My experience on the border yesterday really shook me up. I had a hard time falling asleep; the images of the day â€“ the sights, smells and sounds spiraling in my head. I also watched two hours of Sky News before going to bed, which probably did not work in my favor. At around 5 am, I woke to the rumbles of F-16’s. I live in Tel Aviv and I could hear the fighter jets flying low over my apartment. I always remember my friends, who lived here during the first Gulf War, telling me how war is always the scariest at night. I couldn’t help but think what it must feel like in Gaza City or in Sderot.
My insider on the other side, Haled in Gaza City, told me that he finally made it home and spent the night huddled in the dark with his family around one lit candle. They had lost two cousins and an aunt since the fighting began. They attended a funeral and then ate a can of tuna for dinner. Explosions continued to boom throughout the night.
Just 20 km over the border, Sderot residents were experiencing a similar type of fright. The Rosenkrantz family had to call the family doctor over, because their youngest son, Amir was having uncontrollable panic attacks. He ended up strangling the family dog. Amir spent most of today undergoing counseling â€“ in a bomb shelter. His mother begged her husband to pack up the house so that they could go and stay with family in Jerusalem.
For me, today was not spent dodging missiles or running for cover as the Red Dawn Alert emergency siren wailed. Today, I was stationed with the Channel One Arabic team, who told me war stories. Danny, a senior correspondent, reminisced about the multiple wars he had covered over the years. He told me about his time in Gaza City, traveling around the remote villages there. I asked him if he missed being a war reporter. He said, â€œLeah, every reporter deserves their chance to get in on the action, to be on the frontlines. My time is over for that, it’s your turn to see how dark and dirty this part of the world can truly be.â€
My first interview of the day was with Education Minister Yuli Tamir. She was attending an educational conference in Tel Aviv on the provisions being made for those children in the south who will be spending their days in bomb shelters rather than at school.
Most Israeli schoolchildren will return to the classroom tomorrow following the Chanukah vacation, but not some 50,000 kids in communities surrounding Gaza. This, following a decision by Tamir and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to cancel school there even as the holiday break comes to an end. Tamir told me that the cabinet also decided to activate the National Emergency Authority, which places communities in the south in a special situation. This means that the Israel Defense Forces are granted extra authority in dealings with the civilian population. The IDF can issue orders for residents to remain in bomb shelters or not to go to school or work; to allow greater coordination between the army and local authorities; and to provide the civilian population with basic supplies if such a situation arises.
I asked Tamir how difficult it must be for the children of Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot, as well as other students from the Gaza periphery. She hinted to me that it is even more difficult for the parents. (I thought about Amir and the dead family dogâ€¦) â€œThe children just think they have an extended vacation,â€ she said. But she told me that they are not taking any chances. The Education Ministry has set up special online classrooms where kids can get their homework assignments and learn lesson plans so they do not fall behind. Also, some 300 female students who are performing national service as teachers will help children with their studies inside bomb shelters and protected spaces. Teachers in the area have also begun to locate students in distress, in order to provide them with extra lessons. Some parents are going as far to find families in the center of the country willing to adopt their children until things quiet down.
In my further research to find out how the Gaza periphery younger generation is doing, I stumbled upon a website that is making headlines in the country right now: joinmylife.co.il, a blog written by teens living in Sderot, Ashkelon and other southern Israeli cities. Readers of Hebrew can learn more in this article in Yediot Ahronot.
17-year-old “Andre” writes:
“6 ××–×¢×§×•×ª, 6 ×˜×™×œ×™×, ×‘×¡×””×› 120 ×©× ×™×•×ª ×©×œ ×¤×—×“ ×•×—×¨×“×”. × ×›×•×Ÿ, ×–×” ×œ× × ×¨××” ×”×¨×‘×” ×¨×§ 120 ×©× ×™×•×ª ×ž×ª×•×š 24 ×©×¢×•×ª ×©×™×© ×‘×™×•×, ××‘×œ ×ª××ž×™× ×• ×œ×™ ×›×œ ×©× ×™×” × ×ž×©×›×ª ×›× ×¦×—â€¦”,
“6 sirens, 6 missiles in about 120 seconds of fear and anxiety. Right, it doesn’t seem like allot, only 120 seconds amongst 24 hours in a day, but believe me, every second feels like forever.”
In addition, Israel faces a huge PR battle throughout the world. I myself have been receiving several threatening messages from people who are convinced that I am one-sided in my reporting. I am by no means.
Yet reports are undeniable that the Muslim World is working hard to stir up anti- Israel sentiment by staging protests around the world. In London, police arrested ten demonstrators as Muslims tried to march on the Israeli embassy. Riot police were called in after protestors tore down the barriers holding them back from the embassy. Smaller, less violent demonstrations were also held in other European capitals.
The United States was not immune from protests; demonstrations were staged in Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles. And predictably, demonstrators in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Iran and Indonesia took to the streets, burning flags and chanting slogans denouncing Israel and the United States.
Israel’s Ambassador to Italy, Gideon Meir, admitted that the Hamas PR effort in Europe is causing problems for Israel’s ability to explain the reasons for starting â€œOperation Cast Lead.â€ According to Meir, Hamas presents Israel as a country which is starving Gaza residents and taking away their human rights.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has appointed former UN Ambassador Danny Gilelrman to head Israel’s PR efforts for the Gaza operation in the foreign media.Former UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman had just concluded an interview with FOX News when he spoke to IBA News about the two wars Israel is currently fighting: The battle against Hamas and the battle against negative world public opinion.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni echoed Gillerman’s comments today, noting, â€œOur values are different. When we kill civilians we feel bad about it, but we are trying to target Hamas, who hide amongst civilians and don’t care who is murdered in the process.â€
Defense Minister Barak said, â€œWe have nothing against the people of Gaza, but this is a war to the bitter end. Israel’s military campaign will go on and possibly intensify.â€
On Fox News, Benyamin Netanyahu said, â€œIf New York City had 7,000 rockets falling on its head what would you ask your government to do?â€
So, what will happen tonight? That’s the scariest part. None of us know. All we can do is watch and wait. Will Haled and Amir sleep through the night? Probably not. Will the world hate Israel a little bit more tomorrow? Very likely.
But as Ambassador Gillerman put it, â€œWar is not pretty. We’re not in the movie business. We’re here to make our children and our people safe. Hamas could have made Gaza pretty. Instead they turned it into a terror base.â€
Cross posted at ROI120.
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