What I am calling Day 2 was really my first full day in Israel.
It started with a beautiful sunrise in Jerusalem. A real National Geographic moment looking out of my hotel room at the gentle pink and gray colors washing over the mostly tan colors of the buildings.
I joined Chanan Elias with The Face of Israel, our videographer Joshua, and our driver Alexey, for a winding drive through central Israel. A variety of agricultural passed by, improved by the Israeli created drip irrigation systems: grapefruit, corn, grapes, watermelons, sunflowers, and more.
We arrived at the outskirts of Ashkelon, 15 km from Gaza. We stopped to look at an Iron Dome defense battery. The soldier at the guard post firmly waved us back as we approached, giving instruction on what pictures were not allowed. So, we moved the approved distance back, stood in a recently tilled field, observed and discussed the Iron Dome system, the growth of the city, and listened to the distant sounds of war.
Next, we drove in to Ashkelon proper to meet with Dr. Alan Marcus, Director Strategic Planning Branch and Chief Resilience Officer for the city of Ashkelon. He showed us the combination bomb shelter and brains of the city’s emergency response and monitoring facilities.
It was a fascinating insight into what a government agency can achieve. Dr. Marcus brings an inventor or entrepreneurial approach to problem solving. How best to serve and protect citizenry when rockets are hitting your city with regularity? He leveraged his background in Geographic Information Systems (his PhD) and built an advanced system to layer resources such as the handicapped, elderly, and children, alongside where industrial chemical in the city are stored. Then, when a rocket strikes the emergency responders know exactly who and how to help, what are the dangers, and what kind of psychological response team might be necessary.
We next ventured over to Barzilai Hospital. This is the closest hospital, not a Level 1 Trauma Center, closest to Gaza. It is renowned not just for its proximity to the zone where fighting occurs, but the fact that Palestinians, and Hamas fighters in particular, are treated here. In Israel. In my short time near the emergency entrance, at least a half-dozen military vehicles delivered wounded patients. An equal number of ambulances and private vehicles brought in wounded and injured as well.
Time to get closer to the combat zone.
15 minutes down the road from Ashkelon is Sderot. The town center is one mile from Gaza. In Ashkelon you have 30 seconds to get to a bomb shelter when the Red Alert sounds, in Sderot it is 15 seconds.
Here is where the threat from rockets hung heavily over the town like a fog. No children outside. Little activity on the streets. A rougher look to the buildings with litter strewn about. There is a bombed out side of a house.
A man and his daughter took us to cheerful looking children’s playground. It was eerily deserted, quiet. She spoke little English and told Chanan she wanted to talk to me and share her story.
The last 14 years of her 23 years on earth in her hometown of Sderot were filled with the constant fear of rockets. Since the second Intifada started by the late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, rockets have been exploding in Sderot. I thought it was only since Hamas took over in 2006, but sadly, no.
She shared with me her psychological trauma of caring for 15-20 children, the Red Alert sounding, her own panic to find immediate shelter, but needing to stay calm and cheerful for the children as she ushered them to safety. The regular explosions of rockets landing. Her fear of having a family and raising children where they are never safe.
I asked about all of the times when there wasn’t a flare up in violence or war. Much to my surprise since we never hear this, the rockets rain down even during peacetimes and ceasefires.
The whole time I could hear the irregular thumping of explosions, be it artillery or otherwise. Time to go to the hill the overlooks Gaza. The hill made infamous by social media and CNN where the local population, traumatized by 14 years or rockets falling from the sky, go to see what is happening a half-mile away.
While on the hill, I called in to the KSFO morning show. Sheri Yee answered the phone and put me on live with Brian Sussman and Katie Green. While sharing my experiences, a volley of artillery fired. It was so intense, my call was interrupted. After the call I turned to look toward Gaza.
It was here that I felt the stress, this deep emotion, the subconscious recognition of danger, as I observed smoke in the distance, military vehicles nearby, explosions of a terror tunnel being blown up, the earth shaking from howitzers.
I now understand some of the people of Sderot wanting to observe from the hill. It isn’t some sick, twisted, perverted hatred of the people in Gaza. They want to see their military stop the rockets falling. Stop the need for their children to play in underground bunkers. End their children screaming in the night to find shelter. They seek safety and security. It is distant enough to not see any more than I have described. It is a hope that their daily fears might be diminished.
As we left the hill, we stopped by the police station in Sderot where they collect the rockets for documenting and recording. Somehow, the national spokesperson for the police, Micky Rosenfeld, was there. He gave me a first-hand explanation of the different type of rocket husks they had piled around. Of particular concern, which can be seen in pictures not here, is the fact that the warheads are stuffed not just with explosives, but ball-bearings. Ball-bearings in a warhead serve no purpose other than to destroy people. Oh, and because they are superheated, they can start fires. Sick.
Back to Jerusalem we went for another series of interviews in the studios of the Voice of Israel. Then I collapsed in an exhausted heap.
Thank you to Vicky Culver, Haole Craig, the Gorson’s, and everyone else for contributing so far.
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