Air raid sirens spoiling the peace of a Jerusalem Sabbath

REUTERS Israeli soldiers prepare armoured personnel carriers (APC) at an area near the border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. … Continued


Israeli soldiers prepare armoured personnel carriers (APC) at an area near the border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. 16, 2012. Israel has started drafting 16,000 reserve troops, the military said on Friday, in a sign that violence could escalate further with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Was that an air raid siren? Or the Shabbat siren? For a second, I couldn’t really tell. It did come right at the beginning of the Sabbath here in Jerusalem, just as dusk was falling over the city.

After a couple seconds, though, the wail was unmistakable, like something out of an old World War II movie. Really? An air raid siren here in Jerusalem? Does that mean I’m supposed to run to the safe room of our apartment building? I’m alone here today. My husband’s working in Gaza, which is worrisome enough in itself. But air raid sirens here?

I called an American friend who’s married to an Israeli and has lived here for more than two decades. So maybe she qualifies as an Israeli now too. She thought it was the Shabbat siren as well; she’s never heard an air raid siren here. She lives on busy Hebron Road so she just looked out her window to see what was happening here in the residential heart of west Jerusalem. Nobody seemed to be going anywhere, she said. Everyone looked glued to their television sets in her busy apartment block, getting ready for Shabbat dinner, like every Friday.

That’s what it was like this morning here, just a regular busy Friday morning, as far as I could tell, everyone out for brunch in the sun, and running around doing their shopping before the Sabbath. Even though everyone seems to think – and say – that Israel has gone to war with Hamas again.

Amazing how people just take war in their stride here. The only strange thing I saw – and it’s not really that strange—was an Israeli helicopter circling over the Old City, always the place where violence can flare here.

Last night, I was obsessively watching the television news about Gaza and southern Israel, worrying about my husband and the state of the Middle East, when my American-Israeli friend called and said she wasn’t going to let me sit in the apartment and worry. We were going to Mamilla Mall to have a wander around the shops. It was Thursday night after all. (Thursday night is like Friday night in the States.)

Mamilla Mall, a new outside pedestrian mall near the Old City, is one of the few places in this divided city where Arabs and Jews both seem to go. And last night, even though war was raging between the two of them not that far away in Gaza and southern Israel, it wasn’t that different. Arab women looked over the perfumes at the Super Pharm pharmacy like they always seem to while religious Jews in kippas talked over coffee at the nearby Aroma cafe.

We went for a coffee ourselves. I asked our waiter, a cute young Israeli guy, what he thought about the war. He said he thought he might get called up at any minute since he’s a reservist like everyone else who’s ever been in the Israeli military. He said the day you leave the military, you become a reservist.

“They only give you about five hours to report,” he said, shrugging, pretty nonchalant about the whole prospect. “Whatever.” I’m thinking he might’ve gotten a call last night actually.

Things seemed to have changed now, though, what with rockets from Gaza, according to the Israeli military, landing near Jerusalem this evening. And Tel Aviv targeted twice in the past two days.

Air raid sirens spoiling the peace of a Jerusalem Sabbath? That feels like a game-changer to me.

Daniela Deane, a former Washington Post reporter, is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem.

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