It's pretty surreal.
As someone now living in the United States full time and who was just lucky enough to come for a visit a day ago, here are some things I've experienced and found pretty shocking (yet oddly familiar from spending more than 27 years in Israel):
- You change plans based on news updates on where rockets are currently falling. We're here only for several days and were hoping to meet a bunch of people all over, dine at a few favorite restaurants, etc., now those plans are all in limbo based on the geography of how the conflict progresses (yeah, "first world problems," but still something you would never encounter in the U.S.).
- You worry a bunch. Our families don't live in the southern part of the country, and we hardly know people who are under constant fire, but almost everybody we know is either in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, which now both seem like legitimate targets. Yes, the chances for actually getting hit are minuscule, but feeling that there's someone out there actively gunning for you or your loved ones with medium-range rockets is pretty unnerving.
- You experience indoor camping. A ton of people have temporarily relocated to safer areas and are shacking up with family or friends. We're currently sharing a roof with 10+ family members. This is great for family bonding but really drives in that feeling that a war is going on.
- You feel a lot of stress and tension. Even if you're not super worried, there's probably someone around you that is way more worried. Worried people are tense, and this tension builds up as the situation is getting worse.
- You're often surprised by the turn of events. I was sitting in a bar in Jerusalem when the first rocket in more than 40 years hit the Jerusalem area, which was quite shocking as almost everyone assumed Jerusalem was off limits even in this current conflict. It was a pretty loud bar scene so we didn't hear the preceding warning sirens, and only found out after the fact from a TV playing in the background, so no one was immediately scared, but you could see on people's faces how their reality just shifted under their feet in an unexpected way and something they took for granted was now gone.
- You celebrate life. That bar scene—three seconds after the news comes in the bartenders are handing out free shots (your choice of whiskey or arak) to celebrate. It's hard to define exactly what we were celebrating (being OK? keeping happy?) but it probably boils down to wanting to feel like you still have control over your life.
- You keep going. This is perhaps the strongest motif—lives move on. Errands need to be taken care of, appointments kept and work needs to be done. It's probably very different in the areas just adjoining Gaza that are more heavily hit, but for the large part of the country that is in rocket range but isn't under constant fire, day-to-day life is close to normal. People here are pretty hardened and have seen much worse. You need to throw more at us to really disrupt our lives.
More questions on Israel-Gaza Conflict (November 2012):