It's 3am. You're fast asleep. Suddenly, a loud siren wails. You have between 15 to 30 seconds to run for cover, praying that a military-grade rocket packed with 40-100 kg of TNT won't fall on or near your house. Adrenalin rushes through your body as you leap out of bed. Your slippers are at the exact angle needed to slide your feet into them as you will yourself to wake up. Your mind races to figure out where to run for cover, all the while yelling at everyone else to wake up, grabbing the children from their cots and beds.
It is hard to imagine this reality, but this has been our reality here in the south of Israel for over 14 years (over 15,000 rockets and mortars – try to wrap your head around such an astounding amount of death vehicles).
Today is the 24th day of Operation Protective Edge, although a better name might be 'Operation Stop the Rockets Raining Down on Israeli Towns, Cities and Villages.' No matter what you call it, the Israeli population is united in its desire and determination to put an end to the Hamas threat and is willing to put up with all the danger, heartbreak, economic losses and hardships that accompany it.
I live in Ashkelon which is 14 kilometres from Gaza. My grandson's first word was not "mama" or "dada" but "boom", because that is what we hear all the time. Thanks to Israeli intelligence and out of sheer necessity, the Iron Dome was created to intercept missiles and rockets launched at Israel, but now international newspapers are saying that that's a problem because less Israelis are dying and that makes us the bad guys. The intercept sounds like a thump or boom, and we hear them all day into the night. Had we no Iron Dome Defense System, or expensive "security rooms" added to our homes, just think of the numbers of Israelis killed and wounded, plus destruction to property (again – 15 thousand rockets).
A warning siren goes off and in Ashkelon we have a whopping 30 seconds to run for cover, twice as much as our neighbors to the south. This means that for the past three weeks, our lives have revolved around these safety rooms and being able to get everyone in them on time. If you are outdoors you must lay flat on the ground, covering your head. Hamas has loaded their weapons with glass, metal, nails, you name it...the better to kill and maim us as is their credo. However, although their track record is impressive, not all rockets are successfully intercepted: two rockets exploded on our street, one hitting the clinic of my grandson's pediatrician. Luckily the siren gave everyone enough time to reach the shelter, but the clinic was completely destroyed. Lucky too, the doctor didn't have office hours then. Very lucky.
Our government is protecting us from death - why should we say sorry?
The millions of dollars spent by our government to protect our civilians have saved lives, and we do not feel the need to apologise for that. One could only wish that Hamas had used the countless tons of concrete given to them to build schools and hospitals, or, knowing they were planning to attack us, shelters for their civilians. Instead, they built miles and miles of tunnels to use as launching points to attack, kill and kidnap Israeli civilians.
In the city of Sderot to the south of us and all the villages in the area, Hamas has been shooting rockets at them for the last 14 years. This means that for every kid living there from the age of 14 and under, this is the only life they have ever known: at any time of the day or night, while playing with friends or sitting in school, studying for a test or watching TV, fast asleep in the middle of the night or early morning, a siren might suddenly scream at them to run for their lives. This has resulted in a huge number of kids and adults who have been clinically diagnosed with post-trauma and stress disorders.
Sadly, both sides must suffer because of the fundamentalist Hamas regime (which, by the way, is similar to al-Qaida, ISIS and Boko Haram in nature). So what are our options? Live this way forever, or fight back (negotiations are impossible since Hamas does not recognise Israel's right to exist)?
Unfortunately there has never been a war without civilian casualties, and with today's social networks, harrowing images are all you see. Actual footage of Palestinians being used as human shields; schools, mosques and residential homes used to house weapon warehouses and tunnel entrances; accidents in which rockets meant for us have misfired and killed Palestinian kids, and we are blamed. It is heartbreaking and depressing.
But fighting back and trying to eliminate this threat, change this reality in which we live in, is better than waiting for that one rocket to slip through the defence system and kill me, or the ones I love. And there have been too many close calls already.
Maxine Liptzen-Dorot is a teacher in Ashkelon, close to the Gaza border. She has previously written for the Jerusalem Post.