After over 100 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians over the course of just a few days, Israel struck back with an iron fist. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) blew up the Mercedes of Ahmed al-Jabaari, leader of the Hamas military wing (do they have a NON-military wing?), and mastermind behind the now infamous kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The IAF also assassinated Yahiya Abiya, head of the Hamas rocket program, and the evil man responsible for most of the rockets fired at Israel. Israel destroyed the vast majority of Hamas' long range rockets stored in underground facilities, cutting off but a few of the many ugly heads of Hamas, even blowing up a rocket launching site next to a mosque without harming the mosque. In the first 5 days of fighting, over 1000 rockets have been fired from Gaza--over half that number exploding in Israeli territory--killing 3 Israeli civilians, injuring over 100. 72 Gazans have been reported dead, at least half of them terrorists, many more of them civilians used as human shields by Hamas. 539 Gazans were injured in the first 5 days of the war. 6 foreign journalists were injured in Gaza, one of them losing a leg, and 22 journalists were prevented by Hamas from leaving.
I remember once, after spending a month in Sderot, catching myself subconsciously checking for shelter as I walked down the street in Jerusalem. Today, that would not be an absurd notion. Two rockets exploded outside Jerusalem and two were fired at Tel Aviv for the first time in 20 years. 6 more rockets fired at Tel Aviv were shot down by an Iron Dome missile defense battery deployed only one hours earlier. The Iron Dome has intercepted at least 338 Hamas rockets since the start of the war, at the time of this report. 31,000 Israeli infantry reserve soldiers have been mobilized, with Defense Minister Barak requesting up to 75,000. The Israeli Navy is bombarding Gaza from the Mediterranean Sea. Even civil war-torn Syria joined the party, firing 3 mortars at the Golan Heights and wounding an Israeli soldier. Schools have been shut down in all cities within 30 miles of the border with Gaza.
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The last time Israel went to war with Gaza was Operation Cast Lead in December 2008; Ironically, also right after Barack Obama was elected president. On Shabbat Day December 27, the IAF began firing on the Strip, and the ground troops and tanks mobilized for a land offensive. That night, Lev Echad Community Crisis Aid put out an emergency call for volunteers and I was on a shuttle to Sderot a few hours later. When I arrived, I could hear the fighter jets shrieking overhead and the tank treads grinding into the ground. It was the last night of Hannukah and I lit the Menora in a bomb shelter for two dozen volunteers. The irony of the moment was not lost on me.
Photo: Elisha Breningstall playing with Sderot children
In a strange air of deja vú, Israel is at war against Gaza again, four years later. Now, as then, hundreds of rockets were fired by Hamas in the days preceding Israel's retaliation. The IAF has bombarded more than 1,200 targets in the Strip and ground troops are mobilizing. In 2008, it was mostly Sderot, a town of 20,000 people that was being attacked. In 2012, no Israeli civilian is safe from the threat of terror. Rockets have been fired as far as Eilat, Israel's southern seaport. Four years ago, I spoke to my dear friend Daniel Mendelsohn before he went into Gaza with the Golani 51 infantry brigade. He told me that his unit had been instructed to write a letter saying goodbye to their loved ones, just in case. Thank G-d, Daniel came home safe and well. Now, my best friend since childhood, Kalman Delmoor, has just finished advanced training for the elite 101st Airborne unit of the Israeli army.
"Are you going to the front?" I ask bluntly.
"It's more than likely." he replied.
"Your mom is going to freak." I say.
"She actually took it well."
"That's good. Are you scared?"
"Less than I expected, honestly," he answered, "I think training for war subconsciously prepares you more than you think."
"Funny, you told me you would be doing 'war games' this week."
"Yes. War is no game."
"War is a time for courage and bravery to sprout from their seeds, for the whole country and all Am Yisrael." Powerful words from a man--nay, a boy--who grew up in American Jewish suburbia, and chose to move to Israel and put himself on the front line to protect his brothers and sisters in harm's way.
As I sit here safe in Los Angeles, I feel a pang of guilt for not being there for my people in danger. I tell this to my friend Maya, who says, "You shouldn't feel guilty! You should feel safe! And lucky. Why waste your freedom?" How can I be free when my brothers and sisters are being attacked?? What Maya does not understand--what no person who has never been in a Tzeva Adom siren could ever understand-- is I have been there. I know what it's like. I know what it's like to hear the siren turn on and feel my heart start pumping; counting down from 15 in my head as I run to shelter, only to wait for what feels like an eternity for the BOOM! Sometimes one, sometimes several. Sometimes far, sometimes near. I know what it's like to turn back to get a lost toddler during a Tzeva Adom, only to have his slightly older sister tell me that had I not gone back for him, she would have. I know what it's like to pick up the shattered pieces of someone's life, minutes after a rocket destroyed their home. I've cleaned up blood stains from an injured Israeli with my own hands.
I cannot sit in silence when I know exactly the terror millions of Israelis are feeling right now. If I have managed to convey to you a taste of what it's like to live in a noose of rocket fire, then you are one step closer to feeling the pain and burden of our brethren in Israel. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to show your support for the Israeli Defense Forces and the civilians of southern Israel, financially and politically. Donate what you can to help in any way and write your congressmen in support of Israel. I have never seen such incredible international support for Israel on social media websites. We must continue the support. Let Israel know she is not alone. Let the world know that Jewish blood is not cheap. Let us pray that this time Israel be able to finish the job once and for all, for all our soldiers to come home safe, and for every Israeli to be able to sleep peacefully at night.
The people of Sderot, and all of Southern Israel, are learning to represent themselves in order to combat the biased international media, which is crucial at this time. For Israel, who relies on international support, the wast of words is just as vital as the war of swords. But they need our help. The Sderot Media Center has purchased a building for it's new Ambassadors of Tomorrow program, but there is no funding to pay the staff and for student scholarships.
The one-year program will teach the ambassadors, who speak a total of 7 languages, to present an unbiased, grassroots perspective on Southern Israel to the world media. The Sderot Media Center was founded in 2006 by Noam Bedein. His audio-visual footage has been used by dozens of non-profit organizations to garner financial support for their individual causes. Thanks to Bedein's efforts, there are now 5,000 bomb shelters throughout the city of Sderot. Bedein has been given an endorsement by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Deputy director Dr. Kobi Michael said, "...the Ambassadors of Tomorrow program will meet an important need by providing journalists and other visitors a compelling source on events related to terror and their effects on the civilian population." The full endorsement letter is shown at the end of the article.
The people of Southern Israel have been living under the threat of rocket fire for over a decade now. Children have grown up that have never known life without running for their lives on a daily basis. However, this intolerable suffering is rarely, if ever, reported on international media outlets. It is essential that the people of Southern Israel be given a voice against the
world and the Ambassadors of Tomorrow program will make that a reality. Please give generously to their efforts and let Israel know that she is not alone in her time of need. May G-d protect the civilians and soldiers of Israel.