At about 4:30 (Israel time, that’s about 8:30 a.m. Texas time, y'all), the Womenary group (from Tyler, Texas, www.womenary.com) Israel trip was walking near the ancient port in Jaffa. Maybe you remember it as “Joppa” from Sunday School – the town where Jonah fled to find a ship to Tarshish, seeking to avoid God’s call to proclaim the truth to the Assyrian capital of Ninevah. Or maybe you are thinking New Testament – where Peter raised from the dead a woman of great charity and service whose name meant “Gazelle.” Now, however, it will have a new memory for the 23 women and 4 guys who were on the trip.
The siren was pretty impressive, but as Texans, we are used to not taking sirens all that seriously, since they are generally a drill, so it was the locals running that caught my attention.
Our Israeli guide, Reuven Solomon, calmly led us to a stone wall and had us crouch against the ledge at about the time the voice came over the loudspeaker. He translated, “Red alert, find cover.”
All week, during our biblical studies trip around the Holy Land, it felt like the issues were kind of following us. Due to the less-than-accurate information from much of the American media, our family members were concerned, even when we were totally unaware of much of it here. Even when we found out a Syrian rocket had landed in the Golan Heights while we had been there, we didn’t have any idea until the evening news. Then, Hamas began to escalate the rockets and missiles they were firing into the countryside. Eventually the Israeli Defense Forces fired back and continued to respond. We kept up with the situation, yet truthfully, I never felt any real worry about it until we heard that there was some rioting at the Temple Mount with a few arrests and rocks thrown… the day after we had been there. That felt like a close call, but again, the Israeli police had been prepared for it and handled it quickly and efficiently.
I had seen an Israeli minister explain the time that people in each city had from the time of the siren to the time the Hamas rocket would potentially hit. For Jerusalem is was about 90 seconds. In Joppa… 70 seconds. Imagine living in Sederot, where the citizens have 15 seconds.
Now, in Joppa, just south of Tel Aviv, the conflict had stopped trailing us and had caught up.
We were all praying while we crouched, I am sure. Some began to pray out loud. I was actually still a little dubious. That was when the loud boom shook us.
Another thing we had been hearing about all week was the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that Israel employs. Remember the Patriot missiles from the Persian Gulf war? In seconds these missile batteries register the threat, analyze the path, determine whether the likely impact site would be populated, then fire the intercept missile, and knock the Hamas missile out of the sky. The success rate is reported to be incredibly high… but very expensive. An additional Iron Dome battery had been stationed earlier today. The boom we felt was the Hamas missile being blown up in the sky. Looking to the south we could see in the sky the small but spreading black smoke plume of the explosion.
The voice came over the speaker again, telling us to stay in place, that there were possibly more missiles. Later reports indicates there may have been as many as 4 fired in our direction.
After a couple more minutes of silence, the voice told us to, and I quote, “return to normal.”
Sorry. Not possible.
First off, we were shaken. All of the different ways we deal with an adrenaline surge were evident… fear, tears, confusion, prayer… everyone was jumpy, but quiet. I think most of them were considering the nearness of the danger. The reality of it. What do we tell already worried spouses back home? When do we tell them? How do people face this every day? Lost in thought, not many heard our guide explain the sculpture we were standing near.
One of the reasons I go and take others to Israel is so that they will not return the same. Places that for years, I had read as essentially “a place” when I read that Jesus went from ______ to ______. He was in one place and we went to another place. After visiting, those places became real. The path became rocky and steep; the storms are wet and cold, the desert feel hot and lethal when I read about them. The stones are black in some places and white in others, and everything is made of stone.
My hope is that the narratives of the Bible become multi-chromatic and three-dimensional.
Now that is true about the conflict in Israel. I am not naïve and I know there is more to this story – it is a story that stretches back long before Christopher Columbus was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. I am not vain enough to lecture here. I am vain enough to challenge everyone to remember that this is real. The people are real. When I hear about the sirens going off, I will remember how real the feelings are when I was crouched by a stone wall, waiting… There really are busloads of 19-year-old young people (every Israeli, men and women, are required to be in the military) on the border of Gaza, and I am sure there are equally fresh, scared and determined young men and women in Gaza, and they may clash on the ground. So, I do feel willing to hope they stop before that happens. I believe Israel is being more patient than most of us Texans would if the drug cartels of Mexico starting launching rockets into South Texas toward Houston, no matter what provocation.
I don’t know exactly what the lesson in this is, but it certainly stood out to me: Less than 10 minutes after the rocket was blown out of the sky, the Muslim call to prayer started echoing from the mosques in the very city targeted by the missiles.
In any case, as a follower of Jesus, who loved the Psalms, I remember that Psalm 122 cries out: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”
Chris Legg (www.chrismlegg.com) is a licensed minister and professional counselor; he is the Campus Pastor for FBC Tyler’s South Campus; he runs a thriving therapy practice in Tyler, Texas… and is a professor for Womenary.
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