Submitted May 18, 2023
By BRUCE BROWN Working from home. It was after 6:00 PM and my global Teams meeting just started. Comfortably settled and talking about suppliers, delivery times and prices. My smart phone, resting next to me, was beeping incessantly with the Code Red missile warning application. Over 350 missiles fired at Israel over the last couple of days, that’s a lot of buzzing and ringing.
Rehovot managed to dodge the missiles over the last couple of days. While we could see the missiles soaring overhead and hear the guided collision with our Iron Dome anti-missiles. And the non-stop news cycles informing in real time of where rockets were being intercepted. But in Rehovot… all was quiet. For the time being.
Since arch-terrorist WhatsHisname died from his hunger strike at an Israeli prison, Israel was bracing for reaction from the Islamic Jihad in Gaza. In the same way my Canadian cousins warn their loved ones about a pending blizzard – Did you hear the weather report? It’s going to be a cold one. Potential white out. Bundle up. Hurry home. We do the same here but for somewhat different reasons – Did you hear the news? WhatHisname died. Might be terrorist attacks or missiles from Gaza. Be aware of your surroundings. Hurry home.
That was last week. And sure enough Israel felt the reprisals with about a hundred missiles indiscriminately fired from Gaza. Israel waited with its reprisal. Preferring to respond at a time and place of its choosing – as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant warned. Sure enough our reaction came about eight days later. Revenge, as the nineteenth century French novelist Eugene Sue Mathilde said, is a dish best served cold. So it was with the pinpoint, targeted assassination of three Islamic Jihad leaders; their names of no consequence. But each responsible for reprehensible terrorist crimes over the years. Good riddance. And with that Operation Shield and Arrow began.
Back to Teams. About ten minutes into the meeting another siren went off. This one not only coming from my Code Red application. But also from outside. Rehovot was under attack. “Bruce!” my wife yelled. “Missiles!” “Hurry!” Running to our reinforced safe room which doubles as a den during quieter times. Not sure my European and US coworkers understood when I shouted into my headset, “Missile siren! Gotta go!” Abruptly exiting my meeting and darting to our TV room. Er… safe room.
We have about seventy-five seconds to reach our shelter before a missile hits or, preferably, gets knocked out of the sky. As apposed to the fifteen seconds for those living closer to Gaza. Can’t imagine their stress during these times. If I feel rushed while showering. Or, dare I say, while going to the bathroom. Hey, I like my quiet time. Settling down with a newspaper or book. Sometimes surfing YouTube for favorite TV show clips or music videos. Really taking my time. But not recently. Just want to get it over with. Poop and flush, as it were. I digress…
Anyway. We just managed to close the heavy steel door and fortified iron window shutter. Then. BOOM! The loudest boom we ever heard. My wife and I almost hit the ceiling. Knowing this was more than the reassuring and softer crash of an Iron Dome antimissile intercepting an Islamic Jihad rocket high in the sky. No. This was something much closer. Much more ominous.
Numerous calls from friends and family followed. Were we okay? Amazing how quickly news travels in times of crisis. My son texted from the safety of his dorm in the U.S. A missile landed next to Amit’s home (his best friend). Then my daughter texted from the relative safety of her work north of Tel Aviv. A missile hit near Shira’s home (her best friend and Amit’s sister). And on it went. With more chilling calls from neighbors.
I tried rejoining my Teams meeting. To create some normalcy and attempt a return to routine. But was too hype. Too distracted. Too much happening. Too much uncertainly becoming clearer as the minutes passed. Couldn’t focus on discussions about price variances and purchasing systems. I excused myself again, advising them the precariousness of the situation.
Rehovot suffered a direct hit. Due to the malfunction of our Iron Dome system. Just around the corner. Not far from Amit and Shira’s home. Curiosity being a strange animal, I walked the two blocks into what was literally a war zone. A chill engulfed my entire body as my skin crawled with goose flesh.
My favorite bakery nearby. A gathering place for the shocked. I considered buying cookies and cakes for our first responders. Then thought better of it. Didn’t want to be confused with the celebrating Palestinian street which hands out sweets after such attacks.
The dark smell of sulfur, carbon and potassium nitrate dominated the air. A flash back to younger days, of playing with cap guns and the sweet smell of gun powder. My mind looking for a safer place.
Time came to a halt. Somewhat apocalyptic. Traffic snarled and jammed. Red and blue flashing lights from police vans, firetrucks and ambulances. Army sappers and Israel’s famed 669 search and rescue unit moving about in their yellow vests. Local and international news crews mustering about. Unfortunately ZAKA – the famed orthodox volunteers who collect the remains of the wounded and dead after terror or missile attacks- were scouring the area. 5 wounded. 1 dead.
Alas. Israelis have learned to move on quickly. Within hours the streets were reopened. The destroyed building draped with Israeli flags. And I joined a Teams work meeting later that evening, this time much calmer than earlier. Again in search of normalcy and routine. Echoing Herb Keinon from the Jerusalem Post, specific memories of these military operations -some lasting weeks, some lasting days and some only a weekend – quickly fade into the background. Difficult to differentiate one from the other. First Rains. Summer Rains. Autumn Clouds. Black Belt. Breaking Dawn. Cast Lead. Pillar of Defense and now Shield and Arrow. The list unfortunately goes on.
While Israel takes maximum precautions to avoid collateral damage. We are known for our warning methods. Sometimes a ‘knock on the door’, unarmed missiles skimming the roofs as a warning of incoming rockets. Sometimes dropping leaflets warning of a pending attack. Even aborting missions when civilians are spotted nearby. While our enemies indiscriminately shoot missiles -hundreds of them- towards Israel. Hoping for maximum death. Maximum damage. Fortunately our missile defense system renders much of this arsenal ineffective. Until one gets through. As it did in Rehovot. My little shtetle.
Paraphrasing from the New Testament, John 20:19 – may peace be amongst us.
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.