The 72nd Independence Day of Israel starts with a siren to commemorate the historic creation of a nation still unrecognized by its neighbours. Israel declared its independence on 14th May 1948; however, it is celebrated as per the Hebrew calendar and this year, it fell on 28th-29th of April.
As precisely as Nehemia Shtasler puts it, it is impossible to not notice the security on this day; Israel, some parts of it, is heavily guarded by top-notch security personnel including soldiers, police officers, security guards, watchtowers, drones and helicopters. Shtasler raises a pertinent question: with such immediate existential threats, is Israel really independent?
This was the first Independence Day celebrated quietly, with Air Force jets swooping over hospitals to pay tribute to the medical staff. The Covid-19 pandemic is just another challenge for a country always under the threat of attacks, especially from Iran since they aim as well as can damage the narrow strip nation.
To actually understand the Middle East, its politics and its threats, one must live here for a while; there is no shortcut, and books, news and theory are not sufficient. For people studying security and politics in Israel, 2019 and the beginning of 2020 have been a truly thrilling experience, and the right time and place to be.
Israel is witnessing very real war threats and political impacts after Iranian major general Qasem Solemani was assassinated. This article records one such incident which is otherwise difficult to talk about or write an opinion on; every incident and context is connected and shows how history impacts the contemporary.
The sirens of Independence Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) – paying tribute to survivors and victims of the Holocaust – reminded me of the rocket attack alarms I have heard repeatedly in the country.
It was the 12th of November; I was sleeping with my glass window closed, blocking outside noises. Since I usually work through the night, I am a late-riser, and around 8 am, I was still half asleep when I could hear my phone ring multiple times.
I woke up, irritated, to check what was the matter and saw my WhatsApp college group abuzz with discussions on rocket alarms. I immediately opened my window and realized an alarm had been sounded; the sound is so piercing it can give you a headache for days, but a headache is better than death, for sure!
For the first time in many years, Tel Aviv city was targeted. Rocket attacks are not new to Israel, they happen almost every week near the borders which are close by, since Israel is small in size.
Tel Aviv is among the safest places and not targeted generally, however, this time, Israel had killed Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata in Gaza and in return, the terrorists had launched over 200 rockets on a single day threatening the entire country. The attacks clearly targeted civilians, injuring many people from border areas, and damaged urban properties as well.
That day, we woke up not to our normal routine, but to these hundreds of messages that everything is shut, and we are to remain inside. Students here are from all over the world, and none of us could forget those three days of terror; this was something we had not imagined we would witness.
As the attacks continued, I learned to sleep with my window half-open so that every time the alarm rang, I could run to safety. However, nobody could sleep. Two and a half days of continuously listening to the alarms resulted in sharp headaches and swollen eyes. This was when I truly realized how prepared Israel is, both technology and infrastructure wise, for all the attacks it faces.
Every floor in our buildings has a safe room, and every community or colony has a large safe zone to accommodate around 100 people during such attacks. As the rockets approach, an automatic alarm in buildings, and a phone app, Red Alert, detects their proximity. I had activated Red Alert for those 3 days and that inbuilt, uncustomizable, piercing sound the app makes has stayed in my head even after 5 months.
We were sent, through e-mails and WhatsApp, multiple guidelines on how to protect ourselves during the attacks and run to safe zones when the alarm went off. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) had code-named it Operation Black Belt, and the Iron Dome intercepted most of the 450 rockets launched from Gaza, though some of them did injure civilians.
On 13th November, a former Knesset member, Dov Lipman, invited a few of the international students for a very fancy dinner and said: “This is Israel, that is how we live here; these attacks happen almost all the time but we cannot stop partying or celebrating life or working for them”. In his courtyard, he said, “you would be able to listen to the rockets fired at this time but be assured we are sitting in the safest place and it cannot damage anything here.”
I asked Dr Yaacov Falcov, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism and a Professor at Tel Aviv University, his analysis of this attack on Tel Aviv, one of the safest places in Israel. He went back in time and told me how difficult it was for him and his family to witness such attacks after his aliyah (move to Israel and citizenship) from Russia. His mother and family were terrified when they first heard the alarms and it felt like they were not safe anywhere.
While anti-Semitism continues to be a threat in other nations, the attacks here raise a question on the existence of Israel. It is apparent through the recent pattern of attacks in the city that Iran, which does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, has invested much in the weapons provided to Hamas. Israel demands quick attention towards being better prepared.
Personally, as I witness Israelis living in such difficult times, the Covid-19 pandemic seems tolerable. However, the Independence Day siren of Israel raises many questions than the rocket alarms I’ve heard.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Sugandh Priya Ojha
Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.