Run bag or gas mask: What would you do in the face of impending war?

Last spring, my husband’s employer ran an evacuation exercise for staff and their dependents who are slated for evacuation in case of emergency. My daughters wondered why. “It’s just a practice,” I told them. “It’s good planning.”

After all, there are crises in the world.

But as my girls and I packed our “run bags,” it didn’t feel real at all. It was like a game: find the flashlights, check the batteries, pack the first aid kit. We weren’t sure if anyone would check the bags to be sure we’d brought all the items on the list, and we certainly didn’t want to get in trouble, so we did our best to comply. When I read: “Before you run, make sure you leave no confidential documents behind!” I felt a pang. A pang of what I wasn’t sure. Foreboding?

When the radio blared, “Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!” we drove off to the “assembly point.” Later we moved on busses to the “concentration point,” which was also the “evacuation point,” and then we went home and forgot about the whole thing. Back to dishes, homework and email.

We spent the summer in the US, far from the daily stresses of life under occupation, but very much in the midst of tension about a possible Israeli and/or US attack on Iran. I didn’t feel any of that tension when we got home to Jerusalem, until my daughters asked:

“Are we gonna get gas masks?”

“Gas masks? For what?”

Photo by Niall Kennedy

“While we were in the US over the summer, our friends got gas masks in case there is a war.”

“War? If there’s a war, a real war, we will be evacuated. Don’t you remember when we did that evacuation exercise?”

And here is where my girls dropped a bomb. They refused the idea of evacuation. “We won’t go unless everyone gets evacuated,” they told me. “We aren’t leaving our grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends to get killed.”

“I love your bravery and your loyalty,” I said, “but if there’s a real war (my God the idea of Israel at war with Iran petrifies me), then I’m not letting you stay here out of loyalty. Everyone who can leave will. And if your grandparents can’t leave, they will want you to leave anyway. You’ve never experienced a real war. If bombs are falling, every single person will do whatever they can to protect their children.”

And then they dropped another kind of bomb. They said: “That’s what happened in 1948 and now look where we are. Are we going to make that same mistake again?”

So while my answer is clear to me, it’s not at all easy. What about you? Run bag or gas mask? What would you do in the face of impending war?


  1. Ninni says

    Nora, this is such a mind-blowing post. It’s so scary to think that some of these catastrophic events are not entirely out of the realm of possibility! I would probably say run bag, with a very very heavy heart inside. It is a difficult question!

  2. Mary O. says

    Oh, Nora, what a hard question you ask! But I think you have to ask yourself–What would be accomplished by staying? Would it change the outcome of a war? Would it improve the chances of survival for anyone who can’t leave? And of course you can’t know the answers to those questions, really, but only you can say what they probably are.

    But as for living in fear–don’t confuse fear with panic. I know from experience that a reasonable fear can save your life, and your child’s life, by making you pay attention to something you might otherwise overlook. I’m not saying you should run every time you’re afraid–of course not. Just remember that it’s not cowardly to acknowledge your fear. Courage isn’t fearlessness. Courage is being honest with yourself about the realities of your situation and making hard choices in spite of your fear.

    And I know you have a LOT of experience with that!

    Seriously, though–I am afraid for you. I think there is a huge temptation for the Israel government to make a move before the US election, calculating that this will either force Obama to back them up 100% for fear of losing the election, or trip him up and result in a more sympathetic Republican administration. In your shoes, I’d try really hard to find a way to be elsewhere in the last half of the month.

    P.S.–Gas mask AND run bag. In fact, put the damn gas mask IN the run bag. There’s a big difference between an evacuation plan and a successful evacuation.

  3. Rose says

    What amazing young women that you have.
    There is no way to choose what you will really do. I think that I would have both a ‘run bag’ and gas mask. I know that gas masks are not inexpensive, and I hope that you will never have to make the choice to use either the ‘run bag’ or gas mask, but being prepared may make it a little easier for you all.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us all.

    • admin says

      Logical as always. But at the same time, being “prepared” can equal living in fear. I can live with sadness and I can live with anger, but I can’t live in fear. Know what I mean?

  4. Vicki says

    Oh Nora, this filled my eyes with tears. The thought of your girls standing bravely with their family and friends is SO much more powerful to me than the image of war descending on your loving household. I don’t know what those girls are made of, I really don’t, but if you don’t mind my saying so, they are braver than you and I times a hundred! How much I love them for saying that. I love their patriotism. Yes, I see it as patriotism. And that puts you on that narrow little ledge between patriotism and motherhood. And I can’t help mentioning that that ledge is crowded with mothers of all faiths and cultures and nationalities and ages as far as the eye can see.

    • admin says

      I think the contradictions and complications of motherhood are universal, but I only care about that “in theory.” In practice, I am mother to these three specific girls, and historical implications be damned.

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