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Operation Pillar of Defense: A Normal Lifestyle for Israelis?

war news article photoSome might say Israel is in a constant state of danger and that a lifestyle of war and bombs is somewhat normal for the people who live there. This was definitely the attitude of many Israelis during the recent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis two months ago when I was living there as a full-time student.

On November 14, the chief of the Gaza military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jabari, was killed by Israelis. Jabari was responsible for executing terror attacks against Israel in the past. This tragic event uprooted and intensified the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. As a result, hundreds of rockets were shot back and forth constantly between the sides, endangering hundreds of lives on both sides of the border.

But this was only the beginning of the change in atmosphere. The mission of Operation Pillar of Defense, a seven-day defensive military operation, was “to free the civilian population of southern Israel from the recurrent threat of rocket attacks by terrorists from the Gaza Strip,” according to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. In addition, Israelis wanted to enhance the security situation in Israel and protect its population in southern Israel.

The Israeli Defense Forces blog (http://www.idfblog.com) explains the conflict as follows: “During the next eight days, the IDF targeted more than 1,500 terror sites across the Gaza Strip. For the first time ever — Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups fired long-range rockets, such as the Fajr-5, toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Haaretz reported that more than 3.5 million Israelis were under the threat of Hamas’ rocket fire. More than 1,506 rockets were fired at Israel. Some 800 of them struck Israel and damaged homes and schools. Over 400 rockets were intercepted by the Israeli “Iron Dome,” a highly effective mobile defense system, saving thousands of lives.

Five Israelis were killed with more than 200 wounded from the conflict. But even with constant rockets landing around them, everyone seemed to be living life normally. They shopped, went to work, prayed on Shabbat and used public transportation. Meanwhile, mayhem was going on in Gaza.

As a junior studying abroad in Jerusalem, I was able to experience the conflict first hand. I lived next door to a bomb shelter and my school building’s basement was a bomb shelter. The Israelis are prepared for anything. As soon as things intensified, students and Israeli residents were advised not to leave campus or to be in places with large crowds.

Two days after the conflict began, I was in a taxi and I heard a siren go off as a rocket was launched by Hamas toward Jerusalem. The driver simply said “Oh, a siren. Wow.” He continued to drive, barely responding to the warning. I was shocked by this response. But this was common of native Israelis–everyone acted as if nothing was going on; as if there were no rockets landing 15 miles from them and a bus blowing up in Tel Aviv.

Having never experienced this before, I was constantly in a state of anxiety. But I quickly learned from observing Israelis that this attitude was not necessary. Throughout the 10 days of war Israelis were relaxed and they barely noticed when something happened. No one was anxious; they trusted the Israeli soldiers—some of whom are their sons and daughters–and felt safe. As the days passed, I began to feel safer, knowing the soldiers would take care of things and that I was not in immediate danger.

Days later, a Palestinian protest was in full affect in response to Operation Pillar of Defense just outside the gates of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. People were singing and shouting and running up and down the street. As I walked to class, I observed this, taking it all in, wondering if I should join in. I did, at times, feel like speaking up and taking a side.

Amid the commotion, a city siren went off, declaring that a rocket had been shot into Jerusalem. The campus came to a standstill. Israeli soldiers appeared out of nowhere and sprang into action. Being outside and far from bomb-shelters, everyone hid behind rocks and walls. IDF soldiers dispersed the protest and everyone was accounted for.

This was a very confusing and bewildering experience for me. The attack came as a huge surprise to the city because Jerusalem is home to several Islamic holy sites and a sizeable Arab population. It usually is not considered a target and has not been successfully targeted for 45 years when the Six-Day War engulfed Jerusalem.

On a more personal note, I had never seen soldiers run and take action like the Israeli soldiers and never had I had to kneel down behind a rock to protect myself against anything. But being surrounded by IDF soldiers and native Israelis, I felt very protected and as if I was simply performing a drill instead of actually experiencing a live rocket alert. The rocket landed 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside of Jerusalem, but no damage was done.

Upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I was terrified as tensions between Israel and Hamas had been escalating for months before I got there. I knew that I would be living in a constant state of danger and that at any point in time the situation between Israel and Palestine could intensify and potentially affect me.

