What can you do in fifteen seconds?
It takes a Keurig machine 30 seconds to brew a cup of coffee. This is the combined time two people have to make it to a bomb shelter in Sderot, a southern city in Israel.
Imagine fifteen seconds being the difference between life and death.
On May 3rd, the Alumni Community of Birthright Israel in collaboration with Artists 4 Israel hosted a bomb-shelter exhibit in New York City. Mounted on a truck, a model bomb shelter made stops at Hunter College, Baruch College, and outside the United Nations to provide the public with a rare opportunity to experience life in a bomb shelter while watching footage from rocket attacks on Sderot.
There are more than 200 bomb shelters in Sderot, and although they are meant to provide safety, they are also a constant reminder of the state of war that permeates every aspect of life in a town that is in many ways a battlefield. Since January 2001, more than 10,000 rockets have been launched toward Sderot, resulting in the deaths of 28 Israelis.
After an alarm sounds, signaling an attack, people have fifteen seconds to make it to a bomb shelter. If unable to reach a shelter, the consequences can be fatal. Death is a possibility as is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder triggered by traumatic events. According to the Sderot Bomb Shelter Museum, 93% or more of the children in Sderot have symptoms of PTSD.
Using a mock bomb shelter to bring Israel’s reality to New York City, the campaign aimed to raise awareness about rocket attacks in Israel. Outside the United Nations, an organization created after World War II to maintain international peace and security, the majority of people passed the exhibit without stopping. When asked if they wanted to experience what life is like in a bomb shelter, without mention of a country affiliation, most declined. Many of the intergovernmental organization’s employees said they could not get involved in anything political. Despite the good intentions of the United Nations, it is plausible that many of its employees may need to broaden their understanding of various issues before being able to vote on resolutions and helping to form government and international policies.
I stood on the sidewalk and watched as volunteers attempted to spark interest in the exhibit. After nearly two hours, less than a dozen people dared to experience life in a bomb shelter. I was one of them.
There was no welcome mat gracing the entrance of the gray container. The stairs creaked as I made my way to the doorway and crossed the threshold from sunlight into a confined space with black walls and blaring sounds of rocket attacks. It was anything but pleasant.
Standing alone in the structure, my mind wandered from the footage looping on the corner-mounted television. Looking at the dark, bare walls and listening to the siren, I tried to imagine if I was physically capable of making it to a bomb shelter in fifteen seconds.
I run, on average, fifteen miles a week. However, I stretch first. I wear comfy clothes and running shoes, and I have the “run” playlist on my iPod to keep me company. Like many female New Yorkers, unless I am heading to the gym, I do not leave my house in sneakers, and only on rare occasions will you find me wearing sweatpants in public. Thus, I concluded that on the average day, there is absolutely no way I would be able to locate and get to a bomb shelter.
The news footage ended, and I exited the room as quickly as I entered. I descended the stairs and made my way to the street where people were laughing, drinking lattes, and walking dogs, and I could not help but think that if a siren suddenly sounded those people would need more than fifteen seconds to figure out where to go.
“No child should have to grow up in a bomb shelter” is the unofficial slogan used by the event’s organizers to illustrate how living in constant fear of rocket attacks leads to a culture in which many childhood memories include seeking refuge and perhaps extensive stays in a bomb shelter.
Natalie Solomon, one of the exhibit’s organizers, explained how the demonstration’s message is not about politics. She said:
“I don’t know what I think about the peace process. I don’t know how to solve any of this stuff going on. I’m not taking a political stance. What I am saying is that I know that in the past two months more than 1 million Israelis in the south of Israel have lived with constant rocket barrage coming, and as an individual who cares about human life that concerns me.”
Although the situation in Israel is undoubtedly political, it is important to understand that the main issue should be the unnecessary violence and fear that is part of peoples’ lives: Israelis, Palestinians, and others who needlessly suffer.