This piece was contributed as part of our Witnesses of History campaign by Amit Boukai, our CCAP Liaison from our CCAP group at University of Indiana, Students Supporting Israel
A few loud booms woke me up from a dream early one morning eight years ago. I was 12 years old, and knew within five seconds that the booms I heard were the first of hundreds of Katyusha missiles that would reach Haifa from Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon. The war had been declared a couple days before, and as I sat at a Shlomo Artzi concert in the Caesarea Amphitheater one of those nights, I could not take my eyes off the night sky, somehow hoping I would see a rocket fly in and move just in time and save myself.
That morning, as I realized what the booms I heard were, I threw on some normal looking pants, my crocs and sprinted down the stairs to find my grandmother at the stove cooking, and my mom and cousin sitting nonchalantly in the living room. I yelled out to them, “Did you hear the booms?” only to have my grandma respond that it was probably just the navy practicing and not to worry.
The second she finished her sentence the deafening and traumatizing sound of the bomb siren went off and next thing I know it, were downstairs in the building bomb shelter. We knew this day would be coming. When the soldiers were attacked and kidnapped at the Lebanese border the week before, we knew; when Katyusha missiles were flying into Qeryat Shemona and Nahariya nonstop, we knew. We prepared for it, knowing Haifa would be next in a matter of days.
For the rest of that week, my little cousins and I, crammed ourselves into the tiny, mold ridden, bomb shelter, shared with our neighbors from the bottom apartment, whom our family did not get along with. A couple times a day, and a couple times at night, our week consisted of being ready to head downstairs within a minute at the sound of the siren, listening to a small transistor radio. At a certain point when the sirens went off every hour or so at night, we simply took cover in the apartment’s stairs, to a point that my ingenious plan would be to bring a mattress and simply sleep on the stairs. My mom decided at that point she would not make her youngest child, who was raised in America her whole life, endure the further traumatization of rockets and sirens, and we packed up and left the next morning to the Dead Sea in hope of finding a refuge.
When we arrived, the hotels were packed, as it seemed that the whole North of Israel was anywhere south of Haifa. At the Golden Tulip Hotel, where we begged to get the last room, a suite, at a discounted price, you could easily tell who came there on vacation and who was there as a refugee from the indiscriminate missiles falling left and right in the north. We decided to return to the US early that summer, and as I began my 7th grade year, I began my obsession and eagerness to research into what and who Hezbollah is, and why they hate me so much that I deserved to experience immense fear and terror at 12 years of age.
The fall of 2006 marks the period during which I began my quest to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict deeply, and learn what made my country that I loved so dearly, “horrible” to such a point that it warranted terrorism and aggression. What made my people deserve to live a life where our mere existence called for murder by a terrorist aimlessly firing Katyusha missiles, hoping to hit me or the child, men, women or elderly, around me?
This was my first, first-hand experience of war; more specifically, this was my first experience of an asymmetrical war. My naïve and ignorant 12 year old self, who just had her Bat Mitzvah that November, prior; who had spent two weeks earlier that summer, in France on her Bat Mitzvah trip, and who spent a couple days on a cruise to Greece and Turkey, was now adding another experience to her “bucket list”: War. I have known what the word terrorism was since September 11, 2001 and the years after that, when I was not allowed to take any bus while in Israel. I knew what it was and to fear it, but never before that summer of 2006, did I know what it felt like to be under attack by it, then and once again, now. Fast forward 8 years from the moment the Second Lebanon War began, to this past summer where a series of events would lead to, what should simply, in my mind, be called a war, Operation Protective Edge, I found myself under the same threat, terror via rocket fire.
I began this summer on a medical service trip to Etsibeedu, Ghana, a community in the poorest district in the country. I left after ten days with the life changing feelings as expected, and a true change in perspective on life and what’s important, almost forgetting that the country I call home is at a constant state of attempted annihilation by the majority of the region. That was, until news broke about the three missing teenagers in June and there I was, back in the swing of Israel advocacy work, spending the end of June, on a 10 day advocacy trip with CAMERA, only to have it end the morning after those same three teens’ bodies were found, hardly identifiable.
After the CAMERA trip, I returned to my Israeli hometown of Haifa, fueled and ready for what was turning out to be a very tumultuous summer. Riots took over most Arab neighborhoods and villages, from the north through to Jerusalem, where a week prior I had spent almost 10 calm days in, but had now become a hotbed for anti-Israel riots and violence. From Haifa, near the Air Force base Ramat David, we could hear our fighter jets flying out at all hours of the day to strike their Hamas targets, knowing they were protecting the south, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv area from the terrorists who aim and hope only to kill any and all.
As the operation slowly became a full scale military engagement, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad became relentless and terror tunnels were discovered opening up deep into the region surrounding the Gaza Strip; in Haifa, we felt safe, too far north for the terrorists to reach us as hard as they tried. One weary night, they almost succeeded. More so, they did succeed, they succeeded in terrorizing the civilians of Haifa. The Christians, Muslims, Baha’i and Jewish residents, were all awoken at 3:30AM one lovely night, by the same traumatizing siren wail I first heard eight summers prior; the same siren wail that eight years ago, made me incapable of listening to Beyoncé’s Ring the Alarm hit from late 2006, for quite a while, as it used the exact same siren wail.
