BREAKING: ‘We live in a country that expects trouble. Every home has a bomb-proof room. But nobody saw this coming’

I see helicopters flying overhead, I hear missiles in the distance and I see shock on the face of everyone I meet. Israelis live in constant fear of attack, but nobody expected anything on this scale, with many hundreds of civilians – men, women and children – murdered by terrorists (the number is increasing by the hour as more bodies are found), thousands more injured and at least 100 taken hostage in Gaza.

I spent many years working for the Manchester Evening News before I moved to a town in central Israel with my family nine years ago. The day we arrived marked the start of an earlier conflict, Protective Edge…..CONTINUE READING HERE

Sirens sounded at the airport in Tel Aviv, as passengers were ushered to huge underground shelters and air space over the entire country was closed. That was our welcome to Israel.

The last 24 hours have been surreal. We live in a country that expects trouble. Every home here has a bomb-proof room. Soldiers, police officers and many ordinary citizens openly carry guns.

Drive into a car park and you’ll be asked to open your boot, travel by train and you’ll have to put your bag through a metal detector. Missile attacks are a regular fact of life, especially for those living in the south of the country. There are waves of violence, followed by periods of relative calm.

Israeli police retrieve weapons used by militants after rocket strike

But the magnitude of yesterday’s attack is unprecedented. We were woken by a siren wailing at 6.30am on Saturday and dashed down to our bomb-proof room, still mostly asleep.

We didn’t know what was happening, nor would it become clear for many hours. As observant Jews we don’t use our devices – phone, TV, computer – on the day of rest, so we relied on fragments of information gleaned from people on the street.

I walked to the synagogue, hoping the siren was a mistake, or a one-off missile. The service was cut short and we were sent home, because the bomb shelter couldn’t fit everyone. Information was trickling through by now. “Bigger than 9/11,” somebody said. Which is true if you compare the population and casualties of the US and Israel. “Worse than the Yom Kippur War,” said another.

It was 50 years ago, almost to the day. Israel was taken by surprise on the holiest day of its calendar. See Helen Mirren in Golda. Since then Israel has believed it has eyes and ears everywhere, that it is able to foil a huge proportion of terror attacks. But this is a massive failure.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Israel is a tiny country, about the size of Wales, with a population of under 10 million. People know each other. Everybody here knows somebody who was killed or injured.

Our friend’s daughter serves at an army base very close to Gaza. She’d taken the weekend off to see Bruno Mars in concert (subsequently cancelled). Hamas terrorists stormed the base, went from room to room murdering some of her fellow soldiers and taking others hostage.

Our friend living just a couple of miles from the Gaza border posted a tearful message on Facebook earlier today. The kibbutz (small agricultural settlement) where she lives was stormed. Among those shot dead were migrant farm workers from Thailand. One of them worked with her husband in the cowsheds.

Many of our friends are waiting for news of their sons and daughters who have been drafted to the Army in the last day or so. Among them is our friend’s son, who posted pictures two days earlier with his fiancee showing off her new engagement ring.

Cars on fire after Hamas rocket attack in Ashkelon, Israel

I drove to collect my daughter last night. On the way there a siren sounded. I veered onto the had shoulder of the motorway and lay down next to the car. The Iron Dome usually blows Hamas missiles out of the sky, but there’s always a danger of being hit by falling shrapnel.

A few minutes later I see a traffic jam ahead. We’re narrowed to a single lane as police officers take a look in every car. Terrorists are still on the loose.

My WhatsApp box is crammed with appeals. Soldiers who dashed off at a moment’s notice need toothbrushes, clean boxers, snacks, cigarettes, socks. People have been evacuated en masse from their homes close to the Gaza border with nothing more than the shirts on their backs.

There are drop-off points everywhere for people to donate. A nation that has been divided of late over judicial reforms has been jolted into an uneasy unity.

Schools and nurseries are closed, as are banks, post offices, restaurants. Gatherings of 50 or more are banned, with echoes of Covid.

There are two sides, or more to every story. I have steered away from politics, although the fact that I chose to make a new life in Israel should tell you something.

I will say only this, as a matter of fact, not conjecture. Hamas have killed indiscriminately (farm workers from Thailand, for example) and has deliberately targeted civilians…...CONTINUE READING HERE