Working from home, it was after 6 p.m. and my global Teams meeting had just started. Comfortably settled and talking about suppliers, delivery times and prices, my smartphone beeped incessantly – the Code Red missile warning app. More than 350 missiles fired at Israel over the last couple of days.
Rehovot has managed to dodge almost all the missiles. We could see them soaring overhead and hear the guided collision with our Iron Dome anti-missiles. And the nonstop news cycles informed us in real time where rockets were being intercepted.
Since terrorist Khader Adnan died from his hunger strike at an Israeli prison, Israel had been bracing for reaction from the Islamic Jihad in Gaza. In the same way my Canadian cousins warn their loved ones about a pending blizzard – Did you hear the weather report? It’s going to be a cold one. Potential white out. Bundle up. Hurry home. We do the same here but for different reasons – Did you hear the news? Adnan died. Might be terrorist attacks or missiles from Gaza. Be aware of your surroundings. Hurry home.
Sure enough, we felt the reprisals, with about 100 missiles fired from Gaza. Israel waited, preferring to respond at a time and place of its choosing. Our reaction came about eight days later, with the targeted assassination of three Islamic Jihad leaders; their names of no consequence, each responsible for reprehensible terrorist crimes over the years. And, with that, Operation Shield and Arrow began.
Back to Teams. Another siren went off. This one not only coming from my app, but also from outside. “Bruce!” my wife yelled. “Missiles!” “Hurry!” Not sure my European and U.S. coworkers understood when I shouted into my headset, “Missile siren! Gotta go!” Abruptly exiting my meeting, I darted to our TV room … er … reinforced safe room, which doubles as a den in quieter times.
We have about 75 seconds to reach our shelter before a missile hits or, preferably, gets knocked out of the sky – as apposed to the 15 seconds for those living closer to Gaza. Can’t imagine their stress during these times.
We just managed to close the heavy steel door and fortified iron window shutter when “BOOM!” The loudest boom we ever heard. My wife and I almost hit the ceiling, knowing this was more than the reassuring and softer crash of an Iron Dome antimissile intercepting an Islamic Jihad rocket high in the sky. No. This was something much closer, much more ominous.
Numerous calls from friends and family followed. Were we OK? Amazing how quickly news travels. My son texted from the safety of his dorm in the United States – a missile had landed next to his best friend Amit’s home. Then my daughter texted from the relative safety of her work north of Tel Aviv – a missile hit near the home of her best friend (and Amit’s sister) Shira. And on it went. With more chilling calls from neighbours.
I tried rejoining my Teams meeting, to create some normalcy. But I was too hyper, too distracted. Couldn’t focus on discussions about price variances and purchasing systems. I excused myself again, advising them the precariousness of the situation.
Rehovot had suffered a direct hit, due to the malfunction of our Iron Dome system. It was just around the corner, not far from Amit and Shira’s home. Curiosity being a strange animal, I walked the two blocks into what was literally a war zone. A chill engulfed my entire body as my skin crawled.
My favourite bakery nearby became a gathering place for the shocked. I considered buying cookies and cakes for our first responders, then thought better of it – didn’t want the action to be confused with the celebrating Palestinian street, which hands out sweets after such attacks.
The smell of sulfur, carbon and potassium nitrate dominated. A flash back to younger days of playing with cap guns … my mind looking for a safer place.
Time seemed to halt. Somewhat apocalyptic. Traffic snarled and jammed. Red-and-blue flashing lights from police vans, fire trucks and ambulances. Army sappers and Israel’s 669 search-and-rescue unit moving about in their yellow vests. Local and international news crews mustering about. ZAKA – the Orthodox volunteers who collect the remains of the wounded and dead after terror or missile attacks – were scouring the area. There were five wounded, one dead.
Alas, Israelis have learned to move on quickly. Within hours, the streets were reopened, the destroyed building draped with Israeli flags. And I joined another work meeting later that evening, this time much calmer. Again, in search of normalcy and routine. Echoing Herb Keinon from the Jerusalem Post, specific memories of these military operations – whether they last weeks, days or a weekend – quickly fade into the background. It’s difficult to differentiate one from the other: Rains, Summer Rains, Autumn Clouds, Black Belt, Breaking Dawn, Cast Lead, Pillar of Defence and, now, Shield and Arrow. The list goes on, unfortunately.
Israel takes maximum precautions to avoid collateral damage. We are known for our warning methods. Sometimes a “knock on the door,” unarmed missiles skimming the roofs as a warning of incoming rockets. Sometimes dropping leaflets advising of a pending attack. Missions are even aborted when civilians are spotted nearby. But our enemies indiscriminately shoot missiles – hundreds of them – towards Israel, hoping for maximum death, maximum damage. Fortunately, our missile defence system renders much of this arsenal ineffective. Until one gets through. As it did in Rehovot. My little shtetl. Paraphrasing from the Torah – may we be blessed with peace.
Bruce Brown is a Canadian and an Israeli. He made aliyah … a long time ago. He works in Israel’s high-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Brown is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Rockower Award for excellence in writing, and wrote the 1998 satire An Israeli is…. Brown reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.