Once the sirens start wailing, we have 90 seconds to make it to the bomb shelter in the public park 500 yards behind the house. If the boys are asleep in bed, that means we have 90 seconds to get them up, ignoring their protests, and carry them up the road and into the safety of a concrete shelter.
When we arrived last week, we considered a rehearsal, making it into a game. How many times have parents tried to shield their children from the full reality of war by turning it into a game? As the rockets begin their downward trajectory, falling God knows where, we would be somewhere underneath singing “run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run”.
And what have we forgotten? Blankets, Ventolin, Lego Spiderman? No, forget everything. When the sirens go, you just run. Or choose to stay in bed and console yourself with the statistical improbability of a hit, or cower in the corridor and hope for the best. But cowering in the corridor was not the reason the boys have their Israeli passports. Jews hiding in the house from those who would murder them is too freighted with memory. No, we will let the boys sleep even if the sirens sound. Fuck Islamic Jihad.
“But what about…?” Here it comes. Even the people who mean well can’t help but qualify their sympathy with reference to the children of those firing the rockets. Of course, I inwardly weep for the children of Gaza who have been killed in this latest exchange. But I also feel little but contempt for those who want me to accept this acknowledgment as a condition of their concern. It is estimated that in the last few days, more of Gaza’s children have been killed by the clowns of Islamic Jihad and their misfiring rockets than by Israeli action. Israel has the Iron Dome, the fantastically successful anti-missile system that meant 96% of rockets from Gaza were shot down before they reached their intended target. A home was hit in Sderot, a wall damaged in Netanya. But beyond minor injuries, no Israelis were hurt. The Iranians, who fund Palestinian Islamic Jihad, do not get a lot for their money.
But still, Islamic Jihad has never been interested in peace. Founded in the Eighties, they seek the violent eradication of Israel, insisting on “the jihad solution and the martydom style as the only choice for liberation”. Their modus operandi is to deliberately target civilians rather than military targets — on public buses, in restaurants. Islamic Jihad exists to kill Jews. And Israel, which exists to protect Jews, has absolutely every moral right to defend itself against them.
Attacking their leadership — the people planning to kill Jews — is what protecting Jews means in practice. But in practice, it also involves complex moral judgments of the sort Islamic Jihad would never dream of making. Yes, targeting murderous antisemites who hide out in heavily built-up areas inevitably involves risks to the civilian population. And I believe the Israelis do their best to avoid these because it is absolutely not in their interest to kill Palestinian civilians and stir up more hatred against them.
But some refuse to accept any of this. Former Labour MP Claudia Webbe’s hot take on the situation was: “15 Palestinian children murdered by Israel over the weekend”. Murdered? Seriously? Murdered means that children were being deliberately targeted. This is a lie, but it is of a piece with a whole crazy gamut of posturing that takes place around the Palestinian cause.
During last weekend’s Brighton Pride, the Palestinian flag was waved about, despite the fact that being gay in the Palestinian Territories is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Over in Iran, they hang gay men. By contrast, last month’s Tel Aviv Pride was supported by 170,000 Israelis.
But it’s not just liberal Europeans who succumb to this ridiculous double-think. Over in Mea She’arim, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, they also fly the Palestinian flag. Many of its residents think the state of Israel is a secular blasphemy, with Zionism impertinently doing the work that is properly reserved for God’s Messiah. So they do what they can to rile the Zionist imposter. This despite the fact that the Rabbi most responsible for anti-Zionist sentiment amongst the Haredim — Joel Teitelbaum — was himself saved from the Nazis by Zionists. Indeed, more Jews have been saved by the head-covering of the IDF’s Iron Kipa (in Hebrew, Kippat Barzel) than by the furry ones of the Satmar Hasidism.
But despite all this nonsense, there is some hope to be gleaned from the military action of the last few days. Most importantly, Hamas didn’t join in. Hamas are rivals to Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Territories, the latter of which isn’t engaged politically with the everyday life of Palestinians. Of course, Hamas offered their verbal support and it may well be that they were just not sufficiently re-armed after their last pasting to do much to help. But perhaps there is another explanation.
Whisper it, but there could be more going on in Gaza than bomb-making and tunnel-digging. There are now 14,000 work permits in place that allow Gazans to work in Israel. Thousands more are in the offing, with the Israeli government likely to reward Hamas for their military inactivity. The political side of Hamas knows how valuable these jobs are to the economy.
During lockdown, for instance, Gaza saw a very significant increase in the number of little sewing circles that supply cheap fashion items to the Israelis, whose textile manufacturing industry has all but collapsed as their economy re-focused around hi-tech start-ups. And the fact that Islamic Jihad has had such a disastrous few days — its leadership eliminated, its missiles falling on their own people — only underlines the fact that, on the ground, economic activity is a far more sustainable road map to co-existence than cheap rockets from Iran. Hamas remain committed to the elimination of the Zionist entity, but perhaps at some point, even for them, jobs are more important than their murderous ideology.
Gaza remains a place of real human misery, of course. Millions of people crammed into an area of just 140 square miles, often with no water or electricity for hours on end. But the Israelis have no interest in making matters worse for them. Indeed, quite the opposite. Yes, they will defend themselves — pre-emptively sometimes — from the threat that comes from Gaza. But this is because no country in the world would sit by as their neighbour prepared to fire on their citizens. That is probably why Ukraine sent a message of solidarity to the Israelis over the weekend. As President Zelenskyy himself has said, Ukraine will become “a big Israel” after the war with Russia.
Up to a million Jews were murdered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen units in Ukraine during the Second World War. Israel exists as a kind of sacred vow to stop this ever happening again. As a Jew himself, Zelenskyy understands this. As do my family who had great-grandparents murdered over there. This, by the way, is the right use of the word “murdered”. And it’s why my boys are citizens of this extraordinary, beautiful, troubled and defiant country. The sirens remind my family that Jews continue to be targeted. But they don’t put us off being here. In fact, they have quite the opposite effect: they remind us how much we need this place to exist. And why it is worth fighting for.