When the first air raid siren since 1991 sounded in Tel Aviv last Thursday, no one at The Jerusalem Post’s Internet desk got up from their desks. They heard the sound, it seems, but assumed it was one of the Code Red sirens we’d become accustomed to hearing from the constant newsroom blare of television and radio reports broadcast live from rocket-battered Sderot and Beersheba. I banged on the window separating my office from the newsroom, and in an awkward combination of promenading, hurrying and stumbling we all made it to the stairwell of the building next door, just as the siren stopped and two faint explosions were heard.
The truth is, I’d been trying to get an emergency plan into action for months. Back in July, the Post’s military correspondent at the time wrote an assessment that the next war would include rockets on Tel Aviv, though at the time he was looking into the threat from the North - from Hezbollah, rather than Hamas in the South. Given that JPost.com is run from a building only a few hundred meters from the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv - which could potentially be an enemy target - he recommended organizing a Plan B for running the Internet desk in the event of an attack on our coastal metropolis. I imagined a mirror of our newsroom, set up in a bomb shelter, equipped with computers, radios, televisions, a phone and of course Internet and network connections. No such bomb shelter materialized.
After the IDF hit Ahmed Jabari, I consulted with the powers that be and the Home Front Command told me the threat on Tel Aviv was low. And even after the first Fajr-5 was fired at Tel Aviv, people were skeptical about the likelihood of another attack. Surely it was just a once-off attack. In any case, I was assured our exposed building was just as safe or unsafe as any other in Tel Aviv. Of course, it turns out they were right - no Hamas rockets landed in Tel Aviv, though not for want of trying.
And indeed, as Tel Aviv saw four days straight of Code Reds, the JPost Internet desk staff got used to running to the building next door, posting tweets and updates from our smartphones in the stairwell, then running back to the desk a few minutes later to get the story up, hearts pounding just as much from personal adrenalin as professional pressure.
To be sure, what we experienced here in Tel Aviv was nothing compared to what both residents of the South and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have suffered. Over the past week a range of voices, from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to various other politicians, to my followers on Twitter, have all pointed out that residents of the South have for years been dealing with this sense of threat, fear, and disruption to their lives. And that’s not to mention Gazans living under IAF bombardment. Thinking that every motorbike gunning its engine is an air raid siren and fighting severe sleep deprivation for eight days is but a small taste of the trauma of war and covering it. There is no comparison of suffering.
Having said that, all sides of this story are valid and important. The Post’s environmental correspondent, who often writes about animal affairs, took a social media beating last week when she tried to crowd-source a story on air raid siren-induced pet anxiety. Israeli media has been criticized for failing to cover the human side of the offensive on Gaza, and yet the Post received floods of criticism for trying to do just that last week; a human interest piece on war-time life in Gaza resulted in readers threatening to cancel their subscriptions. I too was slammed on Twitter for relating how I’d failed to take cover during an air raid siren due to music blasting too loudly in my headphones. I understand that a few days without listening to music isn’t going to kill me, but that doesn’t mean it had no effect at all. In fact, of the 72 people who retweeted the post and the 32 that replied, only five found it necessary to compare my plight to the Gazans who “I” had killed earlier that day.