I am an American Master of Arts (MA) student living in Israel. Appropriately enough, I am studying for an MA in Middle Eastern Studies, and, a month ago, I received an education that can’t be taught in the classroom.
For one week, I shared an experience that makes up a lot of the narrative and mindset of millions of people living in the Middle East, and one which binds them together. Simply stated, I shared the collective feeling of fear, terror, and national pride. This came as a result—for us in Israel—from being targeted indiscriminately by rockets and bombs sent by Islamic militants.
On Thursday, November 15, I was on the 12th floor of a building in the heart of Tel Aviv next to the beach, playing music with some Israelis for a performance we were having on Shabbat. As we began our first song, the lead singer suddenly stopped, quieted us down and said, “Is that the siren?” We all listened closely and heard the unmistakable moans of the Red Alert Siren.
That moment was surreal. Panic set in as we tried to hurriedly put our shoes back on, grab our phones, and decide where we needed to go for some kind of safety. We figured the stairwell was the best place and made our way toward it.
Before we got there, the siren stopped and was immediately followed by the sound of the explosion that rattled the building. We learned later that the rocket landed in the water. This marked the first time since the Persian Gulf War in 1991 that Tel Aviv was targeted by rockets, and also the first time that the Red Alert Sirens sent Tel Avivians into the miklat, or bomb shelter.
After that first siren, we heard sirens for four consecutive days and twice that Sunday.
Talk of a ground invasion and stories of where people were when the siren went off dominated our daily conversation. For instance, if you were on a bus (which I was the second day) the story involved a bus driver that wouldn’t stop until everyone made enough commotion explaining that, indeed, it was the siren that was going off. The bus driver would then pull over and open the doors; people would run out and fall to their stomachs, wait for the siren to stop, hear the loud boom, and then race back to the bus before he left them there—if he hadn’t already while they were cowering.
Eventually, I adopted the same kind of nonchalant mentality as the bus driver. It made it easier when the Iron Dome was installed and began knocking rockets out of the sky—thank God for American tax dollars.
However, the mood changed again, especially among us foreigners studying at Tel Aviv University, when on the day of the cease-fire, November 21, there was a bus bombing by an Arab Israeli. One felt a real sense of danger and possible escalation such as or maybe worse than the Second Intifada.
As I sit here in the dorms of Tel Aviv University, being thankful for the cease-fire and de-escalation, I can’t help but think, however, that the roof of the Middle East—our Pillar of Defense—is still only made of glass; and that while shards have fallen so far, it still has yet to fully shatter. There is an unspoken sense that it will someday. If that does happen, no sense of security from the Iron Dome will make things better. The collective roof needs to be changed, which requires a collective effort to do it. Only this will make any long-term security feel real.