Well I was right to be terrified at first; only later I realized there was no need to feel this way while the conflict was going on, surprisingly. In response to the conflict, my program at Hebrew University did an excellent job of reassuring us and keeping us safe.

Almost every class I had during the conflict incorporated the war into its discussions. In my Hebrew class, we were each asked our opinion of the war and what we felt Israel should do. The university provided us with lectures updating us on the situation and going over the procedures of how to react should something occur in Jerusalem. We were warned to stay off public transportation and crowded public places such as the Israeli shuk (market).

These ten days of my experience were scary and somewhat dangerous, they were probably the most enriching and astonishing days of my time in Israel. These ten days will never be forgotten and being at the center of a war that has divided these peoples for at least a century will be a constant presence in my life.

I can’t help but think of this as a study abroad like no other, both for what I learned outside the classroom and how it changed me.

As a junior studying abroad in Jerusalem, I was able to experience the conflict first hand. I lived next door to a bomb shelter and my school building’s basement was a bomb shelter. The Israelis are prepared for anything. As soon as things intensified, students and Israeli residents were advised not to leave campus or to be in places with large crowds.

Two days after the conflict began, I was in a taxi and I heard a siren go off as a rocket was launched by Hamas toward Jerusalem. The driver simply said “Oh, a siren. Wow.” He continued to drive, barely responding to the warning. I was shocked by this response. But this was common of native Israelis–everyone acted as if nothing was going on; as if there were no rockets landing 15 miles from them and a bus blowing up in Tel Aviv.

Having never experienced this before, I was constantly in a state of anxiety. But I quickly learned from observing Israelis that this attitude was not necessary. Throughout the 10 days of war Israelis were relaxed and they barely noticed when something happened. No one was anxious; they trusted the Israeli soldiers—some of whom are their sons and daughters–and felt safe. As the days passed, I began to feel safer, knowing the soldiers would take care of things and that I was not in immediate danger.

Days later, a Palestinian protest was in full affect in response to Operation Pillar of Defense just outside the gates of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. People were singing and shouting and running up and down the street. As I walked to class, I observed this, taking it all in, wondering if I should join in. I did, at times, feel like speaking up and taking a side.

Amid the commotion, a city siren went off, declaring that a rocket had been shot into Jerusalem. The campus came to a standstill. Israeli soldiers appeared out of nowhere and sprang into action. Being outside and far from bomb-shelters, everyone hid behind rocks and walls. IDF soldiers dispersed the protest and everyone was accounted for.

This was a very confusing and bewildering experience for me. The attack came as a huge surprise to the city because Jerusalem is home to several Islamic holy sites and a sizeable Arab population. It usually is not considered a target and has not been successfully targeted for 45 years when the Six-Day War engulfed Jerusalem.

On a more personal note, I had never seen soldiers run and take action like the Israeli soldiers and never had I had to kneel down behind a rock to protect myself against anything. But being surrounded by IDF soldiers and native Israelis, I felt very protected and as if I was simply performing a drill instead of actually experiencing a live rocket alert. The rocket landed 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside of Jerusalem, but no damage was done.

Upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I was terrified as tensions between Israel and Hamas had been escalating for months before I got there. I knew that I would be living in a constant state of danger and that at any point in time the situation between Israel and Palestine could intensify and potentially affect me.

Well I was right to be terrified at first; only later I realized there was no need to feel this way while the conflict was going on, surprisingly. In response to the conflict, my program at Hebrew University did an excellent job of reassuring us and keeping us safe.

Almost every class I had during the conflict incorporated the war into its discussions. In my Hebrew class, we were each asked our opinion of the war and what we felt Israel should do. The university provided us with lectures updating us on the situation and going over the procedures of how to react should something occur in Jerusalem. We were warned to stay off public transportation and crowded public places such as the Israeli shuk (market).

These ten days of my experience were scary and somewhat dangerous, they were probably the most enriching and astonishing days of my time in Israel. These ten days will never be forgotten and being at the center of a war that has divided these peoples for at least a century will be a constant presence in my life.

I can’t help but think of this as a study abroad like no other, both for what I learned outside the classroom and how it changed me.

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