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INTERNSHIP AUGUST Spotlight Post #1: Reporting from the Israeli war zone

August 4, 2014

UVM junior Aviva Loeb, layout editor for The Vermont Cynic, spent a month this summer interning at The Jerusalem Post in Israel. She fled the country July 10 as violence between Israel and Palestine intensified. This is her account.

Border Guard Car

An Israeli border officer speaks with a man whose car has been blocked in traffic during a July 1 protest, the first of several on which UVM student Aviva Loeb reported. She says that when she took the picture, “I was right in the middle of the protest, closer than I would have liked. In that photo, I was probably three feet away from the two of them.”

BY AVIVA LOEB

After three Israeli teens were killed earlier this summer by terrorists connected to Hamas, my reporting duties for The Jerusalem Post brought me to a candlelit vigil in downtown Jerusalem, only a few blocks from my hotel, which was my home base for the internship of a lifetime.

The evening vigil was so peaceful and respectful, I couldn’t have predicted what came next.

Just a day later, a protest I was covering quickly turned violent, with protesters chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Revenge” in Hebrew. They argued with police officers. They pushed and shoved.

One Israeli spit on an Arab man who had stopped his car, an easy mark because Arab cars have different-colored license plates than Jewish cars.

Most people know what came next. On July 2, right-wing Israelis killed a Palestinian teenager and dumped his body in the Jerusalem Forest as an act of revenge.

The other Post interns and I scanned Facebook groups looking for protests, eventually covering four in the next week. One story made the front page, a coup for any intern. At the time, we joked that the interns were developing the newspaper’s “protest beat.”

Jewish protesters reenact the kidnapping of three Israeli teens.

Jewish protesters reenact the kidnapping of three Israeli teens.

An Orthodox Jew participates in a protest in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teens while a border police officer observes the scene.

An Orthodox Jew participates in a protest in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teens while a border police officer observes the scene.

Then tensions rose. Riots broke out in Arab neighborhoods near my apartment. Protesters set tires on fire and threw rocks at police. I stopped taking public transportation.

Living under rocket fire from Hamas isn’t unusual for Israelis.  In fact, they’ve built this contraption called the Iron Dome, which intercepts rockets fired at the country. It’s pretty accurate too, boasting a 90 percent success rate. But this level of violence was new for me.

I remember sitting outside on a crowded downtown street when the sirens went off in Jerusalem for the first time in years, sounding enough like an ambulance that it was hard to tell when we were supposed to be running. But my roommate and I ran, genuinely for our lives.

You have a minute-and-a-half to find a bomb shelter, even less if you live in other parts of Israel. We had no idea where to look—or even what we were looking for. Thankfully, we were only a block away from our hotel. Once there, we ran down flight after flight of stairs. We must have descended far below ground level. It was cool and slightly damp. Children were crying. Adults frantically made phone calls.

“They won’t hit Jerusalem,” people told me. “They can’t even reach us.” But against all odds they had. The rockets were mostly intercepted by the Iron Dome, although one fell about 45 miles outside the city onto an open field.

Israel was at war with Hamas.

In that moment in the bomb shelter, I decided that I wanted to go home. Back to Burlington, my hometown. Back to safety. Back to where everyone got along and we never had bad news of this magnitude.

Everyone told me that this was part of Israel, but it was a part I had no interest in experiencing. I never wanted to see the inside of a bomb shelter again.

Israeli border police observe the July 1 protest.

Israeli border police observe the July 1 protest.

Crying over the phone, I called my boss and explained to him that I had decided to leave. He understood, as did the seven other American interns who in a month had become some of my closest friends. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.  I didn’t want to leave my friends; I didn’t want to leave my internship.

But I didn’t want to spend three more weeks living in fear.

At the airport the next day, I heard the sirens go off again.  Nobody knew what to do because this had never happened at the airport, right in the center of the country, as far away from Gaza or the West Bank as it could be.

We walked rather than ran to the shelter, which wasn’t big enough to hold everyone. I squeezed into the crowded room, which could only be distinguished as a bomb shelter because it had no windows. I overheard a British man tell his friend over the phone that he had seen the rocket off in the distance.

When the 10-minute waiting period was up, we filed out, and business at the airport went back to normal.

Once I was in the air, I thought about getting right back on a plane and returning to Israel. I missed my friends, my office and my roommates. But landing in New York was the best feeling in the world. I was grateful to be back on American soil, so close to home and so safe.

No one truly wins in a war. Hundreds of lives have been lost and homes destroyed. My first few days back in Burlington didn’t seem real. As grateful as I was to be home, it felt like a bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from.

My heart is still in Israel, with my friends and coworkers who have stayed to brave the rocket fire.


Aviva Loeb’s summer internship changed radically when fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas. She took all of the protest photos featured above. The snapshots below show her working as a Jerusalem Post reporting intern.

Loeb, second from right, interviews Hannah Goslar Pick, a Holocaust survivor and close friend of Anne Frank.

Loeb, second from right, interviews Hannah Goslar Pick, a Holocaust survivor and close friend of Anne Frank.

Loeb, right, poses with fellow interns Lia Kamana and Jacob Goldstein on the day that their protest story made the front page of The Jerusalem Post.

Loeb, right, poses with fellow interns Lia Kamana and Jacob Goldstein on the day that their protest story made the front page of The Jerusalem Post.

 

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