When I first heard about Hawaii’s false ballistic missile threat, sent on January 13, and the reaction to it among the natives who thought they were in danger, it engendered genuine sadness, because here in Israel, we live under the threat of real rocket attacks every day, as I know all too well, and those attacks that have been launched against us have been largely ignored by the rest of the world.
For Americans, the threat of a ballistic missile is far from a daily reality or concern. So when Hawaiians received a false warning that a nuclear rocket attack was imminent, residents panicked, with parents reportedly hiding their children in the sewer, students at the University of Hawaii running into marked fallout shelters, only to find them locked, and motorists parking in highway tunnels.
Living in Israel, I understand that sense of panic all too well. I commonly get similar alerts from my “Red Alert” phone application of incoming Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, often headed toward the south of Israel.
I know the feeling when you get that alert, the shock wave that starts deep in the gut and heads upward, much like when you’re dropping from a roller coaster.
During the last war between Israel and Hamas (the Palestinian terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip), not only did I get the alerts on my phone, I heard the air raid sirens wail over and over, all around the country. But these sirens were not false alarms — they were real alarms, warning Israel to take cover. Luckily, many of these rockets were shot down by the American-funded Iron Dome interception system.
But as Hawaiians now understand, the psychological trauma induced by the threat of an impending attack can linger even after the threat is eliminated or found to be false. In Sderot, a southern city in Israel close to the border with Gaza, residents have just 10 seconds to run when they hear a red alert. As a result, many of the children wet their beds until they are teenagers. Over half of them have post-traumatic stress disorder because of the rockets they face, sometimes on a daily basis.
The psychological damage caused by the threat of missiles is not the only tragedy. Also tragic is the mainstream media’s reaction — or lack thereof — when it comes to real rocket attacks in Israel. While the false warning in Hawaii garnered nonstop coverage by the American press and thousands of tweets and posts on social media, constant terror warnings in the US’s closest ally in the Middle East often go unreported.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa tweeted that the “panic and fear created by this false alarm was very dangerous.” What about the panic and fear created when actual rockets follow these alarms?
Senator Mazie Hirono tweeted that officials “need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again.” What about making sure actual rockets aren’t shot again?
Senator Brian Schatz tweeted that the false messages were “totally inexcusable.” But as Israel knows only too well, there are many excuses given for the real rockets.
If Hawaii were in the south of Israel, chances are we wouldn’t have heard anything from the press. And if we did hear anything, it would more likely be to defend those who shot the missiles rather than report on the effect on Israel. Nobody would have called the rocket attack “an oppressed people’s form of resistance” or say that those who shot the rockets were reacting to injustice. Certainly, if Hawaii were in the south of Israel, the international community would have no qualms about increasing security following the attack.
But Hawaii is not in southern Israel. So, while false alarms in Hawaii are heard around the world, actual attacks in Israel are etched into the collective memories and deepest fears of Israelis, but go largely unnoticed by the world.
So let this false missile alert be a teachable moment about life under missile threat. Let us send a clear message that there is no community, city, or country that should dismiss incoming rocket threats — even if they are just that — as non-newsworthy. Not in Hawaii, and certainly not in Israel.
Eliana Rudee is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center based in Jerusalem and a reporter for Breaking Israel News.