My friend is a teacher back home and her Remembrance Day assembly this year is how wars affect families. She asked me to write about my family’s experiences, she actually suggested I make a video to which I snorted and said no, although seeing as she is an English teacher I am a bit scared about the grammar mistakes I have made. Anyway, here’s what I wrote.
Until 9 years ago war was something that happened on the news, to people in the army and in history. Then 9 years ago I moved to Israel and war, or at least the constant threat of it has quickly become a part of everyday life. Now I am the not so proud owner of my own gas mask and my home has a bomb proof safe room.
The first time I experienced war first hand was 18 months into living here when the 2nd Lebanon war broke out between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. My husband as a serving member of the Israel Defence Force was called up to fight. In Israel all able men from the age of 18 to around 40 are either serving in the army or are reservists and so despite my husband being a chef and more attuned to baking on a daily basis he also has to be trained and ready to fight as a combat soldier. When war broke out we knew there was a chance he would go, we thought as a reservist he would be needed to take over from the positions of the career soldiers whilst they went into Lebanon. Not so. He called me from the barracks after a week and told me in code he was going in. That was the last I heard from him, or about him for over a week. It was my first taste of the real fear that it really could happen to us, that it wasn’t just news and it was truly terrifying. Life continued as normal in Tel Aviv and if you ignored the fighter jets and choppers flying overhead you wouldn’t know there was a real war going on just an hour’s drive North. They called Tel Aviv the bubble, a bubble that on his return from whatever he experienced seem unreal and difficult to comprehend.
We now have 3 children and this time last year when the Gaza conflict broke out and the sirens were sounding throughout the middle and south of the country it affected us in a different way. This time we heard the explosions, saw the soldiers and tanks on route to the South and had to prepare for possible missile attack. We are lucky enough (so far) to live in the centre of Israel so a few hours from the North and South borders where, in my experience, the missiles fall. One day during last November my kid’s play park was full of young female soldiers handing out leaflets of what to do to prepare and how to react if the siren sounded. It also gave clear guidelines on how long each area of Israel had from the alarm sounding to detonation. We had 2 and a half minutes.
Our children are still very young so were seemingly unaware, although my eldest did ask me why ‘they’ wanted to throw rockets at us. Tricky to explain the intricacies of war to a 4 year old especially as there are always 2 sides, not always one right and one wrong. The conflict was mercifully short but the ‘bubble’ that Tel Aviv had lived in was well and truly popped. We are not really safe anywhere.
This summer’s tensions in Syria brought a new wave of panic as the real threat of chemical attack once again reared its ugly head. We were advised to buy bottled water, to ready the safe room and to make sure our gas masks were in date but for now, that threat has lessened and I hope never becomes a reality.
Since 2004 when I moved to Israel the terrifying terrorist war has quietened down, the bus bombs and unexpected attacks on the general public not so common. But there is always the fear and you are never far away from armed security and army personnel, nor from those whose friends and family have been injured or killed. We are vigilant and we try not to panic. I choose not to talk to my children about it, others tell theirs everything. For me, as a Briton, it is something that I didn’t have to deal with growing up and I want to protect my little ones from the fear for as long as possible. If we stay here then it will all too soon become part of their everyday life anyway. My children, like all Israelis will join the army at 18; the boys for 3 years and my daughter for 2.
Although not strictly speaking a war-zone at present, life here is tough; the threat and fear is real and constant. When the sun is shining and the Mediterranean sparkling it’s hard to envision the ugliness of war. I cannot imagine how it must have felt to be a mother in Gaza city or Beirut, Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years. I hope for my family’s sake that we and all families affected by war around the world experience some peace.