This article was first published in The Australian Jewish News on March 21 2019.
Terror. It is the only word to describe the feeling when I stepped into the small hotel room, put down my bag and froze.
I’d just left a nearby bar where the drinks and laughter had been free flowing as we concluded a one-of-a-kind conference of Israel advocates from around the world.
The sound I could hear was familiar, but I’d never heard it before in real life, only from online footage.
I forced myself to move and reached for the phone beside the bed.
“Erev tov,” I said to the concierge. “What does that siren mean?”
“We are not sure, you will be ok,” the voice replied.
I put the phone down. And stood still in my hotel room on Tel Aviv’s famous beachside boulevard, Hayarkon.
Then “boom”. And a few seconds later “boom”.
I moved away from the window and struggled to make sense of what was happening.
I opened Twitter on my phone.
“Air raid sirens in Tel Aviv,” tweeted some of my fellow conference delegates. “Hearing explosions in Tel Aviv,” tweeted others.
The terror was profound. I was barely breathing and my hands were trembling.
I sent a brief text to an Aussie expat I knew was nearby.
“What the **** am I supposed to do?”
“No need to be too alarmed,” he replied. “If it goes off again, just make sure you are indoors and in a safe area and wait there until after the siren finishes.”
It was helpful, sensible, but ultimately not all that reassuring. I left my room and all my belongings and moved toward the stairwell in the middle of the building.
An American man was already there. He had the ‘Code Red’ app that I’d heard people talk about, but it was unclear from the information flashing up whether there were further missiles.
We went through the motions of small talk but it was awkward and it was clear he was as terrified as I was.
By this stage, Twitter was awash with rumours and declarations. The Iron Dome missile shield had intercepted one missile but not the other. Iron Dome had intercepted both missiles over Tel Aviv. Shrapnel had landed in Holon and injured a 10-year-old boy. The missiles had been fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The missiles had been fired by Hamas. These missiles would be the start of a serious escalation or possibly a new war.
Terror. The information in those tweets was unconfirmed, unverified and mostly uninformed. But reading them just enhanced the feeling of terror.
We had been in the stairwell about 10 minutes when I decided to return to my room.
I called my husband and he answered with our two young kids bouncing around full of energy as they got ready for school and kinder and jostled to see Mummy on the phone screen.
I asked him to turn off the video and send the kids away. I knew if I saw the kids and their beautiful, naive faces, I would not be able to control my panic.
I recounted, in few words because I knew so little, what had happened and told him I was OK.
At that point , I realised that I actually was OK.
The terror began to subside, and was immediately replaced with anxiety. I hung up the phone and sat down on the bed.
It was after 10pm in Israel at this point and I was exhausted after a gruelling schedule the previous three days and some industrial strength jet lag.
Would there be another siren? If I went to sleep, would the siren be loud enough to wake me? Should I go to bed in my clothes just in case I had to leave in a hurry? If I heard the siren again would I get down to the basement shelter from the fifth floor in time? Would I take my bag, my handbag, just my passport?
As I sat there, my mind wondered further.
How do Israelis, particularly those living areas adjacent to Gaza, deal with this night after night? The stress the anxiety, the constant terror?
Whoever fired the rockets, they would have come from Gaza. What would tonight hold for the people of Gaza, those people whose leaders refuse to provide them with a basic standard of living and instead insist on pounding Israel’s cities and towns with rockets?
You can read on the news pages, the facts, the analysis and the interpretation of why missiles were fired at Tel Aviv for the first time in nearly five years and how Israel responded.
What strikes me strongest though is the futility of it all and the utter waste.
Who wins from terror? Not the perpetrators, who are never going to be rewarded for the crime of firing on a city full of unarmed civilians. Certainly not those on the receiving end, who, at best, have to deal with the psychological trauma of being subjected to inaccurate missile strikes, and, at worst, with casualties, death and property destruction.
What I do know now though, is that the only accurate word for what takes place all too frequently in Israel, is terror. And it is a situation no human being should have to bear.