An air raid siren is a moan, it is a wail. It is low and dull and yet it pierces through walls and floods your brain with the need for immediate action. Horribly enough, a motorcycle approaching or receding sounds briefly similar.
The children playing outside cease their activity and scatter like birds.
In less than 90 seconds, because that is the zone I live in according to the map helpfully provided by the government, I sit in a bomb shelter with about six other people. We are all pale and frightened. We look to one another blankly as we wait for the explosions. Avi fiddles with the oxygen supply lamely. His wife and daughter are on the floor too. The room is stuffy and a little dirty. Then the explosions come, one after the other. After a stunned second or two, we burst into chatter -- that was close! Did the Iron Dome get it? It got it, of course it got it. We are not to leave for another ten minutes. We never wait that long. Just five or so. We'll see each other again tonight. And tomorrow morning.
In Israel, these situations occur every two or three years. Then there is a new, tense, stasis. Until the cracks once again begin to shift as seismic pressures are wont to do. Nothing ever stays the same. Yet it does.
Israel is a lot like most other countries. No really, it is. We have the equivalent of red necks versus progressive liberals, fighting out their respective values. We have shopping malls and suburbs. We have very big problems that stem from national and historical decisions and choices that ripple down to us faster than we can think our way out of them. We have leaders more interested in getting re-elected than in actually courageously leading. We have corruption and a disproportionate religious right wing influence in our government. We have racism and injustice and police brutality. We have factions, and gun toters who provoke as they fight for their rights according to their interpretation.
You don't have to live in Israel to know that Israel is put under a magnifying glass by world media. Our every decision scrutinized and criticized. Our every wrong made large and even more tragic. Is Matthew Shepherd's death not as dreadful, as sickening as that of Muhamed Abu Kdheir's? That someone was capable of that kind of brutality?
Perhaps the reason the world scrutinizes us so is because we are living the nightmare you are somehow keeping at bay. America and the EU are vast and there are ever so many distractions.
The mass shootings in America in recent years, while alarming, are still sort of -- well, statistics are on your side, right? Imagine if that occurred all within one state. The size of New Jersey. What if every race riot, every inequity, every right wing fundamentalist, every social injustice, every indignity, every wrong were all focused in one place?
Increasingly, the idea that the world is in decline, that something is very wrong, is entering the conversation of ordinary people. It has become much more difficult to ignore the social and economic ills without being seen as minimally naïve.
Yet it is still possible to go to the grocery, step over the homeless guy, pick up some premade Caesar salad, go home and comment snarkily on Facebook memes about gun-toting weirdos somewhere and feel as if in that act, you have submitted your indignation. Knowing full well, in the pit of your stomach that you have done nothing and that these problems are not funny. But, for now, they are not your problems, not really, and you've got to catch up on Season Two of Orange is the New Black. You've got a lot on your mind and so much to keep you entertained; Aldous Huxley must be rolling over in his grave in both intellectual satisfaction and abject horror.
In Israel, we go about our day and pretend that our problems are not happening too. We also comment on Facebook memes and check the weather. Only the injustices, attacks and other horrors we are trying to ignore are say... 45 miles away. That's the distance between Tel Aviv and Gaza. It's a bit tougher to ignore, but you'd be surprised how easily this fact, this proximity, this reality can be compartmentalized. I know. I've done it.
Start Up Nation is thriving on many levels. The creativity and innovation is at an all time high here. And yet our past invades our present, cyclically, in ways that demand our immediate attention. It's hard to comment on Facebook from inside a bomb shelter. It's no joyride to take the bus to work. Even the best playlist on an iPod cannot drown out the nervous glances at the kid with the enormous backpack.
Yiy-yeh b'seder, Israelis say with a shrug. Here there are few buffers between us and them, between the fact that our freedom comes at the price of inhumanity and injustice. From the fact that our lives -- this country -- is being run by self and political interests, from within and without, rather than with the actual wellbeing of its citizens in mind.
The same is true for you. Believe it. It's just been much easier for you to ignore.
If a siren went off in anywhere in the world every time a brutality was committed, every time injustice occurs, every time greedy, weak leaders thought of themselves first, the sound would be deafening to your ears.
Why is there no peace here? Why is there no peace anywhere? Just like you, both Israelis and Palestinians are waiting for real leaders to make courageous decisions, to put themselves on the line for the greater good. It's like waiting for Godot.
Israel is indeed under a magnifying glass. To live under it, to feel the heat of that, creates a kind of stress, a kind of viral despair that is indescribable. There is no "them" when the missiles fall. There are only people looking to their respective leaders with empty eyes.
There are many who say that Israel is scrutinized and condemned because of anti-semitism. Perhaps I am naive but I disagree. Or maybe I just can't wrap my mind around that. I think the world criticizes and condemns Israel because we are a heated microcosm of problems that we share, fear and despise, all over the world. Because we are you. Israel makes the world look in the mirror. And the reflection is too much to bear.
As is the case in Israel right now, with rage and blame surrounding the kidnapping and deaths of Naftali, Gilad, Eyal and Muhammed and the terrible beating of Muhammed's cousin Tariq, it is much easier to knee jerk to condemnation and blame than it is to lift up one's eyes in the midst of that and to begin to ask just how the conditions for these horrible events were created.
But the question is too big, the answers too hard to reach for. So we blame someone else -- anyone else. We are helpless in this sea of complexity with no easy answers. The only thing we can do is to try to stay responsibly informed but not freaked out. To question finger pointing toward any "side" and rather point to the shared responsibility of our leaders and ourselves to get us to a better place. Why do we repeatedly elect those we loathe, those who continually lead us into war and fragmentation and supporting corporate interests?
Perhaps we all need to look not at Israel, but in the mirror