The New Abnormal: Family Strife, Iron Dome Picnics and Bar Refaeli Under Fire

Seven days into Israel's Gaza offensive, some notes from the home front.

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Everyone knows what it’s like at the end of a big fireworks display. While at first, the colorful explosions in the sky are carefully timed, with long pauses in the middle between the booms, at the finale, it’s time to let loose, there is boom after boom, and the skies are filled with white smoke.

With all of the talk of possible cease-fire, it appears that the rocketmen of Hamas and the other groups decided on Tuesday morning that it was time to enter “the end of the fireworks display mode.” I write these words at 10 A.M., and more than 40 rockets have been shot at the cities of the south. Their goal, in addition to getting in as many shots as possible before they are shut down, was to outwit Israel’s darling Iron Dome system, by tossing so many rockets, mortar shells and missiles at once and at so many cities, that some of their fire could slip through its net and hopefully do some damage.

While they may have failed at significant damage (knock on wood), their great success lies primarily in the ability to freak Israelis out and utterly disrupt daily life, turning the country and its culture upside down.

Some random notes from the home front:

- Family life is being disrupted. It’s been a nightmare for single mothers in southern cities where school has been canceled but where their workplaces are still functioning. Imagine having to decide between supporting your kids but having to leave them alone at home with rockets falling, or staying home with them and risking your livelihood. And with the extensive call-up of reserve soldiers, many married women qualify as single mothers. The situation is also wreaking havoc with many divorced families, according to the social workers and representatives of hotlines who appear regularly on television. They report that parents living out of rocket range are insisting that custody agreements be broken so that the children stay in a safe place, or the parent with a better shelter arrangement is trying to keep them with them. The situation has also got to be hellish for families with problems of domestic violence, with the stress and the danger intensified as all the family members are cooped up in one place. A social worker in the south who I spoke with said that people are trying not to bother her with small everyday concerns but it is the weakest who are suffering the most.

- Missiles or no missiles, there’s no place like home for those with a more stable domestic situation. All over the country, the same telephone conversations are happening, with friends and family of residents of the southern region asking and even begging them to come up and stay with them. But many people, even if they aren’t working and their kids don’t have school, prefer the discomfort of rocket fire in their own homes to the discomfort of camping out in someone’s living room for days on end. My friends in the south, especially those with kids, say that the familiar surroundings are worth dealing with the missiles, and with the precautions, they prefer this to living like refugees out of a suitcase. But many do take advantage of opportunities for day trips away from the tension, traveling the relatively short distance to the center of the country out of range. As one drives around the safe “bubble” of the country north of Tel Aviv, next to parks and sports facilities, one sees large buses from Ashdod or Ashkelon or Be’er Sheva companies, up for a day of rest and relaxation.

- The Iron Dome batteries are the hot spot of every city they are deployed in, the “‘in place to be” is next to the Iron Dome missile defense units. Even knowing they’re supposed to take cover during missile attacks, there are thrill-seeking “war tourists” who are camping out next to the missile batteries in the daytime and in the evening, staring and photographing. There are even reports of Iron Dome dates – couples taking a pizza and a bottle of wine and sitting next to the batteries waiting for them to fire. Seems like a pretty extreme measure to impress a girl. Sitting out in the open while missiles are flying seems like an incredibly stupid thing to do, and violates every Home Front Command order – but the spectators interviewed on television shrug it off and say watching the Iron Dome helps them “feel safe and protected.” So grateful are residents of the southern cities for the rocket-busters that they come offering gifts and food to the troops manning them. One man in Ashdod even set up a full barbecue grill next to the Iron Dome today to cook lunch for the soldiers, and told his television interviewer he was “building a fire under fire.” The food is often more than the soldiers can eat; they give the leftovers to the journalists who are also crowded there.

- Black humor has always been a major coping mechanism for Israelis under fire. While wicked cartoons and wisecracks were making the rounds of Facebook from the first day of the conflict, on television broadcasts, it was all seriousness – any humor was viewed as inappropriate. After five days of war, there was finally a short but hilarious satiric segment by the folks at “Eretz Nehederet,” Israel’s equivalent of “Saturday Night Live,” with spot-on impressions of the grandstanding news correspondents and politicians, and a sketch on the embarrassing situations in a Tel Aviv stairwell during missile attacks – people seeing their neighbors in various states of undress, sheepishly taking shelter with their one-night stands. They also sent up the unfortunately timed “Everybody bring somebody” tourism campaign starring Noa Tishby, with their sexy model brightly suggesting the following strategy: “How do we get tourists to come Israel at a time like this? Lie! Tell them everything is fine! Everybody lies to somebody!” On Tuesday morning, comedian Avi Nussbaum appeared on a morning television show with a brief war-oriented stand-up riff (“So the IDF bombed a soccer stadium in Gaza where they were storing and firing missiles. Unfortunately, I have to note that this was the only victory that Israel has had on a soccer field this year.”)

- Even war has a celebrity angle. There is a minor Twitter kerfuffle involving the world’s hottest woman, Bar Refaeli. The actress/model/mythological ex of Leonardo DiCaprio sent out tweets in the first days of the conflict, which surely appeared to be perfectly acceptable, even flag-wavingly patriotic, to her fans around the world.

"i prey for the safety of the citizens on both sides and for the day we will live in peace and harmony Amen."

"unfortunately, there is a war going on in my home land Israel, that has to defend itself from missiles being shot by Hamas on public areas."

In Israel, however, she was criticized for her reference to “both sides” suggesting that in wartime, it was her obligation to root for the home team – they apparently didn’t notice her spelling mistakes. Refaeli seems to always get an extra dose of tough reaction in Israel due to the fact that she is considered a draft-dodger, because an early marriage – widely viewed as fictitious – exempted her from compulsory military service. It is worth noting that Noa Tishby (the star of those selfsame tourism ads), who is widely celebrated for her extensive pro-Israel efforts in Hollywood including a recent rally she organized, regularly sends out similar messages from her Twitter account.

"Wishing the people of #Israel and Palestinians living under TERROR of #Hamas in #Gaza a quick resolution to this operation."

"And here is another simple fact. The people of #israel AND the people of #Palestine want PEACE. #Hamas wants the annihilation of Israel."

A Twitter war ensued, with many defending the original tweet, saying that the Refaeli critics were going overboard. In any case, it has become clear that even a perfect bikini body doesn’t give you a pass in wartime.

Tami Shadadi surveying the damage to her house in Sderot after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza.Credit: Reuters

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