As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified this week, a group of Miami residents witnessed the violence first-hand.
Five members of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation arrived in Israel a week ago despite potential danger from the ongoing conflict.
The trip was originally planned as an annual visit to Israel, but as the hostility continued, the group decided to join the Jewish Federation of North America’s three-day solidarity movement. The Miami residents are leaving Israel at staggered times throughout the week.
“We were all nervous. Every Israeli is nervous,” said Amy Dean, the campaign chair of Greater Miami Jewish Federation. She added that when the group was faced with the chance to remain in the midst of the conflict, all group members responded, “absolutely.”
There is no sign of an end to the fighting now that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposed cease-fire. Nearly 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in the eight-day conflict.
While touring the country, Dean said they were given a bitter taste of how accustomed the country has become to a daily barrage of missiles.
Tuesday was the first day in a week the group heard no blaring sirens, which sometimes sound like a hurricane warning and other times like a police siren, said Michael Wagner, co-chair of the network, the division that works with those under 40 at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
Minutes later, sirens went off again.
In a narrative that has become familiar to the American visitors, Dean and Wagner left their dinner and filed into the safe room in their Tel Aviv hotel, while an intercom voice instructed, “Get to the nearest safe place,” in both Hebrew and English.
Earlier in the week, the group traveled around Israel in vans instead of larger vehicles so that they could quickly evacuate and lay on the ground in the event of a missile attack. Though this never happened, they once dashed to a building across the street when a warning siren sounded.
During their visit, sirens sounded three to four red times a day, Dean said.
Wagner, who has been to Israel three times, said he is amazed by how the alerts have become an aspect of daily life. He compared Israel’s preparation and reaction to the missiles to how Miami handles hurricanes.
In some areas of the country, such as Sderot, people have only 15 seconds to get to a safe room after hearing a warning sirens. In Tel Aviv, people are given a minute and a half.
“We joke that in Tel Aviv, it feels like you have time to make a cup of coffee,” Wagner said. “But it’s a pretty dark joke.”
At the border, life is disrupted even more profoundly.
“What if you’re in the shower or in the bathroom? What if you have small kids?” Wagner asked.
The fear is apparent from the few people outside, Dean said. Children can’t walk around; they aren’t swimming in pools. Instead, they are spending much of their summer break in a bomb shelter playing board games and PlayStation.
These children also often struggle with anxiety as warning sirens have become an aspect of daily life, Dean said.
Despite constant trips to safe rooms, the group of Miami residents feels that their trip was meaningful and that the Israeli people appreciate their visit.
“We’re really all Israeli people,” Wagner said. “We’re here. We stand with them.”