The "bomb shelter museum" in Washington Square Park on March 28.
 
Pedestrians strolling through New York’s Washington Square Park on Monday, March 28, encountered a startling sight: a crowd of people rushing for cover in a bomb shelter after hearing the loud wail of a warning siren. Terrorist attack? Not exactly.
 
The shelter was part of an interactive installation set up by Artists 4 Israel, a community of US artists that aims to raise New Yorkers' awareness of what Israeli citizens experience when threatened by rocket attacks from Palestinian militants. Participants were asked to spread out around the park, then run to the shelter in less than 15 seconds – the same length of time those facing rocket attacks in Israel have to reach safety.

“When some people found themselves stuck outside the shelter after 15 seconds were up, the reality of the horror sank in”

Craig Dershowitz is president of Artists 4 Israel. He lives in New York City.
 
Rocket attacks fired by Hamas fighters are part of daily reality for people living in Israel, in particular in Sderot, a town near the border with Gaza. Those affected aren’t soldiers, they are innocent civilians – women, elderly people, children. Our goal, when we organised this event, was to make that reality tangible to New Yorkers. The shelter is an exact wooden replica of those that are built all across Israel.
 
The act of actually running for cover was pretty eye-opening for some participants. At first, people took it as a game, laughing as they ran across the park. But when some people found themselves stuck outside the shelter after 15 seconds were up, the reality of the horror sank in. The shelters are small, there isn’t room for everybody. If you don’t run fast enough, you can get killed. Some people actually had tears in their eyes after participating.
 
“The shelter was decorated by graffiti artists”
 
Inside the shelter, we had an immersive video installation showing real-life footage of a Qassam rocket barrage hitting Sderot. That way, visitors could experience the reality of bombs exploding all around them. The outside of the shelter was decorated by several of New York’s top graffiti artists. In the past, Artists 4 Israel has organised trips for famous graffiti artists to paint Sderot shelters, which are usually made of ugly grey concrete.
 
 
The event went even better than we had expected. It drew a large crowd of between 400-500 people throughout the day – not just onlookers, people who stopped and took notice. But more importantly, it achieved a very high level of discourse and dialogue, which is what we are trying to promote. As with every event concerning Israel, it drew a certain number of counter-protesters, and yes, a couple of people yelled into each other’s faces. But mainly, the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists present engaged in active discussion. Heated rhetoric and hate only causes an increase in violence, and what we’re mainly trying to say is: whatever the cause of fighting is, creating a situation where children are forced to run to bomb shelters on any given day of their life is not the solution.”
 
 
All photos courtesy of Artists 4 Israel.

“It’s not fair to show the violence on one side of the conflict without denouncing the other as well”

Husam El-Nounou is the co-founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, an NGO which deals with mentally affected victims of organised violence and the socially vulnerable.
 
It is justified to denounce the violence suffered by Israeli civilians. I encourage Israelis and Palestinians alike, to work for greater understanding of the fears, frustrations, desires, suffering and violence that exists on both sides of this terrible conflict.
 
However it is not fair to show the violence only on one side of the conflict, without denouncing the other as well. In my view, the situation of the population of Gaza today is much worse than that of Israeli citizens. They lack everything: food, medicine, decent housing, electricity, but most of all they are denied their basic right of freedom of movement. The Gaza population lives in a state of defeat and misery.
 
It’s important to bear in mind that the suffering of civilians on both sides stems from the lack of peace between Israel and its neighbours. A fair, lasting peace is the only way to put an end to the bitterness and fighting. I believe that the respect of human rights, not petty political bargains, must be at the centre of any attempt to durably resolve the conflict.”

Bomb shelters in Israel

 
 
Bomb shelter in Sderot decorated by graffiti artist 'Nicer'. Photo posted on Flickr by tatscruinc.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.