Five long days have passed since the beginning of the “Pillar of Defense” operation. I am summarizing my thoughts with ten words, common terms now redefined for me by the emotions and experiences of this week.
Sirens: I am walking around in Tel Aviv, the cultural and economic center of Israel. The bubble, the hub, the very place where nothing terrible is supposed to happen. The cacophonous blasts of the sirens surprise me; they inform us that we have one minute and 45 seconds (compared to the 15 seconds in the southern city of Sderot) to reach a shelter. The siren is loud and penetrates all.
Fear: The feeling courses through me and will remain until the end of the alert. It reminds me that I am so vulnerable. It shows me that every single object around me has become a target; indeed, that I am one.
Shelter: I have never before entered an armored room to seek refuge. I entered the first building on my way, and as all the other passersby have done, I head towards one of the special rooms, a “strong room,” usually used as guest or storage rooms.
I contemplate its walls, trying to persuade myself that no rocket could pierce them.
But my attention is quickly drawn to the children, who have started to cry. The alert’s ten-minute waiting period is dedicated to calming them down and convincing them that all is OK.
In the shelter, dozens of Israelis previously unknown to one another chat like old friends. I also take part in the conversations; I check the news on my smartphone. A woman, a southerner, says that she has heard the boom of a rocket exploding. She is used to it, she explains; for her this has been the norm for four years.
Comprehension: I would not dare say that after having experienced only one alert I have understood everything. But it is like a first draft: I am starting to see what inhabitants of southern Israel have been living with since 2005. Constant firing, alerts that go off both day and night, damaged houses and rockets’ fragments lying on the streets. And I am ashamed to say that until now I had never realized the terrible reality of their daily lives.
Mutual aid: People are wonderful and show exemplary solidarity. Everywhere in the country, doors are opened for southerners. Friends and family call each other to hear from one another and check in. My Israeli friends make sure that I, the new immigrant, know how to react in case of an alert: “You know, you have never experienced this in Paris; we are used to it already.” You can get used to this?
I adopt the country’s habits and I also call, one by one, my married friends to check if their husbands have been mobilized, and if I can do anything to help.