The first warning siren that Jay Sanderson heard sounded while he was showing the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem to a group of entertainment officials from Los Angeles. The group had six to 15 seconds to find shelter.
The president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles spent nine days in Israel two weeks ago, and he would witness eight more rockets travel from Gaza to Israel during his visit.
“I can’t say that any [specific thought] went through my head,” Sanderson said of the attacks. “Although, I was certainly concerned, but you know, everything happened kind of fast.”
The Israel/Hamas conflict escalated last week when Israel launched an attack to combat increased missile strikes from Gaza. Sanderson said the Hamas missile attacks had been a daily occurrence in southern Israel for the last several years, but Hamas officials have said the violence stems from an economic embargo on Gaza imposed by Israel.
The missile attacks have taken a toll on Israel, Sanderson said. He made two shiva calls during his trip, offering condolences to the families of Yitzach Amsalem and Aharon Smadja, a father of three — both of whom were killed in rocket attacks on Nov. 16.
“This affects everybody,” Sanderson said. “It’s not just the people who lost their life. It affects the way you look at the world. When you feel unsafe all the time, it’s very, very stressful. It’s taken a large toll on the entire country. …A little piece of a whole country dies every time a rocket goes by.”
The violence began a day into his trip, which was arranged to allow the L.A. entertainment leaders to experience Israel. Sanderson has visited the country at least 40 times since he was a child, but never has he witnessed attacks quite like those two weeks ago.
“When you live with that kind of terror … you’re conditioned to be afraid,” he said. “Children have to know at all times where the nearest bomb shelter is. It’s unlike anything we can relate to, and we’re talking about more than half of Israel is under fire. …It was illuminating. To be in Israel when Israel was under attack, to witness nine rockets, and to be in bomb shelters and to have to jump out of a van and lie in a ditch, I got a really deep understanding of what Israel lives with on a daily basis.”
The two entities agreed to a ceasefire last Wednesday, as Sanderson was flying back to Los Angeles. Despite some incidents, the ceasefire has held, and new negotiations were reportedly underway in Egypt at the beginning of the week.
“I hope it stands because nobody wants to send their children to war,” Sanderson said. “When your enemy doesn’t want you to actually exist, it’s hard to say whether it’s going to stay or not.”
He said he believes the government is doing everything it can to stop the violence, but Israel is surrounded by countries that do not observe the same kind of values that the U.S. has, such as rights for women and gays.
“They’re mostly fundamentalist governments who do not think that violence is a bad strategy,” Sanderson added. “It’s very difficult to figure out rhyme or reason with a neighbor like that. …Generally, Israel is a very safe place to visit. It’s not always so simple to live there.”
Some local Jews are also feeling the affects. Ari Lindner, a Realtor from Park La Brea, has family in Israel. His nephew is in an elite unit for the Israeli military, and was waiting to be deployed from the country’s southern border before the ceasefire.
“We’re all praying for his welfare,” Lindner said. “We’re happy damage was inflicted on the terrorists, and we’re sorry about the loss of life … to our people and citizens on the other side.”
The Israeli government has received some negative media attention due to the death of civilian Palestinians during its offensive. However, some claim that the Hamas intentionally shoot their missiles from hospitals, mosques and neighborhoods.
Lindner, who lived in Ramat Eshkol for seven years, said the Hamas missile attacks were “obviously intolerable.” He said it’s hard to tell if the Israeli government stopped its offensive too early, but he hopes the attacks “did some good.”
“The fighting’s not over,” Lindner added. “These terrorists have a mission.”
A local man who asked to be kept anonymous said Israel was under pressure from the United States to end the violence, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed because he is running for re-election.
He believes that Hamas officials are using the ceasefire to bring in more weapons from Egypt.
“I think it’s a ruse on their part,” he said. “As long as they do not accept the existence of Israel, how can there be a truce?”
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