When Israel, tired of an endless barrage of Hamas missiles fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, decided to take military action, the Birmingham Jewish Federation knew of an expert they could turn to for explaining the situation.
Margaret Kartus Duvdevani, who grew up in Birmingham but has lived for the last 30 years at Moshav Talmei Yosef, three miles from Gaza, was brought in for over two weeks of meetings with elected officials, civic groups, churches and reporters.
“Literally on a moment’s notice, she was here,” said Federation Executive Director Richard Friedman.
At the Levite Jewish Community Center’s annual meeting, she said ‘I’m always willing to talk, the problem is finding people to listen.”
She returned to Israel on Jan. 30.
During her visit, she met with Reps. Spencer Bachus and Artur Davis, giving them perspective on what it is like to live within range of the Hamas missiles.
For the last eight years, she said, it has been a life of “interruption, anxiety and stress.”
In June, Egypt negotiated a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, aware that Israel might have to take action if the missiles continued unabated.
For a while life became easier, but as the six-month cease fire drew to an end, the missile count went up to 80 to 120 per day.
It was a requirement to stay home unless absolutely necessary, and to be within 15 seconds of a safe room or bomb shelter. “We really spent most of the day in front of the television,” she said.
Because her home was built before codes required a safe room, the safest room was one with fewest windows, furthest from Gaza. For those in the area living in motor homes, concrete sewer pipes were distributed. Duvdevani noted that most deaths from the missiles come from shrapnel, not from impact.
A beeper system was distributed. After a Hamas missile is launched, it is detected and tracked, with the beepers in affected areas going off before the missile arrives.
Duvdevani noted that studies showed a tornado-siren type of alert raises stress, so the alarm is a female voice saying the Hebrew words for “code red.”
When an alert is received, she said, you take cover and wait for the boom, and hope it is faint from distance. Once, a missile landed 200 meters from her home.
While Israel made extensive arrangements to protect its citizens, the Palestinians did not, which is why the civilian casualty count in Gaza was relatively high. “Of all the money they got from Iran, for all the military stuff they buy, they couldn’t afford to protect their civilians,” she marveled.
School was out on the moshav because of the constant missile alerts. Female soldiers were dispatched to help occupy the children, and there were also Days of Relaxation, when the children of the area were brought further north, away from the target area, for activities. These excursions are supported by American Federations.
Duvdevani said studies showed one day away per week “was enough to reduce stress and anxiety for children.”
On Dec. 27, she was sitting at the moshav and heard Israeli jets overhead. At first, she thought they were training as usual, but then remembered it was Shabbat — training does not take place then.
Five minutes later she heard the booms. The Gaza operation had begun.
She said Israel is trying to create a deterrent for Hamas, that they should think twice about the cost of launching missiles into Israel.
After living with the situation for eight years, Duvdevani said, the operation was “just… and long overdue.”
But until and unless Hamas is replaced in the Gaza Strip with more pragmatic Palestinian leadership, “I don’t know what will happen.”