I told Sun readers two weeks ago of my plans to visit Israel with friends and family. It was at the start of the latest tensions between Israel and Hamas, and so I was anticipating some drama.
I was not to be disappointed.
To set the atmosphere, understand there seemingly is always a small exchange of rockets between Hamas-led Gaza and subsequent retaliation from Israel. This is not a new situation and one should not expect it to end regardless of how this most recent set of troubles resolves itself.
We arrived in Israel on July 7 and found ourselves in the middle of several air raids during the evening of July 8. The first one was disconcerting, but after that, they became somewhat routine.
Depending upon where in Israel you are, you have between 15 and 120 seconds to get to a shelter. The time is based completely upon the distance from Gaza to where you are. Obviously the farther your location, the more time you have to react.
We were in a pharmacy in Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem. We had 45 seconds to find shelter.
Staff is always well-prepared to ensure that customers are escorted to bomb shelters. In our case, we simply crossed the hallway and moved to an underground parking lot. The total time to make this move would have been no more than 30 seconds. During this time, the air raid sirens were blaring non-stop.
After standing around for 10 minutes or so, the all-clear signal went off and everyone returned to their lives — shopping, working and eating. Several people in the shelter appeared to have an emotional reaction to the sirens, but it was minimal.
The following days we saw little in the way of ongoing tensions. This is perhaps the most difficult thing for people back home to understand. It is, for lack of a better term, a highly civilized battle.
The Israel Defence Force drops leaflets, and then calls and texts phones in Gaza to advise that, in a matter of minutes, they will be bombing specific areas of the Gaza Strip.
Contrary to what some in the West may think, Israel loses in the court of public opinion when civilians are killed in Gaza.
By comparison, Hamas benefits from civilian deaths as it helps to stir up the Arab "street" with anger. This is why Hamas historically has placed its rockets and other weapons in residential areas, including mosques and schools.
This public anger keeps Hamas in power. It also keeps the money and weaponry flowing from Hamas’s political master, Iran.
Many other rocket attacks took place while we were in Israel, but the one we experienced while at a kibbutz in Shefayim (just north of Tel Aviv) was perhaps the most fearful.
While checking in at the hotel, we were quickly whisked away to a bomb shelter. In this case it was simply the area close to the elevators and away from open glass. We heard one small thud, and then a much larger explosion that actually shook the walls somewhat.
I’m not sure if the second explosion was a Hamas rocket actually striking near us, or an Israeli Iron Dome defensive rocket intercepting it and blowing it up mid-air. There was no way to know — I was standing in a shelter.
I remain a very strong supporter of Israel as a state, and the Israeli people in particular. Their desire to go about their ordinary lives was inspiring. There are small tales of heroism that one hears every day.
There is also a palpable wish for peace. I look forward to returning again in the near future, hopefully at a time of greater peace.