My Facebook page is covered with photos and posts about the latest round of missile attacks launched into southern Israel from Gaza. “Fifty Rockets Hit Israel In the Last Three Days” the photo caption reads. The comments below the photo range from sanctimonious pro-Israel sentiment and prayers for the Jewish state to angry rants against Israeli arrogance and calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
It’s a bit surreal to be reading these posts as I sit in a shelter with those very rockets shrieking overhead. I am a volunteer IDF soldier from New York City serving in an elite paratroopers unit. I am the only girl in a unit with 85 combat soldiers. Over the past year, we have served all over the country. Now we are based on the border of Gaza and Sinai, and things have started to get hairy.
The rocket attacks always stop at some point. I know there will eventually be a temporary ceasefire, and life on base will go back to normal. I’m surprised, frankly, that the current attacks even made it onto Facebook, because outside of Israel, no one seems to think they’re newsworthy, much less an act of war. No big deal, right?
It doesn’t feel that way inside the bunker. When you are on the other end of these rockets—hearing their high-pitched squeal as they fly past, feeling the room shake as they hit ground, and smelling the acrid smoke plumes that rise from the craters—it feels like war.
Our rooms on the base are similar to a caravan. The walls are thin, and the ceiling is just weak metal. Our beds are made of thin pieces of steel, and the mattress is a smelly egg-crate that has probably been slept on for over 20 years. When soldiers are not on missions, they are doing exactly what the movies portray: playing cards, smoking cigarettes, lifting dumbbells, making coffee on a little gas stove. Three days ago we were just minding our business when we heard a huge explosion that literally shook the ground. I know the floor moved because our coffee spilled.
I didn’t think it could be a rocket or bomb because the warning siren, the tzeva adom, had not sounded. We all ran out to see what the noise was all about, and in the distance, maybe 2 kilometers away, we could see the telltale plume of smoke.
Seconds later, the siren rang and we all ran to the nearest shelter. The shelter is windowless. The room is built to hold 30 people, but somehow we managed to squeeze 70 inside. Luckily there was air conditioning, but it leaked everywhere and no matter where we sat, our bodies were splattered. People were pushing themselves up against the bunker walls to make room for the latecomers. In this chaos, it was my job to get a head count of my whole unit and make sure everyone had made it.
After three hours, we were told by the head of the base’s intelligence that it was safe to leave. It wasn’t for long, though. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Three more rockets fell minutes later, this time even closer to us. The tzeva adom rang, but there was no time to find safety. Two seconds after the siren’s scream we felt the earth shake beneath our feet. We were totally vulnerable.
The nights are hell. I cannot sleep. I lie in bed, fully clothed, boots and helmet on, waiting to hear the alarm, waiting to dash out of the room to safety.
Hours go by without a rocket, and I start to relax. Maybe it’s over. The media, even the Israeli newspapers, are saying that it is no big deal. I start to believe them. But then another bomb hits without warning, and this one falls just feet from us. It’s like an earthquake. The room sways, and I fall out of my bed. The next few minutes seem to move in slow motion. Screaming, frenzy, smoke. Everyone running. Hands covering their ears. Wiping their eyes. Holding tissues over their mouths and noses.
As I run, trying to get to safety, I flash back to my family’s apartment in Manhattan, or to the house in which I grew up in Maryland. It’s inconceivable to me that something like this could happen there. There would be shock, outrage, even international condemnation. Or maybe such a massive American response that the rocket attacks would finally stop—forever. Instead, I am sure tomorrow’s Facebook page will be filled with more criticism of Israel and more justification for the attacks.
I am a New York City girl who came to Israel to defend the Jewish state. I am proud of my service and of all the remarkable young men I have met who risk their lives every day to keep this country safe. I am the girl in the bunker, and I can tell you that these rocket attacks are a big deal.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.