Editor’s note: want to begin this report by thanking WebWizards for sponsoring what will be my expanded coverage as a correspondent in these turbulent times as Israel calls up troops and prepares for what I believe will be an expanded operation in Gaza in response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israeli cities with missiles. I want to thank WebWizards for believing in this publication and serving my community by enabling me to send out extra e-blasts to provide you my readers with current and unique first-hand material in this very tense time-to Matt, Candace, Cindy and Brent thank you again and again for all you do for this publication and for your incredible work. I am very indebted to you.]

Let me begin by saying that I’ve had a hell of a day, and that I as I write this in Netanya I am hearing several booms which I do not usually hear and am not sure what they are. They could be iron dome intercepting rockets in the distance, some are sonic booms from aircraft and some are no doubt bombs landing.

Today I attended Ha’aretz’s conference on Peace which took place at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv knowing full well that war could be closer than peace. At 10:00 in the morning I spoke with a left wing Israeli whose name I can not reveal but who is in contact with Hamas. I asked him if he thought there would be war. The answer he gave me left me with the impression there would be war–that Hamas wants war and if Israel was pounded with rockets the government would have to respond. This Israeli is a very reliable source in my view and I called a colleague and told him what I had heard. He agreed with the assessment, which is easy enough to make. I don’t think that Netanyahu or the IDF really want war,- Israel knows there is no real way to retake Gaza and it’s not likely it will be able topple Hamas and enable Fatah to retake Gaza.. There will be limits to what any military operation can achieve, and Israel doesn’t want its boys coming home in body bags. Israel will be strong enough to inflict pain on Hamas, but Hamas, unlike Israel doesn’t really care how many of its people die. That’s the fundamental difference and asymmetry between the two.

Both my colleague and I had a premonition in the morning that Hamas would try to send a missile on Tel-Aviv so an air raid siren would go off during the Ha’aretz peace conference–with so many journalists concentrated in one spot, an air raid during the conference would certainly make a buzz and get lots of coverage. If Hamas timed it right it would make the evening news.

And sure enough about an hour before the conference was scheduled to end, that’s exactly what happened. I was in the bathroom trying to phone my professional cameraman based in Tel-Aviv to tell him that I had set up a meeting on Friday with Shlomo Gazit, Israel’s Head of Military Intelligence During the Six Day War.[I just heard another boom in the distance as I am writing this]. For some reason my cell phone wasn’t working and a few seconds later I heard the siren and the hotel staff was clearing everyone down to the lower floor which is underground, (where there was even coffee and cookies that had been set up for the conference). As the security guard said to me, “This functions as the most luxurious bomb shelter in the country.” It was my first air raid. Although I had stayed in Israel during the Israel -Hamas war in 2006, the rockets never reached me and I never had to seek shelter.

So there I was with several other hundred people, including many of the Israel’s leading journalists who were all trying to use their cell phones, none of which were working while the siren was going off. I saw David Broza, one of Israel’s finest singer/songwriters, who had just performed a song for peace at the conference. I came up to him to say hello since I am a fan (In fact I walked down the aisle to one of his songs when I got married). I told Broza I remember seeing him years ago at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, in addition to other appearances he has made in Winnipeg. He laughed and said to give Winnipeg a hello for him. We hugged and an Israeli took a photo of us together. Who would have thought that I would share my first air raid experience with David Broza. Memorable to say the least.

But the red alert was a sobering experience, because I then set out to walk to Kikar Rabin, (about a half hours walk) where I was picking up an item. On the way, as I watched the gorgeous sunset, I began thinking what I would do if another siren sounded, since I wasn’t sure where the nearest shelters would be. The army has announced that in Tel-Aviv you have a minute and a half to get to a shelter, but it doesn’t help much if you don’t know one is. On my walk I passed a film crew that was setting up to report on the air raid and I asked if they knew where the missile had landed. “It didn’t land. Iron Dome intercepted it.” (Ah! Relief. Score one for Iron Dome,!). I passed an art gallery on the way, and since I know the owner Batya I stopped in to say hello. She said to me “They are saying there was anair raid siren in Tel-Aviv. I don’t believe it. I didn’t hear anything.” I assured her that this was not make believe and I asked her where the nearest shelter was? She laughed–“‘I have no idea.” I went to the apartment where I was to pick up the item I needed and asked my friend on the fourth floor if there was a shelter in her building. She laughed-“Not here.” (older Tel-Aviv buildings don’t have them).

