One night last week in Israel thousands of panic-stricken citizens leapt from their beds, so alarmed by a noise which shook the skies "like heavy bombardment" that the Tel Aviv and central district police switchboards crashed, overloaded by worried callers.
The military had to apologize for disturbing the sleep of Israeli citizens. The sound had not been intended for their ears. It had somehow escaped from a series of confined sonic booms being inflicted on Palestinian citizens in the Gaza Strip hundreds of kilometers away. So if they thought the bang was loud in Tel Aviv, you can imagine the sound in Gaza, where shockwaves have also cracked walls and smashed thousands of windows.
In Israel they heard but one bang, muffled in comparison to the dozens of earsplitting"sound bombs" created by Israeli air force jets breaking the sound barrier at low altitude over the Gaza Strip. Only this week there have been 28 sonic booms, sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. During five days in late September, the air force caused 29.
Palestinians describe the sound as an earthquake or huge bomb. They liken the effect to being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and "leaving you shaking inside".
"The Israelis do it after midnight and then every one or two hours. You try to go to sleep and then there’s another one. When it happens night after night you become exhausted. You get a heightened sense of alert, waiting continuously for it to happen. People suffer hypertension, fatigue, sleeplessness."
"For children, the loud noise means danger. Adults may know it’s only a sound but small children feel threatened. They are crying and clinging to their parents. Afterwards they are dazed and fearful, waiting for something to happen."
The removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip has opened the way for this new terror tactic being deployed against the Palestinians.
A senior Israeli army intelligence source, who the military would not permit to be named, said the tactic is intended to break civilian support for armed Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. "We are trying to send a message in a way that doesn’t harm people. We want to encourage the Palestinian public to do something about the terror situation," he said. "What are the alternatives? We are not like the terrorists who shoot civilians. We are cautious. We make sure nobody is really hurt."
The Palestinian health ministry estimates the sonic booms have caused miscarriages and heart problems. A majority of child patients seen at clinics as a result of the sonic booms were suffering from symptoms such as anxiety attacks, bedwetting, muscle spasms, temporary loss of hearing and breathing difficulties.
Two medical human rights groups have asked the Tel Aviv high court to outlaw the use of sound bombs on the grounds it amounts to illegal collective punishment and is detrimental to health.
The UN’s Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, agrees, and wrote this week in a letter to the Israeli high command: "Sonic booms are an indiscriminate instrument, the use of which punishes the population collectively. We ask therefore that their use be stopped without delay."
I think he chose his words rather daintily. "An indiscriminate instrument of torture" might be more apt,"which tortures the population collectively."
For God’s sake Cain! Abel! Don’t you think it’s time to put a stop to this endless childish quarreling? Do you worship the same God or not? And even if you don’t are you not brothers?
Instead of breaking barriers of sound, it’s a time for breaking down the barriers of hatred you’ve created. And to break down that hideous snaking grey wall you’ve divided your country with – a fence of fascism and fear forbidding obstacle to world peace and disgrace to Humanity.