For probably the first time since the Yom Kippur War nearly 40 years ago, air raid sirens sounded this week in Jerusalem and environs.
The sounding of the sirens occurred about two minutes after sundown on Friday, such that Sabbath-observers had no direct way of ascertaining where, what, how many, or who, if anyone, was hurt.
Nor did any of the hundreds of thousands of people who heard the sirens have any immediate idea that they were not the only ones to be affected. That is, the residents of Gush Etzion, 20 miles south of the capital, did not know that similar sirens were warning the residents of Jerusalem, who in turn were unaware that people in Beit El and Psagot, another 15 miles to the north, were also running toward their protected areas at that very moment.
And certainly those in Telz Stone, a few miles west of Jerusalem, could not imagine that they were not alone in their sudden panic. In short, myriads of citizens over a wide swathe of Israel were simultaneously rushing to find shelter while asking themselves, “Are the Hamas missiles actually reaching us, too? Might one of them actually land next door – or even closer?”
Missiles were not the only things flying that day. The atmosphere very quickly, and throughout the Sabbath, filled with rumors of all types: A rocket hit Mevaseret, just west of the capital; Two Arabs killed in Abu Ghosh, adjacent to Telz Stone; Jerusalem is under fire.
Only after Shabbat did everyone find out with certainty what had happened: Jerusalem was not under fire. Rather, one rocket had been fired toward eastern Gush Etzion, about seven miles south of Yerushalayim and five miles east of Efrat; no one was hurt – not there, or in Jerusalem, or Abu Ghosh, or anywhere else in the vicinity. It was, however, probably the farthest a Hamas rocket had ever reached.
Many, like Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari, thought at first that the siren had sounded in error. “We were in the middle of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers when we heard it,” he said, “and we thought it was just a mistake. But we soon caught ourselves and realized this was serious. We went down to the lower floor and continued davening there.”
In other shuls, the worshipers had no place to run to, so they ducked under their shtenders and benches, or stood against inside walls, or possibly did nothing. Residents of the greater Jerusalem area truly don’t have much experience in dodging missiles. As one social networker put it, “Even Saddam Hussein didn’t aim Scuds at Jerusalem.”
Hamas actually bragged that it had fired three missiles at Jerusalem, including one at the Knesset – just one example not only of wishful thinking on its part, but outright lying. It also reported, in its attempt to raise the spirits of the demoralized Gaza populace, that it had shot down an Israeli F-16 jet fighter and a reconnaissance aircraft, that Israel had closed Ben Gurion International Airport, and that electricity had been knocked out in southern Tel Aviv.
Lying and deception, of course, are the least of Hamas’s crimes. In addition to premeditated missile and other attacks on innocent Israelis over the past 13 years, Hamas violates international law by endangering its own civilians. In fact, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) cited Hamas for storing “explosive devices” in “civilian-populated areas,” thus “threaten[ing] the lives of Palestinian civilians and violat[ing] international humanitarian law.” Though Israel holds its fire when it finds civilians in the way of legitimate military targets, some civilian deaths are unavoidable – especially when, as often happens, Hamas purposely brings women and children to locations Israel is expected to target.
Israel, for its part, had, as of Monday, bombed over 1,100 Hamas targets, including Hamas television and radio offices. The IDF took over Hamas radio broadcasts and warned the Gaza citizenry to stay “far away from Hamas men, as the IDF prepares to begin the second stage of the offensive.”
Questions abound: If Hamas is interested in hitting Jerusalem, why has there been only one such attempt? Does Hamas care if any of the many Arab villages nearby suffer the hit instead? Does Hamas really want to hit the Knesset – or possibly the Temple Mount?