Gaza War: Have you heard the one about…? Israelis find humor helps them to cope

An Israeli soldier sits on a tank on July 28, near Kafar Azza, Israel. As Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' in Gaza continues, the international community struggles to find a truce agreement. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

An Israeli soldier sits on a tank on July 28, near Kafar Azza, Israel. As Israel’s operation ‘Protective Edge’ in Gaza continues, the international community struggles to find a truce agreement. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

By Barbara Opall-Rome

HERZLIYA, ISRAEL — In the opening days of Operation Protective Edge, when I asked Israelis how they were handling the rocket threat or what their government should be doing to combat Hamas, their replies invariably came couched in sarcasm and dark wit.

At the time, it seemed as though everyone was a Jon Stewart wannabe.

With ground troops riled up and ready at the border and Iron Dome intercepting most incoming rockets, coffee shops and social media sites were awash in bravado and levity.

Here’s a text from a young father of two, a reservist who had been called up but not yet called in to the fight.

It shows a green road sign at a crossing point into Gaza. The sign reads: “To all the virgins up there in heaven. I just wanted to let you know that an especially rough month awaits you.”

Then there was the one about tunnels built by militants for cross border infiltrations and ambush attacks. It was making the rounds before the first of six soldiers were killed by the subterranean threat.

It’s a play on the Hebrew word for nagging, which also connotes digging. “Gaza is the only place in the world where men dig more than women.”

For the millions who suddenly found themselves in rocket range, humor was proving cathartic; a means of coping with the piercing sirens that were once relevant only to those unfortunate to live within 40 kilometers of the border.

For people like Yossi Elbaz, my neighborhood greengrocer, or the ladies at the local Susy Levy hair salon, bad jokes – the more sarcastic and politically incorrect the better – was the preferred way of laughing off a bad situation.

First there was one in reference to the reported 90 percent intercept success rate of Iron Dome. This one I heard from Yossi, the greengrocer: “Hamas is gaining the operational upper hand. They’re destroying 90 percent of Iron Dome rockets launched by Israel.”

While the Iron Dome jokes are too numerous to note, this one stands out for its particularly poor taste. It’s in reference to a July 28 incident in which a Hamas-launched rocket misfired and struck a hospital on the Gazan side of the border:

“At least they didn’t have too far to go for medical treatment.”

Another byproduct of Iron Dome success is a growing disregard of Homefront Command safety procedures. With so many emboldened by Iron Dome defense, rubber necking attempts to witness live intercepts has become a sort of national sport.

Instead of using the 15-90 second warning time to seek shelter, many prefer to shoot iPhone video of the approaching engagement. Instead of running to protected spaces, many here – myself included, I must admit – run to post their pieces on Twitter and Facebook.

But as Israel’s death toll surges in the ongoing campaign, sarcasm and humor has shifted to mourning. With nearly 60 dead after 23 days, morale is still high. People are still coping, but through anger, grief and a growing insensitivity to the carnage and gross suffering of the other side.

And that’s no laughing matter.

Marcus Weisgerber
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Marcus Weisgerber

Senior Pentagon Correspondent at Defense News
I write about broad-ranging policy, acquisition and budget issues affecting the US military.
Marcus Weisgerber
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