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In Tel Aviv, an eerie normalcy as conflict rages

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Although a daily reality for many Israelis, I, an American, am unaccustomed to running from rocket fire. War on home soil is a distant concept I read about in newspaper articles with my morning coffee, not something I experienced or feared. Until a week ago, war was not something I imagined for my vacation.

Arriving in Israel July 5 for my fourth visit, less than a day passed before I felt an uneasy vibe. The atmosphere was somber following the slaughter of three Israeli teens by Palestinians and the grisly murder of a Palestinian teen, his murderers unknown at the time.

On July 6, I planned to visit a friend in Herzliya near Tel Aviv. The media had released news that it was Jews who murdered the 16-year-old Palestinian. Riots of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs exploded in parts of Jerusalem and Arab villages around Israel – whole cars burned in the streets, cars were stoned, Jews dragged from their vehicles and beaten, and crowds of police officers closed off highway traffic to protect commuters from casualties. I watched the television in horror to see if the nearby train station would be safe in the morning.

It was safe, and I spent the day in Hertzliya relaxing on the beach watching hundreds of people swimming and playing Matkot, the Israeli paddle ball game. At night, we drove to Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps, and danced in clubs packed full of people.

The next evening, as we prepared for another night in Tel Aviv to watch Brazil play Germany in the World Cup, Hamas terrorists in Gaza unloaded a barrage of rockets on Israel. Rocket fire in southern Israel was unfortunately not uncommon, but rockets had now hit Tel Aviv. Herzliya had not been hit, so we watched the game at a nearby café.

On the patio under string lights amidst busy sidewalks, my friend remarked that she couldn’t imagine how part of the country was sitting in bomb shelters at that seemingly peaceful moment. Minutes later, sirens alarmed throughout Herzliya. Sirens warned that the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, had been unable to intercept a rocket and that in seconds it would explode into the city below.

People leaped from the streets to seek cover in the restaurant’s bomb shelter. There wasn’t enough room, so we followed some teenagers outside to a parking garage where we all stood holding each other against a concrete pillar. People sobbed and, after a minute or two, the sirens stopped. Everyone returned to their tables to finish their meals, eerily resuming normalcy.

After a night full of overhead explosions from Hamas’ unrelenting missile attack, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Tuesday, July 9.

One of my cousins had been drafted from the reserves, along with 33,000 other reservists. I returned to my family’s home in the north, where rockets haven’t hit in years. That morning, blaring sirens awoke us at 3:30.

Although the sirens have quieted in our area, there are distant explosions below – I sleep with my windows closed, despite lack of air conditioning, to quiet the booms and low-flying jets. Because of association, construction noises on the house across the street have become equally startling.

The radio or TV is always on here so my aunt can hear the announcement of rocket attacks in case family lives in those areas. Hamas has launched over 1,236 rockets into Israel, including during a brief cease-fire on the morning of July 15.

In Tel Aviv and southern Israel, sirens continue to sound, although civilian life has remained relatively regular. As an American in the midst of this personal war, I can’t help but wonder what America’s response would be if it were under attack.

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