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Israel-Gaza: 'You never get used to the noise of the sirens'

Lee Saunders has just moved back to Israel from Manchester. He says there is anger at the Israeli government as well as Hamas, but still no solution.

Emergency services a damaged building, reportedly from rocket fire, in southern Israel, in May 2021. Image: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr

Two writers, a Palestinian in Gaza and a Jew just a few miles away in south Israel, describe the violence escalating around them every day. Their voices tell the reality of life on the ground. Lee Saunders recently arrived in Israel from Manchester and wrote this from a bomb shelter in Ashkelon. Read the account from Eman Basher in Gaza here.

It is tough. And surreal. I was singing Neil Diamond before and making a salad just to keep calm, while the jets rumble overhead. I just moved back here from Manchester and only moved into my flat two weeks ago, just near family. I was planning to get stuff for the flat and instead am sat in a quiet hollow room (or mamad) which doubles as a bomb shelter and wondering how long this will last and do I have enough food in?

First night, there were six sirens between 5 and 6am. And that was quiet. 70 per hour later in the day. I think. Lost count. Friends in Tel Aviv offered me wine, weed, beds, couches and Tena Ladys. My family are here and check in with me. My uncle is describing the booms like Winston Churchill and my aunt is coping through scouring pans. My teenage cousin’s school was hit so he seems excited.

You never get used to the noise of the sirens, as an adult, so I have no idea how terrifying that is for the kids. As soon as the siren stops, the bangs send a shiver down you. The louder the bang, the closer it was.

Over the space of two days more than 850 rockets were fired randomly into Israel. Ashkelon has taken the brunt. We are eight miles down the road from the Gaza Strip. The distance is less than Edgware to Camden. Bury to Central Manchester. I heard the IRA bomb in Manchester from Bury and these are over my head. Two have hit the marina nearby, about sixty seconds walk away. It is unsettling. I saw the ambulance go by.

You never get used to the noise of the sirens, as an adult, so I have no idea how terrifying that is for the kids. As soon as the siren stops, the bangs send a shiver down you. The louder the bang, the closer it was. Like listening out for thunder, only worse. It is just so utterly pointless and yet predictable and in a few days we will have the same result and be back to square one.

In Bury, we have a downstairs loo and that is a luxury. Here, I would rather have the shelter. It’s a small room with reinforced concrete and a steel door you slide across in front of the window. I do feel safe in there, as long as you are there.

There is anger with Netanyahu for a lot of things here and the country is in the midst of changing government too, but Hamas has pragmatically taken advantage of the cancelled Palestinian elections to show “leadership” and go after its main goal again. Incitement and violence. I mean, among those tragically killed by rockets, an Israeli Arab girl of seven in a car yesterday. They simply don’t care.

Bibi is FAR from perfect. There are many protests about his policies and he is too aligned with some of the religious parties, but you don’t have to like Bibi. Many here don’t. You don’t have to agree with Israeli policies. Many here don’t. You don’t have to even care. Many don’t. BUT Israel had, has and always will have the right to exist as a sovereign nation and the ONLY (‘safe’) homeland for Jewish people on the planet. Not in place of anyone. Not on top of anyone. Next to and besides. Living. Period.

People need to be more careful with words and thoughts more than ever. We aren’t Churchill. We don’t want to fight anyone on the beaches. Remember that, when you see the version of news you see. If you want to give real hope to peace, keep your ears and minds open. Silence only means we are here again in six months. Does anyone deserve that?

Now read the account from Eman Basher in Gaza.

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