At my friend's parent’s house in Ashdod, his mother serves me “war cous-cous,” which is the best meal I’ve had in a long time, and then an alert goes off, and we have 45 seconds to get to the shelter, and I walk outside, casual, and he grabs my arm and shouts “run,” and so I do, and the booms are much bigger here. I clench my fists much tighter now, the men and women look much more stern, and the children look less like children, and a woman leans over and says something in Hebrew, and his mom translates, “Go back to America, and tell Obama what you’ve seen.”
His mother tells me that if she had a nuclear bomb she would drop it on Gaza. On everybody? “No, the innocents can leave, just a bomb for Hamas, wipe it clean and start over.”
We go back into the kitchen and nobody has an appetite any more, but somehow I still do and I eat another two plates worth, in between dashes to the shelter. If there is no shelter, they say get to the second or third floor of a building (if the building is tall enough) the floors above should stop the rocket’s trajectory, yet be above the broken glass and shrapnel flying from the street. If you are out driving, get out of the car and get as far away as possible, get to the north side of a wall, away from windows. “Definitely don’t go swimming,” they say, “there’s no Iron Dome over the ocean.
I’m at the beach with Isaac and we’re in the Mediterranean. There are no waves, we watch the intelligence planes fly back and forth all day. He checks his phone a lot. He has to be near his base, in case he gets called back. We hear a boom above. No sirens, so we keep swimming.
In Beit Sahour, Palestine. It’s my birthday and a well dressed man is waving his arms in circles, serious and solemn, lecturing on Ghassan Khanafani, killed by the Israelis with a car bomb. When it’s over we all walk out into the dark of the alley and think about where to go, and somebody has a cake in her purse, and she didn’t know it was my birthday, but of course we can cut it up, she says, in the falafel shop while they negotiate our taxi to a friend's house. When we get there it’s nargila and arrac, and we sit on the patio listening to the sound of teargas canisters in the distance. I ask how far away it is, and they look back at me calmly, exhaling through their noses, and say that it is maybe two kilometers, but the shape of the valley carries the sound to us like it was on the other side of the street. He gives a play by play, translating the sounds through his deadpan affect: boom gas, boom gas, boom rubber bullet, boom gas. “Soon,” he says, “they will switch to live ammunition, which is quiet.”
He takes us up on the roof, and points out where he crossed the fence into Israel. “I’m a tour guide, I need to see Jerusalem.... even if I am blacklisted,” he laughs and another friend tells the story of his brother, so big and tall that no soldier dared to touch him. He sat in the back of an Israeli jeep, had himself arrested so that they would take him into Jerusalem. The lights of the settlement, Gilo, twinkle on the hill and I hate how beautiful it all looks.
We leave the party at the end of the night and Julie puts me in the back of a taxi when we hear sirens from Jerusalem. She’s going to take pictures of the clashes, and I’m going to go sit in her apartment and worry. I hear a rocket explode overhead, but I don’t realize it until I check the news later.
In South Tel Aviv at a party, I order a beer from the bar on the roof when another red alert goes off, third for the night, and I gesture to her: please, hurry, I want something to drink down in the shelter, but what I mean is that I want something to hold onto.
I get coffee with a woman I met on Tinder. An American. We walk in her neighborhood when an alert goes off and I say, let’s go inside somewhere, so we go into a hardware store. The clerk looks up, and speaks in Hebrew. She translates: it’s no safer in here than out there, this building is old. It feels good to have a roof above you, I say. After the boom we go outside. Everybody is taking pictures of the small drop of a cloud on the blue sky.
About the author...
Liam Ze’ev O’Connor is a Chicago-based artist and educator. Liam grew up on a small suburban island near San Francisco, and received a BA from Lewis & Clark College and a MFA in Sculpture + Expanded Practice from The Ohio State University. Through sculpture, video, and photo-based installation, Liam’s work explores the complexity of American-Jewish identity, the Israel/alestine conflict, and how we can access the divine through digital media.