Thursday, November 29, 2012

My week during Operation Pillar of Defense, by Jamie Klein

I do not believe it is my position to write a political response to what occurred during Operation Pillar of Defense. As it is my first year at the Medical School for International Health, this is my first exposure to an experience like this and I feel it is most appropriate to share my story rather than my political beliefs.

Wednesday November 14th
Around 4pm
 As the sun began to set on Wednesday evening, I received an alert from Haaretz newspaper informing me that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had assassinated Ahmed Jabari. Not knowing who he was, I placed my phone down and continued to study. About fifteen minutes passed and my boyfriend, who sat next to me, received a call from his friend asking if he had heard the news. I watched as his face expression changed abruptly, not knowing what consequences were to follow. Once off the phone he explained to me that Jabari was the operational head of Hamas military wing. While we sat and discussed the possible repercussions of his death, the IAF continued to target rocket storage facilities throughout the Gaza strip. Following an hour of discussions, we decided that the potential for a retaliation from Gaza was highly probable and it would be a safe decision to leave Be’er Sheva for the night. Shortly after making the decision to leave, I received an email from Mike Diamond that classes would be canceled on Thursday November 15 – confirming the decision we made only moments before.

In the midst of packing clothes for the weekend and ensuring I had enough books to study, I called a classmate of mine, Zach, to see if he had been released from his Global Health Module (an additional seminar that students register for throughout the year). He informed me that they had indeed been released early and he was on his way home. I offered for Zach to come with my boyfriend and me to the Arava (an area in southeast Israel on the border with Jordan) for the weekend, as a precaution for the number of sirens that may occur later in the night and into the weekend. He agreed and we decided to meet at my boyfriend’s apartment around 9.

I was informed that our ride to the Arava was nearing the apartment, so I decided to call Zach and tell him to come over. Less than thirty seconds after hanging up the phone, the air-raid siren sounded. My boyfriend, his mom and I went briskly to the safe room, closed to window and door and waited patiently for the siren to end. Usually one cycle of the siren lasts a minute and only occurs once - this time the siren cycled through three times. Towards the end of the final siren we heard about 15 explosions only a kilometer or two away. Immediately I called Zach to find out his whereabouts. Luckily he had not left his apartment, but I urged him to run over to us before another siren sounded. I turned to the television and was surprised to see video footage of what I heard only moments before. One orange explosion after another appeared in the black canvas of the night sky and I felt my heart beat just one thump louder.

Although it seemed like an hour, Zach made it to our apartment in less than twenty minutes. While I was on the phone, giving him the access code to the apartment, another siren sounded. I told Zach to get into the stairwell while we went to safe room once again. This time the explosion was different – it was closer than before and did not have identifiable sound of the Iron Dome interception. This time the rocket landed inside Be’er Sheva. When the siren finished we retrieved Zach from the stairwell and together sat wide-eyed staring at the news. Shortly after we were notified that our ride arrived and we headed down the stairwell to the car. As we left the building we could smell the smoke from the rocket that landed inside the city. The smell of hot metal and fumes burned the inside of my nares, forever ingraining that moment in my memory. The following half-hour car-ride out of Be’er Sheva and passed Dimona, the next closest city, was the most quiet and apprehensive I have ever felt.

The following days…
My first few days in the Arava were spent in constant communication with my classmates. We knew at all times which students remained in Be’er Sheva and those that traveled to other destinations outside of rocket range. As one of the class representatives, my cell phone remained in the palm of my hand at all times. There is no question it was a stressful time for my classmates and me. As the situation continued to escalate, Israeli families all across the country were opening their doors to residents of the south. Never had I witnessed such hospitality and sincere compassion before in my life. Host families offered to take in each and every individual residing in the south, no questions asked. Thankfully Zach and I were able to find a host family in the Arava able to accommodate the Kiv family of six!  My classmate Sakal, his wife Faith and their four children were finally able to sleep peacefully. Their host family’s father even whittled wood toys for the children to play with. It was remarkable that we could transform such an uncomfortable situation into a mini-vacation.

As our days in the Arava continued, Zach and I were fortunate to tour the agricultural fields.  The Arava is a very special region of Israel that is at the forefront of agricultural technology and development. Almost every vegetable imaginable is being grown there, sprouting from the depths of the desert.

Final remarks
A week after Operation Pillar of Defense began, MSIH students were notified that school had been suspended to the end of December. Ironically, later that same day a cease-fire was declared. However by this time many students, including myself, had booked plane tickets home hoping to get home in time for Thanksgiving.

And indeed I did. I arrived home at 3pm on Thursday afternoon, just in time to surprise my family for Thanksgiving and celebrate my birthday with them.  24 hours prior I could not have imagined myself sitting at home surrounded by family and digging into my mom’s famous turkey and mashed potatoes. There was no doubt about it, I definitely had a thing or two to be thankful for this year. - blogger of the month, Jamie Klein