the window open to hear the siren better.

Wondering what preparations Gaza families make before going to sleep.

#3

In Jerusalem when the second siren sounds. My office laughs nervously as we rush into the safe room.

A catch: there’s a big window in the room. The seconds are ticking away as two scrawny people try to pull the blast shield closed. Someone suggests giving up but others protest, the window is Gaza-facing. The biggest, burliest person reaches over and yanks it closed. A distant boom is heard — it impacted a kilometer away in Bethlehem. We go back to work, giggling nervously and incredibly thankful knowing we get 90 seconds of warning. Residents in the south and children in the Strip get no warning, they just die suddenly.

#4

Walking in the shopping areas of Tel Aviv while showing some unfortunately-timed tourists around our neighborhood. Always keeping an eye on which building looks the best to find cover if the siren goes off.

#5

Watching Twitter reports from Jerusalem about a bus bombing in Tel Aviv. Tweet appears: bus was five minutes walk from my apartment.

#6

Texts and emails from friends around the world checking on me. Having to tell them oddly that actually we don’t think about it much and life feels pretty safe. Oddly.

Terror in my city

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I have lived in conflict zones. I have traversed the hills of the West Bank, often alone. I have visited refugee camps and ghettoed villages. I have climbed walls and circumvented checkpoints to see for myself if they really prevented terrorism. I have seen militants with guns empty full clips into the air. In these moments, I have been forced to consider whether I would lay down my life for my cause. What did I gain by putting myself in danger?

Tonight, I consider that I am living in our country’s biggest bullseye. The Twin Towers fell here two weeks before I started college and defined my entire undergrad experience. Five years ago, I moved to New York City just as the city was regaining its confidence. Last weekend, a terrorist left a car full of explosives a half mile from my work. It failed to detonate; they pulled him off a plane to the Middle East; they will charge him in court.— I almost didn’t even notice the tabloid covers. I learned a whole day later. The boyish face of a Pakistani terrorist cheerily greets me at every newstand. Many people didn’t even notice.

Sderot was bombarded on and off for seven years. As a periphery development town, abandoned by the wealthy and tourists alike, few in Israel among the political elite cared. Only when it was convenient for photos ops. Walking through the Tel Aviv shuk in summer 2008, volunteers passing out “red alert” solidarity bracelets were ignored. Only I and several other Americans bought them, for 5 shekels. Even in Israel, terrorism can become banal.

I do not trivialize terrorism. Several close friends work just three blocks from Times Square. Countless work associates criss-cross through that subway station daily. Living in a big target reminds me that my work is real. I do not solve problems of people who live far away; I work on ending the hovering fear that shadows my own country, city, friends, self.

If ending the specter of terrorism is partly — even slightly — alleviated by an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then in another way of looking at it, the life I end up saving could be my own.