We often forget that one million Israeli civilians live under rocket attack.
Fifteen seconds is, more or less, the time that it will take you to read a sentence like this three times. But for a million civilians living in the south of Israel it is all the time they have had, for 12 years now, to find shelter when the sirens sounded. Day and night. At any moment. Twelve years organizing one’s life around these 15 seconds. Doing one’s daily errands, taking the children to school or just taking a walk. When the siren goes off, we can be sure that within 15 seconds (the time you need to read the first sentence of this article three times) there will be at least two explosions. There is no place where you can be sure that bombs will not fall, be it a military target or a safe refuge. They fall on vacant lots, nursery playgrounds, houses or parking lots alike, indiscriminately. The attacks are unpredictable, but share a common element: they hit civilians.
You merely need to visit the cities of Shderot or Ashkelon to confirm that humans are capable of adapting to all kind of circumstances. The bus stops double up as shelters, some of the brightly painted children’s swing sets in parks also serve as shelters and the houses have been built with tiny windows which also act as shelters. Schools have hefty concrete rooftops and their playgrounds are located indoors. They too, are shelters.
People living with this daily routine – many of them teenagers who haven’t known any other kind of life– live within the borders drawn by the United Nations in 1947. They belong to different religious and ethnic groups. They are Jews and Muslims, shopkeepers and Bedouins, schoolchildren and pensioners. There are also many illegal aliens. All of them are civilians. Nobody can accuse them of either occupying land or of shooting at anyone. These men and women are simply civilians who abide by international law. Yet these very civilians have barely been able to enjoy sixty days of peace over the last twelve years, sixty days during which no rockets were being launched at them.
In other cities we can identify bus or metro lines by their colors whereas in Shderot civilians know who exactly is throwing rockets at them by the color of the remaining fragments of the rockets. Green, yellow or black are colors that have very precise meanings: Hamas, Islamic Yihad, Al Qaeda or any other of the many other organizations, for whom the word « negotiation » does not exist and for whom « peace » can only be envisaged following the annihilation of a State created by the United Nations, where one million civilians live under constant fire.
The fact of the matter is that when negotiators place on the table all the elements that could potentially drive forward the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, those 15 seconds tend to be forgotten, as if they were of scant importance. Strangely enough, some of the very people who are supposed to be proposing solutions don’t factor them into the equation. And when rockets fall on Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, which in fact has already occurred, the event is considered to be just another anecdote. Yet the one million civilians living under constant attack also deserve our consideration. Even if it only be for 15 seconds…