Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Sound of Sirens

I woke up suddenly to the sound of a blast.

I sprang up. My eyes shot open and darted around the room to assess the situation. I was alive that was for certain. It took an instant for me to realize were the distant blast was from. I groaned. Another rocket fired from our friends in the Strip.

This wasn't new. I had woken up twice just that night, and over a dozen times that week from the explosions. In fact, I heard a large percentage of the 2000+ rockets fired collectively from both sides. I had raced to investigate blast sites to find brush fires, damaged buildings and large projectiles protruding from the ground. Our guys were already desensitized to it. The rockets and sirens had become more of an inconvenience than a threat. And by now, it was starting to piss me off. I was exhausted from weeks of patrols, some shifts lasting more than a full day due to the conflict. My eyes were already closed when gravity started to pull me back down again. Without much of a fight I caved to her might and started to roll over back to sleep.

Then I heard it. The shuddering shrill of a siren rang out followed by the calm and robotic woman's voice from the loudspeaker.

Code. Red. Code. Red. Code. Red.

Incoming rocket.

Officially, the siren gives up to a 90 second warning of impending doom but in cities closer to the Strip it can be as little as four seconds. Was it even worth it to run?

Code. Red.

Most times the projectile plummets into some godforsaken field, far from human reach. Should I even get up? This is exactly what the enemy wants, to terrorize citizens, disrupt their relatively peaceful lives, break their spirit and fatigue them. But they're not that accurate, I reasoned silently. Should I let them win by running for my life with every loud noise I hear?

Code. Red.

Sometimes there are false alarms. Could the siren be trusted? Maybe there's no real threat.

My fellow comrades were running to shelter and causing quite a commotion. Some rapped on the doors as they sprinted past.

"Yallah, Kadima!" they shouted.

Code. Red. Code. Red. Code. Red.

Godammit, I muttered as I swung my legs over the bed and lazily wedged my callused toes into my flip-flops. I ran my hand over my bald head in frustration. This was becoming ridiculous.

The room was nearly deserted. The others were on patrol and had switched me out on the previous shift. One lone soldier, a beast of a boy, remained in the room. The beast was asleep and had slept through the previous blast as well as the siren and commotion that followed.

Code. Red. Code. Red. Code. Red.

Her monotonous chorus was obnoxious.

Code. Red. Code. R


The sound was deafening. A ripple followed the thunderous blast that shook not only the walls of our quarters but the very core of my being.

"SHIT!!" I screamed as I slapped my friend on the foot. The expletive came forth naturally and from the heart.

"Wuzzat?" He croaked. The beast was awake.

"What the fuck do you think??" I roared in English. "We got to go, man! NOW!!"

I grabbed my gun and bolted out the door in flip-flops and shorts. My friend followed closely, just on my heels and we arrived just in time before another rocket fell nearby.

The projectiles, we later learned, landed a mere 150 meters from our base. They were fired by Hamas as a show of strength and accuracy in light of the threats of retaliation made by lawmakers in response to the kidnappings of three teenagers near Jerusalem.

Inside, the shelter was packed and sweaty, adding to the already shvitzy 95 degree heat. Most of the soldiers were half-dressed and revealingly unclad with many of the girls wearing just bras and underwear. Even in basic training 15 seconds wasn't enough time to get dressed. Some were smoking cigarettes and shifting around nervously. And everybody was clutching their cellphones. The bunker was abuzz but nobody, not commander or disciplinary sergeant, said a word. The rules were destroyed the moment those rockets were fired at our base.

There was a confusing range of feelings amongst those seeking shelter from Hamas's rockets that night. First, a strong rush of anger and fear. Then, hormones and a tender sense of togetherness in face of death. Then, back to fear as yet another projectile blasted a few hundred meters from the bunker. Screams and cries echoed eerily off the walls of our shelter. One girl passed out, presumably from a mix of fear and dehydration. Many soldiers cursed their Stars while others cursed their political leaders. But most, myself included, stared with wide empty eyes at our weapons. Were we being specifically targeted? Nobody was physically harmed but this was a clear escalation. We could sense it.

Sometime later, we would learn more of this escalation after a Qassam rocket struck our base. I was just outside of the entrance, en route to a patrol, when it hit. I knew it was close because not only could I hear the blast but I could feel it. I soon learned that one of ours had been injured. A friend told me that after the blast he saw a fellow soldier stumble aimlessly with shockingly wide eyes as blood from multiple shrapnel wounds poured endlessly from his head.

He survived but his injury left scars on all of us. We learned from his example that we too are vulnerable to seemingly sporadic rocket fire. We learned that whether given 4 seconds or 90 seconds, sirens and signals should be heeded. That it was worth it, even if it's just a false alarm. We learned that although the world gives our enemies more than enough patience, we must rush. That as stagnant as the situation may turn, we must not let our guard down.

We learned that war can be unpredictable.

And we learned that it had only just begun.


  1. RIP #StopHamasNow #IsraelUnderFire #IStandWithIsrael


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