Without exaggeration, the current situation in Israel defies description and the repulsive images and shocking stories that are being circulated in real-time will be seared into the collective consciousness of all Israelis for generations.
Like most people, I remember where I was when 9/11 happened. I stood open mouthed in the local high street on my way home from a university open day, watching the televisions through the window of a betting shop as people jumped to their deaths and the towers crumbled leaving a trail of devastation that shook American (and global) confidence and laid bare a sense of vulnerability. Not to compare tragedies, the events of 7 October are no less significant and shattering and will serve to define Israeli defense policy for decades to come.
To give a sense of how things unfolded for us in my community in Ramat Beit Shemesh (located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and about 50 km from Gaza), from around 6.30 on Saturday morning we heard rocket fire and iron dome interceptions in the distance before sirens forced our families to run and seek shelter in safe rooms throughout the morning.
Holding my one year old baby in the shelter and listening to the sounds of the overhead explosions whilst comforting my other children, I recalled of the words of Lord Tennyson in the Charge of the Light Brigade which we were forced to study in school, which read: “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to the left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered, Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well.” Borrowing some phraseology and imagery from the rest of the poem, we were not the cavalry charging bravely towards the jaws of death but simple unarmed citizens cradling our children at the mouth of hell.
Being Saturday and a religious festival, as an observant Jewish community we do not use electronic devices and therefore had little concrete information as to what was happening. We knew things were bad, not only due to the incessant shelling and sirens but local youngsters of military age who had recently finished mandatory army service were being called up on an hourly basis and whisked away from their families for emergency deployment. Rumors abounded as to what was happening but paled into insignificance when we switched on our phones at the conclusion of the Sabbath and the true scale of the carnage became apparent.
To those who say that the situation is nuanced and requires context – you are mistaken and, whether intentionally or not, hide behind the veil of history as a pretext. People who openly and unashamedly rape, murder and kidnap innocent women, children and entire families are the enemies of decency, morality, and goodness. Those who across the world have been celebrating these sickening and depraved acts are bereft of the fundamental characteristics of humanity and civility. How does ‘history and context’ justify snatching babies and children and locking them in cages? How does ‘history and context’ vindicate setting people’s homes alight and burning them alive? How in the name of ‘history and context’ does anyone think that defiling and mutilating women and children is acceptable?
To those who erroneously maintain that there is a moral equivalence between Hamas terrorists and Israel – your arguments have been exposed as these horrors have unfolded. What moral equivalence is there when Hamas terrorists drag children out from a protective shelter and kill their parents in front of them? What moral equivalence is there when Hamas terrorists proudly parade kidnapped children and toddlers through the streets of Gaza like trophies? How can anyone have the audacity to suggest there is any such moral equivalence when young babies are summarily decapitated by Hamas terrorists for the crime of being Jewish?
To those who proclaim that these atrocities are deserved as Israel is an apartheid state – you are at best misinformed and at worst are outrightly antisemitic. In Israel, there are more than two million Arab citizens who enjoy the same rights and freedoms as their Jewish counterparts and are represented in the highest echelons of government, the judiciary, and the civil service. Is this the definition of apartheid? When our Deloitte Israel leadership spends hours reaching out to all our teams to ensure they and their families were safe and supported, no distinction is made between Jewish or Israeli Arab team members who are also shocked and devastated by this egregious onslaught. We in Deloitte Israel are by no means alone in being proud to employ people of all faiths and backgrounds to work side by side as part of one family in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Is this the definition of apartheid?
To those who are already voicing concerns that Israel’s response needs to be proportional – you need to understand that any response must be considered within the context of the question being asked. Up until 7 October that question has been how can Israelis and Palestinians co-exist together over the long-term under a framework of stability? A proportional response was therefore calculated as one that would still allow an opening to resolve that question. However, following the barbaric atrocities unleashed by Hamas terrorists, the question has been redefined and the goalposts have shifted. Israelis are now openly asking what must be done to allow us to survive? Without exaggeration the world needs to understand that this is an existential crisis that has not been faced by Israel since 1967 and any proportional response must be reframed in the context of this new reality – a reality that unfortunately does not look pretty.
Facing an existential crisis has brought out the best in Israeli society and a sense of togetherness that would have seemed unfathomable but a week ago. No longer is there a left and right divide or a religious versus irreligious chasm. This has been replaced by a single-minded determination, bound by a common goal of defeating a barbaric and implacable enemy that seeks to annihilate all Israelis, irrespective of political persuasion or religious observance. We stand together to meet this challenge head-on.