This is what it's like in Israel when there is a rocket attack. I'm doing whatever I'm doing -- folding laundry, unwrapping a sandwich, crossing the street -- when a siren begins to wail. It oscillates loud-soft, loud-soft, like a swing approaching-receding, approaching-receding.
The people around me have mixed reactions. Most rush for shelter. One woman huddles on the ground, with her knees to her chest, in tears. Some teens, nonchalant, lean against a wall, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Like most foreigners, I skittishly follow the "guidelines for an event of missile attack," which boil down to, "duck and cover away from things that could collapse or shatter."
There is a boom and a smoke cloud in the sky to the east. The siren continues. There is another boom and two smoke clouds to the south. The siren stops. Three rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome, Israel's highly effective missile defense system.
The teens are snapping pictures of the smoke clouds with their phones. A stranger helps the crying woman to her feet. People come out from cover and go back to doing whatever they were doing. I continue crossing the street, unwrapping a sandwich, folding laundry.
The variable reactions are due to individuals' previous experiences. People who have grown up with sirens, but have never witnessed a tragedy are desensitized. People who have suffered trauma related to this 50-plus year conflict are hypersensitive. I don't feel like I belong to this scene, or that I am entitled to a marked reaction. I try to be stoic and inconspicuous.
This is not what happens when rockets are sent to Gaza. They have no defense system. Although I have not witnessed it first hand, by most accounts missiles to Gaza bring fire, screams, chaos, and death. They obliterate their terrorist targets, but these targets are located in heavily populated areas. Based on population density numbers, it's like trying to take out basement terrorist liars in downtown Boston with long-range missiles. The missiles hit the targets and more. Israeli leaders claim they are trying to minimize civilian deaths, and yet the UN estimates about 70 percent of the fatalities have been civilian. The numbers keep rising, but the death toll from rockets approaches 200 in Gaza and remains zero in Israel.
The sides are not the Palestinians of Gaza against the Jews of Israel. The sides are parties within the State of Israel and terrorists of Hamas, and both of these sides should be condemned by the international finger-pointers.
However, the difference in apparent moral culpability lies in the nature of the shields protecting each side. The State of Israel has the Iron Dome, which vaporizes offensive strikes into cloud puffs, whereas Hamas hides behind a human shield, the civilians and innocents of Gaza. Both sides understand the difference between these shields. Neither is ceasing their fire. The international community rightly expects Israel to take the higher ground, to spare the innocent Gazans, but we should not forget that Hamas is sacrificing the people they claim to be liberating. They fire at Israel to free the Palestinians, and then they hide behind the Palestinians when Israel fires back.
The physical threat of rockets in Israel is nominal. Fewer than ten injuries have resulted from over 800 missiles. But the emotional and mental toll is substantial. Yes, some Israelis are even Instagramming the failed attacks, mocking them. But that woman crying on the pavement, she has felt the worst of this endless conflict. Maybe she has been in a bus bombing or witnessed someone beaten to death or lost a child. For whatever reason, for her and many others in Israel, every siren symbolizes past pain and imminent loss. This is not a healthy psyche for a country. There are too many decades of trauma for Israeli political leaders to not support firing back.
You still say, "Why doesn't Israel just do the right thing and stop?" It's a good question. The answer is probably similar to that of, "Why doesn't the United States pass gun control legislation?" It's because political popularity, not morals, are dictating the ethics and action.
My point is that you can condemn Israel's recent behavior, but do it with awareness and empathy.
Annelia Alex writes a regular blog at bannelia.com