Tel Aviv Diary: Waiting for a Cease-Fire

Gaza rocket fire Israel
A rocket is seen as it is fired from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel July 25, 2014. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Israelis were waiting tonight for word as to whether a cease-fire agreement could be reached. There was both hope and fear—hope, because Israelis have had enough of a war they never wanted in the first place and fear that Kerry would craft an agreement that would reward a ruthless, terrorist group. Kerry presented a plan that, according to the members of the Israeli cabinet, could have been written by Hamas—and which was, almost certainly, written at least in part by Turkey and Qatar. In spite of this blatant bias in their favor, Hamas was still not satisfied. It should be noted that Israel's security cabinet in its first meeting during the Sabbath in 13 years, voted unanimously not to even to consider the proposal. At this point, Israelis believe that the American Administration is either naive or shockingly two-faced. The video clip of Kerry last week seemed to say it all: he stated that he needs to do something, that this killing must be stopped. It does not matter who started the war, it does not matter who is responsible, who is right, the most important goal is to stop the fighting. A worthy goal, but to weary Israelis, impossibly naive. Tonight his tone was similar when, after announcing in Cairo that he had not reached an agreement with the parties, he stated if only the parties would stop firing they could work out their differences. The average Israelis would probably like to ask Secretary of State Kerry how that approach has been working out with Al Qaeda? Kerry tonight announced that he would keep working and expressed the hope that both sides would accept a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire.

Now, there is the additional stressor of Israel possibly being on the verge of a third intifada (uprising) on the West Bank. The demonstrations last night were the largest and most violent seen in nine years. There was a concern that today, the last Friday of the Ramadan, would be even worse. Particularly worrisome was the fact that many of the army units normally located in the West Bank are now in Gaza. These units have been replaced by reservists who were not given a chance to prepare. Thankfully, as Friday has come to a close, the day saw relatively limited violence.

Meanwhile in Gaza, the day was also relatively quiet. Israel has now destroyed 15 of the 31 tunnels it had found. More tunnels are believed still to be discovered. Two Israeli soldier lost their lives. Hamas soldiers seem to be backing away from fighting on a multiple fronts. If the first few days of the ground battles could be characterized by very heavy fighting by Hamas, the last two days has witnessed much lighter resistance. The Israeli government today officially announced that the soldier Hamas had claimed to be kidnapped was, in fact, dead. The number of missiles fired at Israel were much lower. On average, there has been a drop of almost 50 percent in that number.

On a personal note, the war came a little closer to home last night when I found out that the son of close friends in the United States had been lightly wounded in the Gaza. He was being taken to a hospital in Ashkelon. So off I went at 1:30 in the morning to Ashkelon. I arrived at the hospital at 2:30 AM and found a fully-functioning hospital with a hard-working staff situated only a few miles from the Gaza border. The staff was happy that the soldier had a family friend there and they were both extremely helpful and very competent. I am happy to say that the soldier was only very lightly wounded and after taking some antibiotics and getting a few days' rest will be fine. One of the somewhat disturbing aspects of my visit to this frontline hospital was the announcement in the elevator as they were transporting the soldier for a test. "This floor includes the department of 'mass casualties.'" Chilling, to say the least.

When I got home, I managed to grab a few hours sleep and had, as my wake-up call, the sound of a general attack on the Tel Aviv area that did not include Tel Aviv itself but the explosions could be heard. I headed out with my son for some lunch and for the first time as we were walking, the sirens went off. We ducked into a store and waited for the intercept. When it was over, we were able to go into the street and see in the sky the trails of the intercept missiles and, quickly, the point of the impact and destruction of the incoming missile.

Tomorrow is another day, day 19 of a war no one expected and everyone was sure would end quickly.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com. An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.