Once again, as I sprinted down the four flights of stairs to the bomb shelter in my mom’s apartment building and I stood there with only one other family, I asked myself, what did the three young girls holding on to their parents’ pajamas do that they deserve to hear their first traumatizing siren, a warning of an imminent threat to their lives? That night, as my heart rate returned to normal and I returned to my apartment, I posted the following on my Facebook. I posted it not only as an Israel Advocate but as a repeated victim of an asymmetrical war, as an Israeli-American who is 20 years old now, more aware and knowledgeable of the ideology, the reasoning and the hate behind each M-302 Iranian made rocket that was fired towards Haifa.
The siren that just woke me up at 3:30am wasn’t a siren for a small Katuysha or Qassam as they were such an indication for my 12 year old self in 2006.
It was a siren for a 6 meter tall M-302 Iranian Warhead aimed indiscriminately at a city that is half Israeli Jewish, Half Israeli Arab populated, coexisting peacefully for more than a century, along with two Arab Druze villages just a bit south atop the Carmel mountains, unprotected as well.
These girls in the picture below, are my neighbors in the building, I’ve never met. Only two other families of 8, came down to the bomb shelter. These girls, too young to remember or just may not have been alive in 2006, are not used to this war with terror as unfortunately, our fellow citizens of the south are. Tonight they heard their first traumatizing siren, as I heard mine in 2006.
This time, my heart pounds and I’m sweating more than in 2006. I was a naive child then, not aware of the real danger behind the sirens and behind the enemy lines with an aim to kill me. Not anyone specific but me. Then, I began my role as a young Israel advocate, today, I stand with all the training I have and knowledge and exposure, I should be evermore scared. Knowledge is power, and sometimes knowledge can bring about fear, for knowing exactly what it is that threatens your life is more terrifying than living in ignorance.
Thus, just as in 2006, I gained a perspective and passion to fight against those who simply want to destroy these beautiful girls below simply for being Jewish and Israeli, and thus I strongly stand with Israel; for I should never have to be scared in a western,democratic state where I feel I have the same rights as I do in the US. I should never be scared in the land where my family emigrated back to after pogroms around the world 100 years ago and legally bought lands at the top of the Haifan Carmel Mountains. I should never be scared in the land I know the foundation of our three world religions began, nor in the land where King David beat Goliath and later built his kingdom and his sons thereafter. I am not be afraid because we are a strong people.
Although this summer only one siren wailed through the streets of Haifa, the feeling of unease and war did not end there. When I spent two weeks in Jerusalem teaching a Magen David Adom Overseas Course, I took a day off to attend the funeral of Sergeant Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from Los Angeles who was killed in Gaza and laid to rest on Mount Herzl. I, along with about 40,000 more Israelis, old and young, crammed ourselves as close as possible on the hill, to pay our respects to the Steinberg family and to honor Max for defending a country he only came to experience the year or so before on his Birthright trip. What was astonishing and heartbreaking was that it was his parent’s first time in Israel; the death of their son, who died for a country that is as much his, as it is mine, brought them there, to Mt. Herzl.
Those couple hours, brought me to a point I had never reached when I was a twelve year old fleeing Haifa, or when I was the 20 year old running down to shelter earlier that month. I had reached a point where I witnessed the moral in-equivalence between the two sides, because I knew the reality of the meaning of death in this war and conflict. I knew that while 40,000 strangers came together to mourn the death of one young man, who gave his life for a country that did not raise him, those whose ideology and blind hate that perpetuates murder and terrorism in their society, were most likely celebrating and calling Max Steinberg’s death, a victory. I knew that singing “Kumbaya” cannot be enough and that pleas for a truce or peace would not suffice. This conflict isn’t driven by land, borders, or settlements as it is made to seem. It is driven deeper and deeper into the dirt and mud by the continuous incitement to murderously hate the mere idea of me, my six year old cousin, my seventy six year old grandmother, and all other Jews.
Max Steinberg wasn’t just killed for being a soldier in an asymmetrical war, he was killed for being a Jew; just as the three kidnapped teenage boys were brutally murdered for simply being Jews; just as I was not targeted by a Katyusha missile at 12 years old for anything other than being an Israeli Jew; certainly the M-302 Iranian-made missile Hamas smuggled in through Egyptian border tunnels, did not target me now, at 20 years old, for any other reason than being an Israeli Jew; nor did the Bedouin Arab man killed in the south by a rocket attack die for any other reason than, those who shot the rocket, hoped it would hit a Jew. This incitement to hate and kill for an ideology that is backwards, and goes against all that the people of Israel, the people of democracies believe in, must end. In Israel there has been always a saying by our parents to us when we’re young, “When you will be 18, you won’t have to go to the army since there will be no need, there will be peace.” Israelis hope and pray for peace. We protect our children from terror, not educate them to perpetuate it. If I could, I would go back and not let my 12 year old self not go through my first war; but then again, would I really be Israeli if I hadn’t?
Please check our page for more posts from our Witnesses of History. If you have an experience you want to share, please contact CAMERA on Campus and submit your story!