Utah resident currently in Tel Aviv, Israel recounts air attacks

By Jonathan Paxton

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 2:34 p.m. MST

Rachel Zboron and Val Jensen on the bus before the air raid siren

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TEL AVIV, Israel — I came to Tel Aviv a little more than a month ago. Utah seems like a distant place because so much has transpired after my arrival on the Mediterranean coast. Like many international visitors and students in the area, we thought the gap between serious wars with the Gaza strip was lapsed enough to reassure us no more issues would spring up during our visits.

We were wrong.

The phrase "game change" has been thrown around frequently in the international media when it comes to the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the biggest game changers: Hamas firing at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An air attack hasn't threatened Tel Aviv since Saddam Hussein's reign, moren tha 20 years ago. A protective bubble of innocence and distance organically emerged and protected the area ever since.

I never thought I would be among those who say "you'll miss this place" when I was leaving Utah. I was eager to see the Mediterranean. However, Salt Lake City is its own little bubble of safety and "knowns." Now, an air raid siren initiates a survival-of-the-fittest response — and you miss home the most once you're in the bomb shelter. I think about mountains and beautiful sunsets over the Great Salt Lake and time with my family in Bountiful.

Encased in concrete shelter, you expect to hear a crash and a rumble — sure signs of rockets or missiles hitting above the shelters. But we haven't heard the crash or felt the rumble. Not yet, at least. As you emerge from the subterranean and head back to your latest task — maybe it was cooking dinner, maybe it was taking a shower — you think about your family and friends and what it was like before you were dragged into "someone else's war."

Val Jensen, my roommate and a graduate student studying at Tel Aviv University, vividly remembers his first experience with the sirens.

"The first time, I was in a 12-story building in the heart of Tel Aviv. I was rehearsing with a band and we just started playing when one of the girls said she thought she heard something," Jensen recalled. "When we all quieted down, we all heard the alarm and rushed to the staircase. But before we made it there, we heard the explosion and even felt the vibration in the building," said Jensen, who had a stairwell to run to. They offer feeble protection from a direct strike, but it's better than none.

Afterward, everyone thought it was dumb luck that got a Hamas rocket as far north as Tel Aviv. That's how naive or misinformed the city was. It wouldn't — no, couldn't — happen twice.

We were wrong again.

During a Friday bus ride to downtown Tel Aviv for food and essentials shopping at an outdoor bazaar called Shuk Carmel, we heard our second air raid siren. Out in the open is the worst place to be caught during "incoming." That second siren evacuated the bus, and we quickly ran to a nearby park and laid down, stomach-first, with hands over our heads. Moments after the air raid siren finished we heard the boom. It was close — maybe a mile or two away. Tiara Lusk, a BYU alum and student living in south Tel Aviv, recalls a similar experience when she was riding a bus the first day of air attacks. "I had no idea what it was. Since I live in a primarily Arab neighborhood I thought I wouldn't be targeted." Tiara stayed on the bus, not sure of the protocol for finding a safe place.

Since the first two days of shelling began, Israel has moved its air attack defense system, the Iron Dome to Tel Aviv. This has been another game changer. Videos online show amazing mid-air interceptions, like this one that Jensen shot the other day on the beach.

"When the Iron Dome wasn't in full effect, there was no spot that felt safe -- unless you were in a reinforced bunker," Jensen said. "But even with the Iron Dome, one may get a false sense of security."

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