I was walking down Carlebach Street when the wailing air raid siren announced the biggest civil drill in Israel’s history. Though I’d timed a morning interview around it, (who wants to pause for two minutes of alarm?), I was otherwise … Read More
I was walking down Carlebach Street when the wailing air raid siren announced the biggest civil drill in Israel’s history. Though I’d timed a morning interview around it, (who wants to pause for two minutes of alarm?), I was otherwise unprepared. Unsure of what to do with myself, I stopped and stood at the edge of a sidewalk café, under the shade of the awning. I was still. I listened. The sound was barely audible, drowned out by the noise of construction and late morning traffic. I looked to the people around me for cues. Their conversations continued, coffees were sipped, cigarettes puffed.
A waitress, her blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail, pointed to an underground parking garage across the street and reminded us that we were to head to the nearest “protected space.”
Not that we needed the reminder. On the heels of Netanyahu’s induction, most homes received a pamphlet accompanied by a colorful magnet: a map of Israel, carved into color-coded regions, edged by cheerful images—splashing dolphins, dancing camels, and a smiling skier in snow-covered Golan Heights. That skier is in a red zone—according to the key, if he hears a siren he must slide to a shelter immediately. Tel Aviv is colored like a ripe orange. In the case of a missile attack, I will have two minutes to get somewhere safe.
According to the “Recommended Equipment for the Protected Space” list on the magnet, I ought to bring 12 liters of water, food, a fire extinguisher, a TV, and a WIFI ready computer with me. And I’d better not forget to bring “things that will make passing the time pleasant.”
I stuck the magnet on my already cluttered fridge. Now I take it for granted as part of my kitchen scenery.
As the practice alarm sounded, a sole café-goer stood as though he might head for the parking garage. But when it was obvious that none of his companions were going with him, he hesitated, gave a nervous laugh, and then sat back down. Office workers from a nearby building, led by clipboard-bearing managers, streamed like ants to the underground.
The waitress leaned in the doorway, watching. Though she didn’t actually do anything, she looked concerned—she squeezed her chin, and worriedly rubbed her lips with her fingers.
We looked at each other and she shrugged, “What is there to do?” she asked me.
I gave her a weak smile. Despite the June heat, the surging siren brought goosebumps to my skin as I wondered what would happen if we have a real attack?
Like many Tel Avivians, I have no idea where the bomb shelter nearest to my apartment is. I haven’t bothered to find out. Despite the fact that the drill was publicized for weeks in advance, no one I know took the time to figure out if their “protected space” is a bomb shelter, a stairwell, or a certain room in their apartment. If the alarm sounded, where would we go? And how would each of us carry roughly our own body weight in supplies?
Are we apathetic? Or are we in denial?
As I went about the rest of my day, I turned these questions over in my head again and again. But I couldn’t find the answers within myself. So I turned to Boaz, a typical Tel Avivi, for help. I asked him why he didn’t bother at least finding his bomb shelter.
“I’ll find it in the moment I need to,” he said.
“Really? So, when that siren goes off you’ll just magically know where to go? What, are you going to hop on the internet and look it up? You don’t think you need to be prepared?”
“How will it help me to be prepared?” he asked. “How does it help me to think about all this? No one has the energy to deal with these things,” he concluded.
I knew then what I’d been avoiding myself, what I didn’t have the energy to face—a scenario that included missiles landing in Tel Aviv would mean we were in the midst of an all out war. It would be the end to Israel as we know it.
What is there to do?
Sitting helplessly below slabs of cement doesn’t seem like enough. It almost feels like a joke… like dancing camels and the suggestion that passing time during a missile attack could be pleasant.