[It’s now one a.m. I just paused from writing this article because I am hearing lots of booms and they are very loud. My neighbor is up and we are both looking out our windows to the sea. I have never imagined writing a story while I am hearing bombs going off in the distance. It is a very sobering and rather unnerving experience. ]

In Tel Aviv I got to the Arlozerov Train Station, which is a major transportation hub. From there I catch a mini-van to the Netanya bus station. As I was walking I noticed that there were a lot of soldiers-way more than usual. Then it hit me–they are being called up to go to Gaza. I went up to a couple of them to ask them if that was why there were there. “Yes.” How many of you are being drafted? “Harbeh (Alot),” was the answer. I looked at these kids again-young men. My own son is 15. They aren’t much older. As I left them a tear fell from my eye- I hope they come back alive.

I got to Netanya. There was folk dancing in the square. It was such a strange feeling to go from an air raid to outdoor folk dancing within the space of an hour. I was pleased to see the folk dancing–Good, war hasn’t hit Netanya I thought.

But I was wrong. When I got to my building, I knocked on my neighbour’s door. My neighbours are French Jews who immigrated a couple years ago. The mother told me that her 23 year old son has just been called up and that he had phoned and said that a missile had hit nearby, but that hadn’t yet been reported.This explains why I had seen people dancing in the Netanya square–they couldn’t have known yet. “Shit” I thought. Hamas promised they would send missiles to Netanya and they have.

My neighbor opened the bomb shelter between our apartments, which we share–and there is a bunch of their stuff in it which they began to clear out. The shelter has a ladder which is supposed to enable us to get down from floor 4 to floor 1, but someone has closed off the opening so we can’t get down. This means I don’t have confidence in the shelter. In 2006, it wasn’t blocked off. I am not happy about it. There is another main shelter in the first floor of the building, which means when a siren goes off I will have about a minute and a half to dash down four floors of stairs to get to the main shelter. I am not sure I can make it in that time (especially at night when the hall lights aren’t automatically on).

[I have just paused from writing to listen out my window as I am hearing lots of aircraft and more booms. I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight]

I have called my cousin who lives in Mevasseret outside of Jerusalem. There have been sirens near Jerusalem but she has a shelter in her basement and her basement is probably more safe than most shelters since her house straddles a hill and its way down. If I don’t think I can reasonably make it to the shelter in my apartment, I will go to her place. She has a computer in her basement and I will set up the Winnipeg Jewish Review there. I have thought about the possibility of going further north in the Galil which also should be safe (unless Hizbollah joins in on the act. )

I have a friend who hasn’t been to Israel since the 80’s is scheduled to land here for a two week “vacation” tomorrow afternoon and is plans to stay with me. She had planned to walk the beach and go for a bike ride on her first day Yesterday I called her to tell her things were heating up and we could be in bomb shelters but I didn’t know when I spoke to her what would be. Had I spoken to her two hours later after I heard from my reliable source who has contacts with Hamas that they want war, I definitely would have her to not get on the plane to come here. But by the time I found out, it was too late- her flight had left already. I think she might be in shock when she gets here. And probably it won’t be easy getting a flight back right away since. I imagine that many tourists are going to try to clear out of here in the next 24 hours.

Me–I don’t want to go. I don’t want to give Hamas that victory. And I think I will be safe at my cousin’s if not here.

I will sign off now. I will have lots to report about the Ha’aretz Peace conference, where I was joined by several student interns (from Florida, California and elswhere) who will be writing for the WJR.

One closing thought: My sister recently emailed me asking me if I want to say the prayer for the State of Israel at her son’s bar mitzvah at the end of August. The answer is yes. And I might add that I am saying it tonight also.