This piece is one of an ongoing series that we are sharing from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.
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November 9, 2023
It’s been forty days since October 7. Forty days in which Israel has experienced its worst terrorist attack and was plunged into war. Since then, the country has changed in fundamental ways. It will continue to change; how the country will look and how we will act after the war is over — whenever that may be — is anyone’s guess.
The changes are not uniform across the country. Some communities, those hit hard on October 7 and those close to the border with Lebanon (where the threat of Hezbollah looms large), are nearly ghost towns. Over 100,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes. They are now displaced within their country.
My town is one of the luckiest. So far, not a single rocket has fallen here. No terrorists have invaded. Things have been peaceful.
But that doesn’t mean the town hasn’t changed. In fact, the changes are all around us.
For instance, there’s volunteer guard duty at every entrance to our town. I am part of this group. In addition to that, there are patrol cars that scour the town 24/7; some with civilian volunteers, others with police officers, and others with soldiers armed with assault rifles. More soldiers are stationed at schools. I wonder what the kids make of it. So far, I haven’t asked my boys. Perhaps I should.
There are more guns around than ever before. Neighbors are suddenly carrying a pistol on their hip. Most of these weapons are new. People don’t trust the armed forces to keep them safe. They want to be able to do it themselves.
School has been cut from six days a week to five, and that’s after school was completely suspended at the beginning of the war. Some of the teachers have been called up for duty. There are not enough of them to fill the regular schedule. Our teachers are creative in how they continue educating their charges, all while worrying about their own spouses and children stationed at the front.
Each school day begins with a drill. The pupils are marched to the shelter. They have ninety seconds to get there in case of an alarm. That’s how long it will take a rocket to get here. In the communities near Gaza, that time is just fifteen seconds.
The situation, as many call it in lieu of using the word war, is the main topic of discussion. When parents gather near the school at the end of the day to pick up their children, there’s a sustained effort to speak of mundane things. But sooner or later the gravity of the situation pulls our conversations toward it, like a black hole whose tug no one can escape.
Rumors abound. False information, often false hope, and sometimes whispered news of disasters spread like wildfire. Each day, I hear stories that end up not being true. The fog of war is present even here, far from where the fighting is taking place.
There are exhibits with photos of the hostages on our main street. Some parents have complained that they can’t take their children there; they don’t want their kids to see the faces of children held hostage by Hamas. They might develop anxieties, they fear. Others say the hostages come first, and we must keep them in the public eye, no matter how upsetting it is.
There are more than a hundred evacuated families in town. They live in hotels, with family members, or in apartments they managed to rent. Playgrounds are full of children from the south and north. Some of them grew up with sirens as the background of their childhood. How did Israel’s government permit so many of its citizens to live for years in fear of rocket fire? It’s a question that roils the blood.
Some of the children have been enrolled in local schools. They’re making friends here, not knowing when they’ll be able to go back home. I wonder how many of them will return home after the war. It depends on the outcome, I suppose.
Farmers from the north and south bring their produce to makeshift markets here. One is held every Tuesday at the end of my street. People are eager to support these farmers. This past Tuesday, my street was packed with cars and shoppers. Solidarity at its finest.
Above all, there’s fear. Fear for what will happen to our soldiers in Gaza. Fear for the hostages. And fear that the war will expand.
In fact, it already has. Our border with Lebanon is an active war zone. Hezbollah attacks our posts and communities there every day. But the fighting there is not an actual war. Yet. If Hezbollah decided to raise the ante, our town will surely be targeted by its rockets, and then life here will change fundamentally. I wonder if my community is ready for that. I wonder if I am.
We try to stay calm and productive. We try to smile and laugh and occasionally we succeed. That’s another thing that’s changed since the war has started. We used to laugh more. I hope that one day soon, we’ll be able do so again.
Jonathan Dunsky is the author of the Adam Lapid historical mysteries series and the standalone thriller The Payback Girl. Before turning to writing, Jonathan served for four years in the Israeli Defense Forces and worked in the high-tech and Internet industries. He resides in Israel with his wife and two sons.