Way back in the year 2000, at the height of the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign, we had a regular “terror attack drill”. The moment news broke of a terrorist atrocity, we would phone round to all the family – and anyone else we knew who was likely to have been in the vicinity of the bombing – to make sure they were safe and sound. The cell phone network then was still more or less in its infancy and since everyone else was doing the same thing, the phone networks, unable to cope with the increased traffic, frequently crashed in the immediate aftermath of a bomb attack.
I was reminded of this today as I sat watching the “Open Studio” on one of the major TV channels. Every now and then, they would announce a “Code Red” (incoming rocket alert) in this or that city or regional council area and I have no doubt that, all over the country, anxious relatives were phoning their loved ones to make sure all was well – or at least as well as could be expected, under the circumstances. We saw one teenager being interviewed by a journalist, minutes after a rocket (which had managed to evade the Iron Dome defence system) had hit a building dangerously close to her own apartment block. She was still trembling and, as she spoke to the reporter, her mobile phone rang again and again, as friends and family called to reassure themselves that she was alright. “Answer it, answer it,” the journalist urged her. “Let them know you’re okay.”
As the interview progressed, headlines scrolled along the bottom of the screen, telling us where the rockets had fallen in the latest attack, and every now and then, a new Code Red alert would flash up on the screen. “Code Red in Ashdod,” “Code Red in Eshkol Regional Council”, “Code Red in Ashkelon”.
Ashkelon? My aunt lives there!
Again, the scrolling headlines at the foot of the screen.
“Direct hit on a house in Ashkelon.”
A house. Not an apartment block.
My aunt lives in a freestanding house. It’s a one story bungalow. It has no bomb shelter. No relatively safe Secure Space. Nowhere that isn’t directly in the line of a window or an outer wall. When I spoke to her yesterday, she told me that when they have a Code Red alert, she crouches down behind the sofa, so as not to be hit by flying glass or shrapnel in the event of…..well, in the event.
I called her. It took a while before she answered. She’s 83 years old, it takes her time to cross the room to get to the phone. She doesn’t have a mobile phone. She doesn’t have Internet either.
She sounds breathless, her voice a little shakier than when we spoke yesterday. No, I don’t need to worry about her, she’s fine. Her house is untouched, although the explosion was so loud, she thinks it must have been very close this time. But it’s always loud, Ashkelon is quite a small town really, so it always seems close.
She’s been offered temporary shelter by family members in safer parts of the country – in so far as there are safer areas. It seems there is nowhere in Israel now that is out of the range of either Hamas or Hizbollah rockets. Even Jerusalem, which was considered safe in the past because of its sacred standing in the Muslim world, was targeted last Friday. Can you imagine what would happen if Hamas also had control of the West Bank?
She won’t leave her home. An 83 year old widow, living on her own. This is the house to which my uncle brought her as a bride over 60 years ago. He even built part of it with his own hands. All her memories are here.
No amount of Hamas terror is going to make her leave it.