In America, I remember fire drills where we laughingly shuffled out of the building and stood and talked as the principal and teachers measured how quickly they had evacuated their precious charges. For us, it was fun – a break from learning; fresh air; being outside. My parents told me how there was a time they had practiced getting under the desks in fear of a nuclear attack, but that was so long ago, few Americans today really remember that. And even then, it was done on a school-by-school basis. Perhaps a city coordinated effort – but did an entire State ever organize something? An entire nation with millions of people in it?
Today, in Israel, my country will imagine the unimaginable. The entire country will, for a brief period of time, pretend that madness reigns; that Israel is hit by a massive attack – perhaps even a nuclear one. The entire population will go into bomb shelters – except for those living near Gaza. “They’ve practiced enough,” said the man on the radio.
This is a nation wide drill (http://oref.org.il/14-en/PAKAR.aspx) in which emergency forces will simulate treating thousands. Schools will be “evacuated” to safety; government offices will empty. Hospitals will function as normal; people who are driving during the siren should continue to drive and not stop. But everyone else should quickly find shelter.
For some reason, perhaps to add to a feeling of urgency, the school decided not to explain to my 9-year-old daughter in advance that this would be an exercise. During the war (read A Child’s Alarm), a siren was accidentally sounded in our city and the children were quickly moved to bomb shelters, fearing it was a real attack. There was no warning (as we have now) and therefore no chance to prepare the kids. All that mattered, was a frantic but orderly move to bomb shelters in case our city, so far from Gaza, would somehow also be hit by missiles.
I didn’t want her to go through that again and so I told her, secretly, that when she heard the siren, she should listen to the teachers, but not be afraid. Every child has the right to live without fear, including that sudden panic that comes with hearing a siren and knowing you have to run quickly to seek shelter.
There is a message for our enemies, said a member of the Parliament today. If you choose to attack us, see that we are ready; see that we are prepared to protect that which we cherish most about this land, the people. It was interesting that he was actually talking to our enemies – telling them to watch, knowing that they would.
It is a message that my son, Elie gave me yesterday, as I drove him back to his base where he serves as an artillery commander. I debated about writing it here, but, according to Elie, “Nasrallah knows,” (Nasrallah is the head of Hezbollah and has been making threatening remarks as the national exercise grows close). If Nasrallah knows, it doesn’t hurt to explain the yesterday, as we were driving north, we passed a huge artillery vehicle traveling north, “that’s ours,” Elie said.
We passed another and another – each vehicle Elie recognized. He knows them by number, by which unit it belongs to, and he knows where and why they are being moved.
“Are those sleeping bags?” I asked him, noting the items strapped to the outside.
“No, they’re mattresses,” Elie said with a smile. “Yeah, we have mattresses to sleep on in the field.”
“You spoiled kid,” I answered with a laugh and then a more serious thought crossed my mind. “Do you expect something to happen?” I have this theory that no one else seems to want to accept. I think it should be made a rule, here and around the world, that no one is allowed to fight in more than one war per year. See, I told you it was silly, but there you are. Elie fought in one war…so, shouldn’t that mean he shouldn’t have to fight in another for at least a year? It does make sense to me, but then again, when you are a mother of a soldier, you grasp at the absurd and make it holy…all to keep your son safe.
“Who knows?” Elie answered. The “who” in this case is likely to be Nasrallah and the other Arab nations. They will decide but as Elie explained, and as the government official explained, the Arabs have to know that we are ready for Armageddon; we are ready to defend; we are prepared as much for war as we are for peace. We will prepare our people – on a national scale; and while we do that, we will remind our enemies that even in the midst of this internal exercise, our sons are on the borders, watching, guarding.
The unit that is being moved up north to show Nasrallah that we can and will be ready, to encourage him to accept that this is a national exercise and no more, is not Elie’s unit. But that unit had just gone on vacation when Nasarallah once again started threatening and so the unit was pulled back and have gone up north.
I don’t know what this means for the vacation the army planned to give Elie’s unit in a few weeks – but I’ll deal with that in another hour, after we pass this national exercise.
For now, I and my students in our Technologies class, will stop learning in just over 15 minutes and go stand in the bomb shelter across the hall. They have suggested you wait there 10 minutes – we are likely not to wait that long as I expect it will be crowded and we do want to complete the course material for the day.
But in the schools, our children will be moved to bomb shelters, our leaders will seek safety, our people will be defended. This is what a nation does when it values its citizens. In a few minutes, we will pretend the unthinkable has happened and when we do, we will pray that it never does. We will pray that our enemies strive for peace with as much fervor as they do war.
Nasrallah – listen up. Israel will defend itself. Our army is ready; our air force will take to the skies, our navy will defend our shores. Artillery and ground forces, special forces, engineering – our sons will do what they must…and we, the people of Israel, will help by seeking shelter because we know that you relish the deaths of innocents and target those who cannot defend themselves.
I believe, and have always believed, that Israel united cannot be destroyed. In a few minutes – the nation will, as one, do what it must so that we are prepared, the rest, we leave in God’s hands, and in the hands of our sons and daughters who serve our nation with love and courage.