A Hamas rocket hits a mosque near Jerusalem, October 9, 2023

Editor’s Note: I taught Emma during her undergraduate program in History and Politics at the University of Birmingham. She recenlty completed a Master’s degree.

This summer Emma got in touch to say she was going to Israel with her parents.

This is her story.

My parents and I came out to see my brother, who lives here with his three young children — the youngest is 3 years old — in the Old City of Jerusalem.

It’s also the high holy festivals of Judaism. Last Friday was meant to be a really, really happy day with the handing over of the Torah. We went to synagogue on Friday night and the atmosphere was so joyous. Then suddenly you see the reactions from people, some who normally wouldn’t use their phones because it’s the Sabbath, and it’s sadness.

I can see the entrails in the sky of interceptions of Hamas rockets. Every so often you hear a dull thud in the distance, and the ground every so slightly shakes.

I am in a multi-cultural place where there are Jews and Arabs and tourists. Down the road from my brother’s apartment is a meeting point for soldiers, some who have been called up and haven’t served since they did conscription.

My nephews, niece, and I finally went for a walk when the sirens weren’t going. One of the soldiers gave his son a traditional Jewish blessing, his hands on the boy’s head, and I just burst into tears.

It’s interesting to see how children are so resilient. My niece just got a new doll’s house, and the first thing she did was make a shelter. She pretends there is a siren and has all the dolls run down.

“The Country In Complete Shock”

The sirens are never-ending. Between the air raid warnings, ambulances, and police cars, it’s hard to decipher which is which.
We went to do a huge shop, and as we returned the siren went off. My brother was out, and we spent the entire time wondering if he had found somewhere safe. Turns out he had helped an elderly couple who were caught up without anywhere to go.

I feel as though the country is in complete shock. There wasn’t any indication this would happen, so there was this juxtaposition between the Jewish festival on Friday night followed by the news on Saturday morning.

I don’t think Israel will recover from this. They will be tougher on security than ever before. I just hope [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t use this as an opportunity to try and gain land. And I’m hoping this doesn’t totally and completely break any trust that may have been building between Jewish people, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians — but I think this will completely undo everything.

“Living Years in Just A Day”

It used to be that if you were walking down the street and passed someone whom you knew isn’t Jewish, you made a greater effort to smile at them so at least you feel like you’re doing something right. Now I don’t think those two people would walk on the same side of the street.

Everywhere we go — which is exclusively the shops, my family’s place, and where we are staying — we take our passports in case we need to prove our nationality. We carry our medicines and glasses at all times in case we can’t come back here. Bags are packed for swiftly moving.

It feels like we are living years and years in just a day. I honestly can’t remember what its like to live normally and it’s only been a few days. I can’t imagine what everyone else here feels.

I have shared staircases and shelters with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. From Jewish skullcaps to hijabs, we’re standing next to each other.

I’m not a religious person, but my friends have started to pray for our safe journey to the airport from Jerusalem — which we anticipate to be long with lots of checkpoint stops — and onwards out of Israel. They take our Hebrew names and the names of our mothers and say them as part of Psalms of David. Feels very, very unusual to have someone praying on my behalf.

It’s hard to fully explain to friends at home what’s going on and how I feel, I know anti-semitism is bad in the UK, and they are scared. Relations between between two discriminated identities are just getting worse.

“Wrong to Leave But Wrong to Stay”

Soldiers are using the hotel next to us as a base. There is a bar still open so we are trying to buy them drinks as appreciation. Sleeping and eating is so hard. The police cars and ambulances have finally changed their sirens due to the similarity to the air raid warning.

My brother and nephew wanted to go to synagogue tonight to pray — the rules are just one person from each family, and no one younger than 12. They’re trying to avoid large crowds that would draw attention. Back home, our synagogue is holding a ceremony with others in south Manchester to pray. Usually all the synagogues do not do anything together because of a bit of rivalry, so it’s very symbolic they’re all together.

Feels completely wrong to leave but also wrong to stay. Funny mindset of “if I am captured, how could I avoid torture and just die immediately”. Very, very scary thoughts.