What Would You Do?

What would you do if you were working at your computer, surrounded by many people – all working on their computers, when suddenly, an air raid siren goes off?

It happened here about an hour or two ago. I’m working at a client site. There are about 60 employees here. I sit in the same area as two developers, three QA people, and two project managers. Everyone stopped; two people went to look out the window. The siren continued.

Two people started searching the Internet, “it must be a drill,” said one.

“It’s probably a mistake,” said another.

“If this was in the south or the north, we’d be going to bomb shelters,” I said to one programmer.

“Yalla, let’s go,” he said.

“Are you serious?” I asked him.

“No,” he said with a smile.

I watched as more people crowded by the windows. “You do realize that if a missile were coming in, the dumbest place to be would be by the window, right?” I said to no one in particular.

Another programmer turned around, “you’re right, let’s go to the roof.”

He was being funny and a few people laughed. It was as we expected it to be – an error. Here in Netanya with the sun shining, we were relatively sure that it was a mistake even from the beginning. No one ran to “safety.”

But elsewhere in Israel, people did run to bomb shelters; people did wonder if they would hear an explosion in a few minutes. As we were waiting for the siren to stop, for confirmation it was an error and not an attack, another thought crossed my mind. If this were real, we wouldn’t even know from where the attack came. Lebanon and Hizbollah in the north; Gaza and Hamas in the south. Syria and their latest attempts to go nuclear in the north east; Iran further to our east; perhaps even the new Egypt to our west.

The siren stopped; people returned to their work. “It was a mistake,” someone called out.

“Where do you see it?” someone asked and was given a website. Others went to look to confirm. It is a strange feeling to hear a siren wailing in the distance, to look outside at a beautiful sunny day and wonder if at any moment, something would explode or come crashing down. Everyone treated it as a normal part of life here, if a bit more exciting than a normal day without any such disturbance.

It is times like this that I want to shake them – no, this is not normal. In a normal country, people can go years and years and never hear an air raid siren. Did I ever hear one in America? I don’t remember.

In Israel, I hear them on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks. I hear them on the very rare occasions when the authorities test the sirens. During the Gaza War, someone made a mistake. Instead of hitting the switch for Beersheva, they hit it for Beit Shemesh and the Jerusalem area. We heard it and wondered. For my daughter, it was a different story. We were a nation at war and so the school quickly moved the children to bomb shelters (see A Child’s Alarm).

I haven’t heard yet whether schools did the same today. I have to assume that they did. And so I return to wanting to shout out, “No, this is not normal.” Because remembering normal gives me a hope that someday we will get there.

5 Comments on What Would You Do?

  1. We live 5 km from the Lebanese border, my daughter’s school is even closer to the border. They didn’t go to the shelters but they were frightened. I was not, I was sure it was another false alarm.

    But it’s a weird normality, yes.

    At least we have a secure room now. Until a year ago we lived in an old house with insufficient security and no bomb shelter. That was frightening.

  2. Sarah Kaye // March 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm // Reply

    My neighbour rang me very frightened but I assured her it was probably a test alarm.When my kids got home from school – I asked them how the teachers had handled it – and he said that everybody – including the teachers – ran around shrieking. Nobody made any attempt to get the kids to a safe place or anything – which is not very good.

  3. I’m in Petach Tikvah and it was pretty loud. I ran to the radio for confirmation, but as there was no dire-sounding announcement, I understood it was a drill or a mistake. Then sat down to still my thumping heart.

    Anxiety left over from the Gulf War.

  4. I live just outside of Chicago. Once a month, on the first of the month, the sirens are tested. It is expected.

    Just a test. For if you hear it any other time, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE TO THE NEAREST SHELTER!

    Our sirens are our Tornado warnings. Like Israel you only have a few minutes to get to safety.

    Our horror is an Act of Nature, yours is an Act of Idiots.

    Stay safe!

  5. My son and I were in a shop in Jerusalem in the Old City, just inside the Jaffa Gate, I think. Suddenly there was a loud noise. My son, who minutes later told me he thought it was a gunshot, went immediately to the large plate glass window with a lot of other people to look out. I thought it was a firecracker and continued to browse at the back of the store. When the commotion died down, my son was very upset with me. He started yelling at me, “Didn’t you hear that, Mom, didn’t you hear that?” I cannot for the life of me understand this. I guess it was adrenaline or he thought I was being nonchalant about possible danger, but isn’t that upside down thinking? He ran toward what he thought was a dangerous situation and I stayed in a safer place even though I did not think there was any danger.

    Maybe this is why he is the soldier, ready to put his life on the line and looking around to see just how he might have to do it, whereas I’m just the soldier’s mother, waiting in the background and hoping things are not as bad as they seem.

    P.S. Judging from the lack of police interest, it apparently was a firecracker. Being from Indiana where there is no such thing as an illegal firework, I have heard a million. Kids in Israel seem to like them as well, at least they do in Netanya.

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