Reporter’s Notebook: Hearing the shells overhead

The complete and utter farcical nature of the day was brought home by the empty beds at the IDF field hospital at Erez.

Tracks from artillery fire seen in sky above Gaza border (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Tracks from artillery fire seen in sky above Gaza border
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My phone started to vibrate and a notification popped up: “Code Red Kerem Shalom.”
“I thought there was a ceasefire,” a journalist sitting near me remarked quizzically. Within minutes a government spokesman stood up at the front of the bus -filled with foreign correspondents and on the way to the very Kibbutz then being shelled- and told us that due to an apparent renewal of hostilities our bus would be diverted.
As we drove north, only kilometers from Gaza, the air suddenly filled with the crash of outgoing artillery as the IDF once again ramped up its fire on the Hamas controlled coastal enclave.
“What is that noise,” a European correspondent sitting behind me, only in-country for several weeks, asked with alarm.
Soon we were engaged in a discussion on the fine points of discerning the sounds of various armaments, from the airborne crump of the Iron Dome batteries hitting their targets, to the louder and earthier booms of the army’s big guns going off, hitting their targets in the dense urban battlefield of Gaza City.
Except for one Japanese correspondent who had flown in from Dubai to cover the war, I was the only one to have brought a flak jacket and, as the sounds of war filled our armored bus, I felt sadly vindicated by my prescience in taking along protection.
The ceasefire had only lasted two hours.
Rattling along, we stopped at a gas station while our guides, representing the IDF, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Government Press Office, presumably conferred regarding the safety of the route to our next stop, the IDF field hospital at the Erez Crossing on the northern Gaza border.
With the trails of outgoing artillery shells visible in the distance, I stepped into a thick walled portable concrete bomb shelter to confer with Tovah Lazaroff, The Jerusalem Post’s Deputy Managing Editor.
As discussed the stories that we planned on filing, the sounds of firing reverberating through the small domed structure, I was keenly aware that we exposed and standing atop a reservoir of gasoline.
On several occasions throughout the day, journalists who either neglected to bring body armor, or perhaps could not afford the cost of such protection, requested the use of my flak jacket in order to film segments.
One visiting correspondent, an Italian, pulled out his phone and asked to take a battlefield selfie with me.
Sometimes, the blackest of humor can be found on the battlefield, or close to it, where death and destruction are accompanied by their handmaidens, confusion and the absurd.
The complete and utter farcical nature of the day was brought home by the empty beds at the IDF field hospital at Erez.
A hallway filled with a small number of sheeted partitions and lined with empty rooms, the field hospital stood empty, its staff at loose ends.
During a briefing, a British journalist demanded to know why there were no Palestinians under treatment.
There have been patients and they come through in drips and drabs, seemed to be the response, but the intimidation faced by prospective patients at the hands of Hamas, the precarious nature of the battlefield and the natural suspicion that IDF personnel exhibit towards those who approach them, even in civilian garb, all lend themselves to preventing the full utilization of the emergency facility, seemed to be the answer.
This seemed to fit in with something a Gazan who I recently spoke with by phone told me.
While critically wounded Palestinians would possibly accept Palestinian Authority brokered transfers to Israeli civilian hospitals, anyone treated by the IDF would likely be viewed with suspicion and subsequently subjected to questioning by Hamas, the Gazan, who asked to remain anonymous, told me.
Moreover, he added, Palestinians are fearful of being asked questions by the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) and are deeply suspicious of Israel.
As Tovah and I drove back to Jerusalem, I read over media reports detailing Hamas’ tunnel raid which broke the ceasefire, and asked Tovah what she thought would be next.
A long war, she responded.