On Friday morning, there was the usual hustle and bustle at the local mall as shoppers made their pre-Shabbat purchases. But there was something more subdued in the air, perhaps a more purposeful step in their gaits and a let’s-get-this-over-with-and-get-home attitude in their faces. No arguments and the usual Israeli bravado. Not much lingering either – the cafes were doing more take-away business than leisurely sit-down trade.

We had entered the zone. Israelis know the drill, and this one had begun. The ground offensive of Operation Protective Edge had begun the night before, and with it came a sense of uncertainty over its goals and chance of success, and anticipation over likely increased rocket attacks from Hamas. There was already the first proof that this was not going to be a walk in the Gaza park – the death of 20-year-old St.-Sgt. Eitan Barak from Herzliya came in the first few hours of the offensive.

Almost everyone in the mall likely had someone – whether a family member, neighbor, or the son or daughter of a work colleague – who is involved in the operation. And they’ve all been in this situation before. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we’ve lived through the previous Gaza operations – Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Cast Lead in 2008 – each time hoping that this action would provide a solution that would remove the Hamas threat against Israel.

Here we go again, this latest foray to squelch the big beast in our midst. Aside from the left-wing fringes, it’s clear that the huge majority of the country’s Jewish citizens are resigned to this scenario and supportive of the government’s decision to send our sons and husbands and fathers into Gaza.

We will lose phone contact with them, hear about their progress and setbacks only through radio bulletins, and count the days until we see them again. Every time there’s an announcement of a soldier being wounded or worse, we’ll hold our collective breaths until the names are announced.

Then we’ll heave a collective sigh of relief – while at the same time break down in empathy for the bereaved family who had their breaths taken away.

Let’s hope Operation Protective Edge succeeds in its goals of destroying the terrorist tunnels and stopping the rocket fire – with a minimum of casualties on both sides. And let’s hope that one day, the people of Gaza are freed from the shackles imposed on them by Hamas and are for once able to take control of their lives, and live in peace and dignity.

But most of all, let’s hope that our soldiers – our sons and brothers – come home safely. And that soon enough, we’ll be back to arguing in the malls and getting in each other’s faces without reservation.

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