As Israeli forces and Hamas militants wage battle in the Gaza Strip, an Elizabeth City man is living nearby in Jerusalem, where he says life is routine.
“It’s complicated. I’d say life is going on,” said Joe DeStefano, in an interview Thursday via Skype. “Since I’ve been here there’s been one alert, one air raid alarm, and we heard some booms, and it turned out a couple of rockets landed three miles away from where we live in Bethlehem.”
DeStefano, 51, has lived in Jerusalem since last November. While his stay is mostly business related, he’s also spending honeymoon time with his new wife, Doreen.
Jerusalem is about 60 miles northeast of the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian self-governed territory sandwiched between Israel to its north and east, Egypt to its south and the Mediterranean Sea to its west.
Jerusalem also sits within range of Hamas’ rockets; however, DeStefano explained why he suspects more rockets haven’t been launched toward the area of the city where he and his wife live.
“We’re near the old city. There are a lot of holy sites for Muslims and Christians and Jews altogether there,” he said. “So, I think the people kind of avoid … they don’t want to hit their own sites.”
Safe from rocket fire, DeStefano has an apartment-balcony view of the violence underway in the Gaza Strip.
“I’m in southern Jerusalem. In fact, you look to the south sometimes at night you can see artillery fire and hear booms in the background,” he said. “I would say if I go out on my terrace, facing southwest, you can sometimes see the flashes. If it’s a cloudy night you can see the light. It actually looks like a thunderstorm over the horizon.”
The DeStefanos have several Israeli friends who don’t appear the least bit annoyed about having their lives, such as a night on the town, interrupted by sirens warning of approaching rockets.
“One of our neighbors posted on her Facebook page that they were in the middle of a concert, at the place we were just at, and the siren went off,” DeStefano said. “Everybody calmly went into a restaurant that was a (designated) shelter, waited until the all clear and came out and the music resumed.”
Moments earlier, DeStefano and his wife had been at the same restaurant but decided to go home before the music started.
Hamas is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that since 2007 has served as the de facto government in the Gaza Strip. This latest round of fighting began after the bodies of three Israeli students were found June 30. Israel blamed the Palestinians and just days later a Palestinian teenager was found dead. Three Jewish suspects have been arrested in connection with the Palestinian’s death. Hamas also began launching rockets into Israel, and as of Saturday the number of rockets fired was reportedly as many as 2,500.
The conflict escalated on July 18, when Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip to ferret out those in Hamas firing the rockets and to close tunnels Israel believes are being used to transport the rockets into Gaza.
Although both sides agreed to a 12-hour truce on Saturday, so far Israel’s ground invasion has led to the deaths of more than 800 Palestinians and 34 Israelis, including 32 soldiers.
As an American watching the conflict from the sidelines, DeStefano has to be careful to not favor one side over the other.
“I try not to talk politics, but it’s going to come up,” he said. “And I also know people who are Palestinian and they have a completely different view. I don’t know how it’s going to be resolved, but it will be.
“I keep telling them it’s going to end, because it always does.”
DeStefano, who is not Jewish, has not been to the Gaza Strip, but he and his wife have traveled elsewhere in the county, visiting the West Bank and Jericho and Tel Aviv. In those trips they’ve been safe, he said.
“Believe me, if it was as dangerous as it appears in the Western media … I get e-mails everyday about how terrible it is here,” he explained. “There’s a little bit of increased security, which makes you feel more comfortable, not less. If it wasn’t safe my wife would already be on a plane back to the States.”
DeStefano, who previously served as security director at College of The Albemarle, said he’s not sure when he and his wife will return to the United States. He does miss Elizabeth City, though, including Nu-Quality Ice Cream and his grandsons Sam and Jacob Gerszewski, who live in Weeksville.