I was at the register of a department store paying for a couple things I needed this rainy Friday when I dropped my umbrella. I picked it up and almost immediately dropped it again. The saleswoman, a Russian lady in her late fifites, gave me a funny look. I told her it's because I'm tired, but she said, "No, it's the week we've all had."
What she meant by that was a week of air raid sirens, missiles falling on our cities, a bus bombing, and a terrorist on the loose in Israel's cultural and commerical center. But she said it as if she were talking about tax time (which is actually right now, in Israel), or a spate of inclement weather (which we're also having right now). She spoke about the war as if there had been no war at all -- she didn't even say the word "war."
And she's not alone. At a Thanksgiving dinner last night attended by a mix of Anglos and Israelis, someone made that point, long after the tryptophan had kicked in, that the war that ended just the day before was not so much over as it was blinked out of existence. The media didn't really even mention the bus bombing that had taken place just the day before. Though, in their defense, media outlets were consistent in this regard, as they reported on the bus bombing this past Wednesday primarily as a "reminder," a "memory" of the dark days of terror, as opposed to a real-life event that had taken place in Tel Aviv on that very real day.
For us, the war that had terrotized this country, claimed three civilian lives in the south and caused so much destruction, wasn't even a distant memory. It was if it simply hadn't existed. At least not for us in Tel Aviv. In the south, meanwhile, a dozen rockets were fired from Gaza the morning after the truce had taken effect, and the relief that we were enjoying in the center of the country was, in the south, perversely distorted into a new form of psychological torture -- that there in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba and all the surrounding towns, kibbutzes and moshavs, even quiet means terror.
So let no one fool themselves -- the bubble that "burst" in Tel Aviv with the five or so air raid sirens is still very much intact. The political quotient for a ground invasion never shifted: in the south they were calling out for a ground operation, not because they love the idea of their sons going into Hamas' hornet's nest, but because they were desperate (though after seven years, desperate is a sad understatement) for an actual solution.
In Tel Aviv, the pressures of a ground war, ranging from concern for soldiers to consideration for Gazans to wariness of golbal opinion, were too great -- at least given the relative cost of one air raid siren a day, and no damage, destruction or injury to speak of thereafter.
Since the summer of 2011, there has been much talk in Israel of two countries existing here, the country that belongs to the wealthy and the craggy island that's left over for the poor. But looking at this war, we would have to add another two countries to this list -- the south and the center. Or maybe, three: the north, the south and the center.
Israelis have long spoken of the "periphery" (anything outside of the central Dan region and Jerusalem) and the "center." But as the center has drunk the potion of the ceasefire and forgotten the war, and the residents of the periphery are still running to shelter, we see how very real this distinction is -- and how callous it is. We see that calls for unity, so often emanating from posters and t-shirts and songs produced in the center, aren't so much about being united, as believing enough of what the center believes to allow it to continue to exist in the shelter of its own narrative.
What does the south mean? What does the south have to say? Who are they? What do they want? We have no idea. One thing is certain though, which is that the bubble of Tel Aviv will eventually burst -- and when we say burst, we mean explode into shards and shreds -- and we in our desperation have no idea how to cope any more, will turn to the residents of the south, who have learned to live in the shadow of war, for help. But what will they have to say to us? What will we ask of them, and will they come to our aid when we did so little to come to theirs?
We hope so. But we can do more than hope, we can stop and think and give. We can look to the US with its post-Sandy recovery efforts, where towns have come out for towns, neighbors for neighbors, and state for state, and try and do the same. Because no matter what our policy regarding the Palestinians will be going forward, one thing we all have to agree on is that nothing will change here without a genuine sense of unity. And today that begins with remembering the war we've already forgotten.