In the North, where the rockets from Lebanon rained down for 34 days, we saw and heard about after-effects, about the emotional and psychological trauma that remains, even a year later. But the description was always the same – POST-traumatic stress.
On this day, though, we had moved south to the Negev, to Sderot and the surrounding settlements just a mile or two, or less, from Gaza. Here, there is no “post,” no “after.” The Qassams arrive helter-skelter once, twice, four times or more a day, virtually every day, as they have for more than six years. There is no respite from the fear.
We were just leaving a senior citizens center at Sapir College in the Sha'ar HaNegev region when the incoming-missile alarm went off. There was no siren or loud alert, just an announcement over the PA system. “Tzeva Adom. Tzeva Adom.” Hebrew for “Color Red.” For those of us not fluent in Hebrew, we weren't even aware of what was going on for a moment, until the people around us told us to get inside.
There was no panic, no crying or screaming. We had been briefed on what to do, and the safe room was the meeting room we had been in 45 minutes earlier, so we knew where to go. As luck would have it, it's one of the few safe rooms anywhere in the region.
To me, it seemed almost like a fire drill in school. You're told what to do, and you do it. In fact, a few people asked whether it was a drill or the real thing.
A minute later, it was over. We headed back to the bus, chatting about what had just happened, joking that the UJC had scheduled it just for us.
Then the second alert sounded.
This one was a little more unnerving. For some reason, it seemed more unexpected. Some people went one way, some another. No one expressed fear, but you could read the anxiety on some faces. There was a clear recognition that the people we has just spoken to, had just had lunch with -- scared, angry, defiant residents who have no intention of leaving their homes -- live through this ever day.
In hindsight, even though no one mentioned it, the scariest part may have been the recognition that five minutes later, we would have been on the open road, in a rural area. Would we even have known there was an alert? If we did, could we have gotten more than 20 people off the bus in less than 15 seconds? We hadn't been briefed on that.