For those Israelis fortunate enough to have been spared a childhood in which the sound of air-raid sirens and running to bomb shelters is a matter of course, the first experience of hearing the unmistakable wail of the Red Alert system as an adult is particularly unnerving.
For me, I was a new immigrant in the country, living with my wife and small children in the city of Beit Shemesh for just less than a year when my parents came to visit — their first trip to Israel.
I had picked my parents up at the airport earlier that day, and my wife had left to pick up our daughter from preschool. Though open hostilities with Hamas-controlled Gaza had flared up again that week, our city — entrenched in the middle of the country in the Jerusalem foothills — was officially outside the range of the Palestinian-fired rockets. Unlike our fellow citizens to the south and west, we were under no orders to stay within a particular distance of a shelter, and life largely continued normally.
Then the siren went off. The undulating tones sounded distant at first — I don’t think my mother even noticed it — and I calmly escorted my parents into the cheder atum, a sealed room that all new residential units have in Israel and that we were using as a children’s bedroom, under the guise of checking on the baby. I shut the heavy door behind us and waited for an all clear message. It was then that my mother realized what was going on.
Though the official explanation was that the sirens had gone off by mistake, we clearly heard an explosion to our south and, indeed, news reports the following day indicated that an errant rocket had landed not far away. All in all, the entire experience pales in comparison to what those living near Gaza, in communities like the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s partner region of Sdot Negev and Netivot, must live through on a near-daily basis.
But with the firing of more than 400 rockets at Israel from the night of Nov. 11 through Nov. 13 and the destruction of buildings as far away as Ashkelon, I couldn’t help but recall the apprehension I felt (but didn’t display) so many years ago.
That the most recent hostilities are suspended according to the terms of a hastily negotiated ceasefire is questionable. Indeed, Hamas hasn’t tended to give much credence to such “agreements” in the past.
What is remarkable, however, is that despite the massive retaliation by Israel, which included the destruction of a television station Israel said was being used to promote terroristic propaganda, few civilians were among the casualties. In fact, according to the Palestinian terror groups themselves, all three of the Palestinian deaths on Monday were of admitted terrorists.
Contrast such restraint with the Palestinian tactic of indiscriminately firing rockets at population centers, attacks that claimed the life of an elderly man whose house collapsed in a direct hit. Or contrast the Jewish state’s resolve to protect civilian lives wherever possible in Gaza — even going so far as to fire warning shots at targeted buildings to allow people to escape — with Hamas’ announcement in the wake of the ceasefire that the next time it fires rockets it will aim them at Haifa, effectively putting all of Israel in the range of its weaponry. Were I living in Beit Shemesh today, I’d be more than a little concerned.
Of course, that’s the point of terrorism, which holds baby as well as adult, civilian as well as soldier as equally acceptable — or even more valuable — targets. To Hamas, essentially, all of Israel and anyone living inside of it is worthy of destruction.
It’s not all that different from the mind of a gunman who walks into a synagogue convinced that Jews are the root of his nation’s problems, and murders congregants one by one, as happened three weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
And yet, while organizations and leaders the world over, representing close to the entire gamut of religions, united in condemning the kind of anti-Semitism that made the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue possible, we don’t see that kind of unity in condemning the kind of anti-Semitism that has made possible the targeting of Jewish Israelis by Hamas and the pillaging of its own people in Gaza in support of that tactic.
That’s not only a shame, but its reflective of a certain moral bankruptcy. The failure to condemn anti-Semitism in all of its forms is a stain on mankind, proof of a tendency to regard some lives — in this case, those of Israelis — as less valuable as even their Jewish cousins in Pittsburgh.
Everyone who spoke up in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting must do so again: Ideologies motivated by hatred must not be allowed to govern any people that aspires to call themselves free.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]