Kevin Altman Shares Experiences in Jerusalem

by Kevin Altman
Special to Community

I write this from the shelter room at Tel Aviv University, huddled with 18 members of my program as we listen to the sirens blaring in the night and the occasional THUMP of the Iron Dome hitting it’s target – Hamas Rockets that would otherwise cause tragic damage to this incredible city.

Many of us have not had a sound sleep in almost five nights. We are exhausted, but with every rocket launched against us, we feel more and more emboldened and loyal to this country. As I type this to you, we have turned up the volume to the music on laptop speakers and the song “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC cancels the blasts of alarms and rockets.

I’m in Israel interning with the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, a summer program sponsored by the Jewish Agency. I arrived in Israel on June 9 and on June 12 the three teenagers were kidnapped, sparking outcry and “bringbackourboys” hash tags.

I attended the special service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on June 14 with my friend Ariel, a Captain in the IDF Special Forces. Through the chants and the prayers, I looked to her and asked, “What’s going to happen?” She looked at me, and then up to the blackness of the Jerusalem evening overhead, sighed, and simply replied, “Another war.”

She explained it to me in terms I could grasp; it’s like the Godfather. Every five years or so Israel goes to the mattresses. The conflicts with Gaza have thus far ignited three operations since 2008: Cast Led, Pillar of Defense, and now Protective Edge.

From the United States, we feel the surge of the Jewish-Zionist power within us. We need to support Israel. We have our opinions formed as we subscribe to news updates from Stand With Us, Friends of the Israel Defense Force and other pro-Israel sources, but from my experiences here, the need to support Israel comes from the actions of her people in contrast to those of the enemy.

This past Friday afternoon, a few hours from the beginning of Shabbat, some friends of mine and I decided to go to Dizengoff Center, a very popular shopping mall in the heart of Tel Aviv. As we exited the bus, the sirens sounded. The Israelis began to duck for cover and my American friends and myself stood practically paralyzed, not knowing where to go or what to do. A group of Israeli soldiers grabbed us and threw us under the bus.

From the corner of my eyes I saw soldiers pushing civilians against the sides of buildings, shielding them with their own bodies, mothers holding their crying children trying to console them, and our fear only subsided when we heard the Iron Dome missiles meeting their marks to a sound that resembled the cracking of thunder.

They call it the Israel Defense Forces for a reason. The men and women in uniform are heroes protecting their country.

IDF forces have even gone to lengths in protecting civilians in Gaza, adopting methods of “roof knocking”, where planes fire warning shots to their targets, or even calling residents in areas about to be hit. No army in the world would ever attempt to protect the lives of civilians in this manner. Israel does whatever she can to limit civilian casualties, unlike Hamas who seems to find it prudent to their political goals to fire rockets indiscriminately at civilian targets.

While the media will sensationalize the Palestinian death tolls, they neglect to inform the public that whenever the IDF fire their warning shots or make their warning phone calls, Hamas will scramble women and children to the targets. While Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across the United States cry for the people of Gaza, they refuse to place any of the blame on Hamas, which continues to fire their rockets from their own civilian areas as mosques, schools, and hospitals.

Such is the nature of the conflict, and right now, I cannot ask for blame to be placed where it belongs. All I can hope to ask for is the sirens to stop blaring, the rockets to cease firing and for the people of Israel and Gaza to sleep through the night.

There is no easy way to write back home to my Jewish community in Louisville to essentially say, “Rockets are being fired over my head, but I’m safe. I promise,” but it’s true. I don’t know how Israelis find the strength within them, but instead of waving white flags of surrender in the face of danger, they fly the flags of the Magen David with such pride as I’ve never seen before in a people.

I sit here in the bomb shelter room surrounded by American interns like myself who have now had their indoctrination into the reality of the Middle East. The astonishing power and will of Israel begins to absorb into our hearts and tomorrow we will go about our lives, enjoy our time here, and refuse to allow the Hamas terrorists to defeat our Jewish spirits.

Am Israel Chai.

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