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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Shelter From the Storm

Israeli children taking cover during rocket attack

Israeli children taking cover during rocket attack
Photo Credit: Dima Vazinovich / Flash90

It is a sweltering Jerusalem day and I am sitting on cold stone, my arms wrapped around my knees. Mindlessly scrolling through my iPhone, haphazardly liking and commenting and reading messages and waiting. Killing time. I hear the sound of hurried steps and look up- I realize that I am not the only one who chose this spot. A short and slender brunette with smudged purple eyeliner hurriedly walks in and flashes an awkward smile, clumsily fumbling in her purse for something. She leans on the wall beside me so apprehensively that I am compelled to ease her stress by jokingly letting her know that it won’t topple over. She crosses her arms and her legs, taking up as little space as possible. Her eyes flit back and forth. She is nervous. I smile at her and make a joke about being under-dressed. She doesn’t laugh and I realize that this is probably her first.

In seconds, we are joined by an old woman barely balancing on her walker-clearly having done this hundreds of times- she mumbles something incoherent, curses I think- I attempt forced small talk. More mumbling. I laugh, desperately hoping that the incoherent mumbles were some form of geriatric humor. She gives me a blank stare and I realize that she wasn’t being facetious. Whoopsie. I turn to glance out the window, mindlessly tapping on my phone and thinking. Just as I realize that it still has been less than a minute and that there are bound to be more of us, I hear scuffling and the sound of a door scraping on the smooth floor upstairs. The neighbor pokes her head around the corner and makes eye contact, nodding at me. She is holding her boyfriend’s hand so tightly that her knuckles are white, but somehow, other than pursed lips, all of the muscles in her face are relaxed. She is trying to be casual about this whole ordeal but it is obvious that she is anxious. He strokes her skinny, tanned, Israeli arm and pulls her in for a hug, stroking her back and holding her close. A little uncomfortable, I turn back to my phone, feeling as if I am invading their quiet moment of intimacy.

The five of us, an improbable handful of compatriots, spend a few forced and awkward moments together. I take it all in and am suddenly imbued with this weirdly strong sense of solidarity and identity and belonging, but I can see that none of them feel the same. Before I can further dig myself into an embarrassing ditch of attempts at small talk, it is all over and we are free to go.

We exchange sighs of equal parts relief and annoyance and just as I turn to leave, the nameless neighbor looks me straight in the eye and with a crooked smile that is at least half solemn, says “I hope that we do not meet here again”.

Suddenly I realize how ridiculous this all is.

I am sitting in the stairwell of my building. I am sitting in the stairwell of my building with random neighbors and people who were walking down the street because this week Hamas decided that they like me less than they liked me last week.

I’m walking back up to my apartment in my pajamas and I laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.

I laugh that I have a red alert app on my phone to alert me when there are rockets falling. I laugh that there is an app, like Waze, that will show me where the nearest bomb shelter is. Because the rockets can find you anywhere and the red alert doesn’t care that you have no idea where you are. I laugh that the chilling whir of impending rocket sirens caught me in a heated debate on Israeli politics. I laugh because no one knows the facts. I laugh because it is hipster to side with the underdog, and pictures of brave freedom fighters with Kaffiyehs portray desperation and evoke empathy a lot better than pictures of the iron dome being operated by IDF soldiers with bulletproof jackets and M-16’s.

I laugh and I roll my eyes because it is hipster to side with the underdog, but not when the underdog kills her own people.

Siding with the underdog when she kills her own people is accomplice to murder. This thought is absurd because that would essentially make my very own president an accomplice to murder. I abandon that thought because the NSA is always listening and I am pretty sure that they can read thoughts at this point and I don’t want to call President Obama an accomplice to murder, even in my own head.

