Downtown Jerusalem is deserted apart from Israel Border Police deployed in Zion Square. (photo by Gil Zohar)
It is Oct. 9. My wife Randi calls me while I am riding Jerusalem’s all-but-empty light rail, returning from a bat mitzvah celebration of a forlorn family of tourists from Arizona who are stuck in Israel. We simultaneously hear the air-raid siren blaring as we talk. Fighter jets are screaming overhead. With an edge of panic in her voice, Randi asks me what she should do. I calmly instruct here to follow the Home Front Command orders for civilians, which we have repeatedly reviewed. I’ve downloaded the app on my cellphone.
Our beautiful stone home in downtown Jerusalem, built in 1886, lacks a reinforced steel and concrete bomb shelter, known by the Hebrew acronym MaMaD (Makom Mugan l’Diyur), a protected residential place.
I remind Randi go to the neighbour’s basement apartment quickly but without running, and to wait there. Grabbing Bella our dog, she leaves the apartment door and windows open so that a blast from an explosion will not result in the windows being shattered and glass debris obliterating our house.
Below-grade structures make for poor bomb shelters since poison gas is heavier than air, I think. But there is no alternative. Nine Bedouin children were killed by Hamas rocket fire in the Western Negev. Their village lacked a MaMaD.
We hear the twin boom of Israel’s air defence system, the Iron Dome, intercepting a rocket barrage fired from the Gaza Strip. The strike lights up the sky. The threat is over until the next alert. The media reports that seven civilians living in towns in the periphery of Jerusalem were wounded in the barrage.
At the time of this writing, nearly 1,000 Israeli civilians have been killed, including 260 massacred at the Nova festival near Kibbutz Re’im – an all-night party in the desert. More than 130 civilians and soldiers have been taken hostage and dragged back to Gaza. Apart from 35 Israel Defence Force soldiers who fell in the line of duty, the names of the deceased have not been released.
It remains unclear if Hezbollah will open a full-scale second front from Lebanon. Israel has threatened to destroy Damascus, the capital of Syria, which backs the Shi’ite terror group, should the war broaden to the north.
Families of the kidnapped, missing and 2,200 wounded civilians are begging for news. Israel remains shrouded by military censorship. Nor is the news from the 2.3 million people in Gaza any clearer. Al-Jazeera lists long-out-of-date statistics. Based on data reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Israeli Medical Services, 560 Gazans have been killed. That number is likely to rise substantially.
More than 48 hours from when Hamas attacked and war broke out at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, the IDF spokesperson announces that the army has neutralized the terrorists who overcame 22 cities and villages near Gaza. Israelis are being evacuated from the border area in anticipation of a ground invasion. Some are being housed in empty hotels near the Dead Sea.
I’ve offered our adjoining apartment. All our Airbnb guests have canceled. Apart from El Al, airlines have stopped flying to Ben-Gurion Airport.
The number of the dead, missing and wounded is surreal. The IDF has called up 300,000 reservists in the last 48 hours for what it has termed “Operation Swords of Iron.” Among them is my nephew Guy Carmeli, a Canadian-Israeli dual citizen and veteran tank gunner who lives in Herzliya with his wife Yael and 2-year-old son Oz. Randi doesn’t know of his callup. Maybe she’ll read it here. My wife doesn’t do well with stress.
A press release from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire. The statement reads: “No message has arrived from Egypt and the prime minister has neither spoken, nor met, with the head of Egyptian intelligence since the formation of the government, neither directly nor indirectly. This is totally fake news.”
The implication? Israelis must gird themselves itself for a “long and difficult war ahead,” according to Netanyahu.
The electronic tom-tom drums uniting immigrant Israelis have been busy. As I write this, nine Americans have been confirmed dead, and 10 Brits are assumed to have been killed.
Adi Vital-Kaploun, the adult daughter of Ottawa native Jacqui Vital and her husband Yaron who live in Jerusalem, was kidnapped from her home by the Gaza Strip. Adi’s two infant children, aged 1 and 3, were also taken hostage but were abandoned at the border by their captors who felt the children would slow down the gunmen’s retreat. [On Oct. 11, after the Independent went to press, it was announced that Vital-Kaploun had been murdered by Hamas terrorists.]
There are other Canadians missing, including former Winnipegger Vivian Silver. And there are Canadians who were killed by the terrorists: Alexandre Look, who grew up in Montreal, and Vancouverite Ben Mizrachi; both young men were among those killed at the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im.
Canadian-Israeli Shye Weinstein, who was at the festival, too, documented how he and his friends fled. He described their nail-biting escape to Tel Aviv: “We only slowed down for checkpoints and bodies.”
Nuseir Yassin, who writes the blog @nasdaily, described his conflict as an Arab citizen of Israel: “Personal Thoughts: (not for everyone, feel free to skip) For the longest time, I struggled with my identity. A Palestinian kid born inside Israel. Like … wtf. Many of my friends refuse to this day to say the word ‘Israel’ and call themselves ‘Palestinian’ only. But since I was 12, that did not make sense to me. So I decided to mix the two and become a ‘Palestinian-Israeli.’ I thought this term reflected who I was. Palestinian first. Israeli second. But after recent events, I started to think. And think. And think. And then my thoughts turned to anger. I realized that if Israel were to be ‘invaded’ like that again, we would not be safe. To a terrorist invading Israel, all citizens are targets. 900 Israelis died so far.
“More than 40 of them are Arabs. Killed by other Arabs. And even 2 Thai people died too. And I do not want to live under a Palestinian government. Which means I only have one home, even if I’m not Jewish: Israel. That’s where all my family lives. That’s where I grew up. That’s the country I want to see continue to exist so I can exist. Palestine should exist too as an independent state. And I hope to see the country thrive and become less extreme and more prosperous. I love Palestine and have invested in Palestine. But it’s not my home. So from today forward, I view myself as an ‘Israeli-Palestinian.’ Israeli first. Palestinian second.”
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem.