Bringing Israel's Reality Home: 'We May Have to Hang Up If We Hear Sirens'

08/06/2014 11:15 pm ET | Updated Oct 06, 2014

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This one isn't funny. I don't even have any insight. But I have to share.

Everything I know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I have learned from researching on the Internet in the past two weeks. As an American whose best friends have been Jewish my whole life, I knew enough -- that is, I knew that it was a clear-cut situation. The U.S. is on Israel's side. Of course we are. And what else did I know?

All I knew was that there was an ancient hatred. Literally hundreds of years old. A distrust of historic proportions. Stolen lands. Perpetually persecuted people. Artificial solutions. Human shields. Terrorist groups. Female soldiers. Rockets being launched, over and over again.

You can fill in which side you think each of those phrases applies to. I thought I knew enough to have a position. But I was wrong. I experienced something two weeks ago, and it rocked my world. My isolated, protected, and insular American world.

I was on a phone call with some people in Israel. They start the phone call by saying, "I need to give a disclaimer here that I have been giving for a few weeks. It feels unreal, but we may hear sirens during our call, and if we do, we have to go. We won't be able to explain at the time, so we have to explain this now. We will dial back in as soon as we can." At the time I didn't hear the speaker very well, and I wasn't sure what I'd heard. But I'd heard enough. Enough to be shaken.

Did they just explain that they may be attacked while we are talking and have to evacuate? Yes. And did they also just explain that after this happens/may happen/will happen, they will dial back in? Is this so commonplace that they can just pick up where we leave off?

It happened during the call. One of the members heard a siren and announced that she had to go. Her line went dead. They made an almost casual reference to the fact that she had dropped off. There is no cell reception in the shelters, we are told. We go on with our call. Because that is what they do. A few minutes later she joins the call again.

I have no concept of how much danger my counterparts are in until she rejoins and apologizes. She says there was a big explosion as she headed to the shelter. "Everything is OK now."

Everything is OK now. Right. We go on. Having an intelligent exchange and discussion. Making progress on our task at hand. All the while, my colleagues are in danger. At any moment they may have to flee to a shelter. But don't worry. They will dial back in.

Please understand that I am in no way judging the coping mechanism. I am not devaluing the approach to life while under siege. I am expressing my shock that this is their constant condition. That their coping mechanism must include this eventuality. Mine does not. I have an emergency backpack for each member of my family. We have a meeting place. Extra tennis shoes. Tampons. A plan for earthquakes, tsunamis, brush fires. But we have nothing that compares to this.

When I say this rocked my world, what I mean is that it is the first time in my life that I have talked to someone who was in clear and present danger -- at least that I knew of. This is the reality for people living in and around Israel, of any ethnicity. Certainly, Americans have been in danger. We have been attacked here. Plenty of Americans have fought, been injured, and died in such danger. I do not minimize that. But rarely does this danger happen here, during our day-to-day life. Our crisis management does not include a response plan for missiles being launched. Theirs does. It brought it home for me in a way that had not happened before, and as an intellectual I set about to learn.

That's how I deal with things that are overwhelming, you see. The way to understand is to study, to read, to examine. Logic is always my shield.

So, clutching my shield, I searched for history, for background, for some facts. I found some. A lot, actually. (It was hard to find neutral information, even a map. I did find the map here from ChrisO at Wikimedia Commons.) I read. And I watched. And now I know a tiny amount about both sides of this issue. In America it is still controversial to take any position against Israel, and I am not doing so here. Not because I am afraid to be controversial. No.

Because for the small amount of study that I have done, I am nowhere near able to form an opinion as to who's right and who's wrong or which side to take. For me to do so would be disrespectful, even arrogant. This is not an blog post about who is right and whom the U.S. should support. This is just about me sharing that I was shaken awake, shocked by their reality. It makes me feel stupid and foolish that I was so surprised. But it is what it is, and I wanted to share.

For my colleagues, this is their reality. Every day. People, people on both sides, are in danger. Constantly. People are being killed. A lot of people.

But they are so far away from us. That doesn't touch me. Doesn't affect my life. Until it does. But don't worry: They will dial right back in.