I love being a journalist. Despite the often high-stress nature of the work, it almost always gives more than it takes. It allows me to connect with people, learn about the world, and inform others on topics they need and want to know about. But I also love my son and husband dearly.
Recently that has created a problem, because we are currently based in Jerusalem, and I have been reporting on the fighting between Hamas and Israel for seven days straight.
I started hearing bomb sirens and explosions on October 28 while in southern Israel. Then I heard another one on November 16 in Jerusalem. Today (November 20), I heard only a siren and ran for cover, but didn’t hear the explosions.
During the first two bombings, I was with my husband and one-year-old son. It was frightening but reassuring to be together and know that everyone was safe. Today when Jerusalem was struck with rockets, I was out reporting on the story, my husband was at work, and my son was in daycare.
Now that a possible midnight ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is on the horizon, I’m wondering what the last seven days of violence and death have been about. Even though I’ve been reporting on it almost nonstop for The Epoch Times and Poynter, it’s hard to measure the worth of living here with my family against having the opportunity to report on such an important story.
My progression from concerned mom and wife to reporter chasing the story during the past week has been surprising. I have gone from wanting nothing to do with the story to being able to entrust my child to the care of a non-family member while I go out to work.
The turning point came last Friday. I was at home with my family enjoying a peaceful evening. The alarm for Sabbath had just sounded, my son was playing with his toys, and my husband was making dinner. Suddenly I heard another alarm, but this one was incredibly loud, wailing and urgent — nothing like the Sabbath alarm.
I grabbed my baby off the floor and got my husband, but I also made sure to take my smartphone. I had learned in the first few days of reporting that Twitter would be a valuable tool to broadcast brief reports while the bombing was going on. I was right. Foreign correspondents like me covering this story have used Twitter extensively to send out updates and track the story.
After things calmed down and we bomb-proofed our apartment to my satisfaction (my husband is Israeli and was somewhat nonplused), I called my editor in the U.S. She wanted me to get out and chase down the story about Jerusalem being targeted.
I hung up and looked down at my baby as he played sweetly with his toys, and then at my husband, whose presence is always so reassuring and calming.
“My editor wants me to get out there and see what I can find out about the bombing,” I told him. “Do you think it’s worth it?”
“Yeah, sure,” he replied calmly. “I can stay here with the baby.”
I wanted him to insist I stay home. The truth was I was extremely rattled because I wasn’t sure how to keep my baby safe. Everyone around me seemed used to the fighting and the “situation,” as they call it here. But if I live 1,000 years, I hope I never get used to hearing the sound of a bomb exploding while I hold my child.
In the end, I did go out. I talked to an Arab man at a gas station who said his friend saw a rocket explode in the sky. I drove in the cold, dark night toward the area where one rocket supposedly landed. I followed the line of the towering, concrete separation barrier and went through a checkpoint where cars with Arabs were being searched and I was just waved through. But I also had the presence of mind to fill the car with gas and take out a bunch of cash while I was out —just in case we needed to flee quickly.
For the next few days I wrote story after story about the developing situation at the expense of spending time with my family. Even when I took my son to the playground, it was a strain to not look at Twitter on my phone to find out the most recent developments.
But it wasn’t until Jerusalem was bombed again last week that my reporter’s instinct started to get on equal footing with my maternal instinct. Anyone who’s been a parent knows the need to protect your child is a mighty powerful force.
I had asked my son’s daycare if they could keep him for the full day instead of his regular half-day so I could work. I needed to get some photos and check out the situation in the Old City, which is where things almost always go down in Jerusalem.
The air-raid alarm went off as I walked up the steps to the Old City. I ran for it. My husband called, but I didn’t answer because I wanted to use my phone to record the air-raid siren, to tweet a report about what was happening, and to take photos of people in the shelter.
Surprised at my sudden ability to be emotionally detached from my spouse, I went to work in the darkness of the shelter (which was actually an inner stairwell). While taking pictures of people, my hands shook, but for the first time in my career I was able to calm myself and keep going. Afterward I was even more surprised that I didn’t have the immediate urge to call my son’s daycare. In just five minutes, everyone seemed completely calm and things looked eerily normal.
“Look at that incredible view!” one tourist exclaimed as he walked through the plaza in front of the Old City’s famous Jaffa Gate and looked toward east Jerusalem. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Strung out as I was at this point from a day of reporting and too much caffeine, I almost laughed out loud at how normal he and everyone else were behaving.
“Oh, you have no idea, buddy,” I thought to myself.
Genevieve Belmaker (formerly Genevieve Long) is a freelance reporter based in Jerusalem and regular contributor to Quill. Interact on Twitter @Genevieve_Long.