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A Letter from Tel Aviv, Under Fire

Describing the indescribable

Adam Chandler
November 19, 2012
Residents of Tel Aviv Seek Shelter as Sirens Sound(dba)
Residents of Tel Aviv Seek Shelter as Sirens Sound(dba)

Over the weekend, I received this note from a friend in Tel Aviv, a place that, to the surprise of many, has become the repeated target of rocket fire over the past several days. Hamas’ supply of long-range missiles, a gift from the Iranian regime, has more than tripled the number of Israelis who live within the range of rockets. Residents of Tel Aviv and elsewhere in central Israel have been forced to confront a new reality brought on by the first sound of missile sirens since 1991.

When the first siren went off, I was still at work, where there were visitors from abroad, including some higher-ups. After some initial confusion–I, for one, have only heard the air raid sirens on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron–we headed for the conference room that doubles as a shelter.

My wife was at home and ran to the bomb shelter downstairs, which after months of haggling over a key, the lady in charge in our building had opened in the morning. The rate of the long-range launches (one every day or so) leads me to believe that Hamas is sitting on a very small stockpile, which is good, because despite years on the edge of our seats anticipating a potential attack on Iran, Tel Aviv is not really prepared for a sustained short-range rocket attack. Many of the shelters in apartment buildings are filled with old people’s junk. A friend of mine actually had to fight with the “Va’ad HaBayit” (like a super, but generally an older couple who lives in the building, which in Tel Aviv is almost invariable an old Polish couple) and spent a few hours yesterday removing the junk from the shelter.

[Later] my wife was in the grocery store and they actually herded everyone down to a basement rather efficiently. I was getting supplies in a warehouse down south–the boom was pretty loud. I heard from a friend of mine where it hit later.

Anyway, the weekend goes on, last night we had 13 guests at the dinner table including a journalist from abroad who was on a PA [Palestinian Authority] sponsored trip to the West Bank. Our friends who left Be’er Sheva (with their 17-month-old child) to come north decided not to join us–they were staying with relatives a bit outside of Tel Aviv and decided to stay the night where there weren’t any sirens. Today is a normal Saturday, otherwise, reading the paper, attempting to make kimchee, and brewing a new batch of beer with some buddies.

For others, it’s not as easy to go on with the daily routine –friends of mine are being called up to their reserve units and it looks like Netanyahu and Barak are planning for a massive ground invasion (13,000 reservists have been called up and there is government approval for an additional 62,000). These are very high numbers that cost the state dearly in economic terms. I just hope they have an exit strategy. I can already see that they have been thinking a lot about the last war as there have been only 13 Palestinian civilian fatalities. I heard it reported that the IAF [Israel Air Force] had executed 500 sorties over the skies of Gaza and then not juxtaposed, I read that 13 people on the Palestinian side died in those sorties.

Not to get all Thomas Jefferson here, but that’s 1/50th of a person for every bomb dropped. This is an insanely low ratio and I would probably eat my shirt if anyone could come up with a parallel in all the history of warfare. It makes me also realize I have no idea what the air campaign strategy is here except “avoid civilian casualties” and “hinder the enemy’s ability to launch rockets at civilians”. Now, no matter what the Honorable Goldstone had to say about the last war, I happen to have gone through the entire list of casualties and read the circumstances of death copied from Palestinian websites. And it’s pretty clear to anyone who does so that possibly half (if not more) of the Gazan fatalities were combatants (anyone who wants a quick understanding of this can just look at the ratio of men to women in the casualty lists to understand that they don’t have the most accurate picture). For people who don’t know much about military matters, one-to-one may seem like a high rate of civilian dead, but is actually extremely low, even for modern conflict.

In the meantime, these poor poor people in the south, trying to carry on their lives with the knowledge that at any given instance they may have only twenty seconds to run for the safe room. They might be cleaning their kid’s diaper or sleeping or taking a shower or driving. It’s insane.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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