I walk into my quiet apartment and ponder the incredible irony that is Israel- I make a mental note to buy a fan already because 90 degrees is too unbearably hot for a girl who grew up in New England. I’m thinking about my friends and family in the US and about slurpees and sweet sticky fingers and mosquitoes and summer at home and then I feel a vibration from my cell phone and snap out of the reminiscent reverie. I am forced to start thinking about Israel again. I think about Israel and about summer and I realize that just like Summer 2010 was in upstate New York and Summer 2012 was getting ready to make Aliyah, Summer 2014 will forever be my summer of rockets. I don’t need to bother glancing at my phone to know what the vibration was for; I know it will be news. Channel 2’s breaking headline: “Four rockets fired at Jerusalem- two intercepted by the iron dome, two land in open areas.” I think about the people that are dying in Gaza because their government does not value their lives and teaches them that their lives are dispensable. That the deaths of their women and children will serve a greater cause. I think about their lack of morality and I am filled with pride in my Israel. I am proud of my stepsister who is doing tedious patrols near the border of Gaza. I am proud of my friends who work tirelessly on the Iron Dome which protects me by intercepting rockets aimed at civilian areas. I am filled with pride for my friends who volunteer for the IDF and commit themselves to protecting Israel. For protecting Israel and for protecting me and for protecting every tourist that arrives on her shores. For protecting us because we are human. And because Israel values human life.

I think about being the underdog and I think about Israel.

For years, Jews have been the underdog. On May 14, 1948, we unequivocally declared that we will no longer be the underdog. We achieved our 2,000 year old dream to return to our homeland, and whether it was the right thing or not, we have not been the underdog since.

We have an army. We have a democratic government. We develop our own technologies and we share them with the world. We administer humanitarian aid at almost every opportunity. We give because it is right and we give because it is the Jewish spirit to share.

I read things on the internet all the time about Israel. Lots of them are true. A majority of them aren’t.

I read mostly that I am a Zionist pig. That there is “Genocide” in Palestine. Just like the genocide in Darfur. I read that Israel is an apartheid state. Like apartheid South Africa, but worse. I read that the impressive number of Palestinian women raped by IDF soldiers (ZERO) is not because IDF soldiers are moral, but rather because they don’t think that Palestinian women are good enough to rape. I read that we killed and/or kidnapped three teenagers so that we could “play the underdog to the media and kill Arabs”.

I read all this and I realize one thing.

I realize that until Israel ceases to exist, we will never be the underdog, so no defense will be legitimized. No aggression will be enough aggression to drive us to retaliate. No amount of rockets will be enough rockets to endanger our lives (As rockets aimed at civilian areas usually do). No measure of legal equality will be enough to constitute a democracy.

Nothing Israel does will ever be enough to legitimize her existence as a true and just democracy, a state that does not terrorize her own citizens, who does not seek war, who does not pursue civilian death. I think about this and it dawns on me that since 1948, as absurd as this sounds, we have essentially been the underdog even more than we had been before the establishment of a Jewish state. Because once the world listened-when we were being persecuted and attacked and had blood to show for it, but now the world turns a blind eye. Because the world likes freedom fighters and the world doesn’t think that you can be the underdog when you have an F-16 and nuclear reactors in Dimona.

I reach the frightening conclusion that it is very probable that we will never again be the stereotypical underdog, but that we will always and forever be the political underdog.

Maybe Herzl was wrong and a Jewish state isn’t enough. Maybe Herzl was wrong and you cannot deny 2,000 years of history.

Maybe we will always be the underdog, whether we are cowering in ghettos or in bomb shelters, whether we are valiantly fighting in the Warsaw ghetto or dropping bombs on terrorist targets.

Maybe the Jew will forever be the dhimmi. Maybe the Jew will forever be the yellow star. Maybe the Jew will forever be different.

If you made it to the end of this horrifically long post, and whether or not you agree with me, download the red alert app https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/red-alert-israel/id873642097?mt=8 and everytime it goes off, imagine that thousands of Israelis are rushing to bomb shelters for fear of their lives.

About the Author: Ariela Aharon is a patriotic American expat currently residing in Jerusalem, Israel and studying Psychology. When she is not volunteering for Magen David Adom, stressing about the MCAT, or passionately questioning everything, she likes to spend time with her friends and family. She can usually make it a few hours without entering into a heated debate about things that have little to no bearing on her life. Yalla.


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