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Letter From Beersheva

Faye Bittker is a friend of mine, as she is a friend of my daughter's, both of whom work in the administration of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Faye has been a journalist and I asked her for impressions of the crisis that affects all Israeli families living within range of the prolonged rocket attacks by Hamas. She responded with this account:

There are those who would say "the first casualty of war is truth," and there are even those who would say that what Israel is currently undergoing is not a war.

Whatever the case, I am here in Beersheva -- on the "almost" frontlines of the conflict with Hamas -- to tell you the first thing to go when missiles start to fall nearby, is your diet. It could be the chemical high of the carbohydrates, or maybe the immediate kick of the sugar. It might even be the emotional pleasure of indulging in the chocolate in a guilt-free environment.

But my first-hand experience has proven that when sirens are screaming, particularly if it is the second or third alarm in less than an hour, there is nothing more calming than a bite of fudge-filled chocolate cookie. Particularly when shared with the random gathering of strangers in the nearest bomb shelter.

Maybe it is different for people who are alone with the families in their residential "safe room," but since I have spent most of the last two weeks at my office at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in the heart of Beersheva, I have studied the group dynamics of public shelters. All the more so as my office is on the ground floor, so each new alarm brings in a different collection of random passersby.

For even the toughest among us (and I am pretty tough), find it hard to maintain the stoic façade when faced with a child crying loudly in the arms of his panting father who has just done the 100 yard dash to the safe room, or the woman hunched in the corner with tears streaming down her face because she "heard the boom." I have found myself passing out chocolate and cookies, jokes and silly stories. Anything to distract us all from the brutal reality that someone really is trying to kill us.

And not just the immediate "us," but the hundreds of thousands of residents in the cities of Beersheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod, and towns like Sderot, Gedera and everyone else in between. Tens of Israelis have lost their lives or been injured with 20-25 rockets, sometimes 50 falling every day.

According to my understanding of the world, it shouldn't be this way. Israel left the Gaza Strip over three years ago, offering the Palestinians an opportunity to determine their own future. Unfortunately they chose Hamas, a party that advocates Islamic fundamentalism and a commitment to fight for the destruction of Israel. This agenda can only bring death and destruction as Israel is not going to go away. Nor will we average Israelis accept a reality where the Palestinians can shower a region with missiles and go unscathed.

The Home Front Command has closed all the local sports centers, closed the schools and canceled all afternoon activities. My children are now happily turning themselves into couch potatoes aware that no one will tell them to go outside and play. They are second-generation missile-dodgers: I met my husband in a sealed room during the first Gulf War.

Let me say loud and clear: my neighbors and I are willing to pack on a few pounds if it will mean the ultimate destruction of Hamas' ability to shoot missiles at us. We are willing to sit in our safe room until the threat of missiles has been eradicated once and for all.

Do not let the images on the news confuse you. Yes, there is genuine suffering in Gaza. And despite the early warning and humanitarian relief offered by the Israeli Army, many innocent civilians are suffering. But it was the Hamas movement that chose to smuggle in weapons and ammunition to the Gaza Strip when they could have been supplying food, education, and health care to their people, developing their economy and working towards building a future for themselves instead of towards our destruction.

But you don't have to worry about my diet: now that the news has gotten truly bad, with the unnecessary loss of lives of soldiers and innocent civilians and missiles that just keep coming - I am losing my appetite every time I watch the news. I hope this is all over before I develop an eating disorder!

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