November 27th, 2023
52 days since the October 7th massacres
Writing has always been an outlet for me — a way to make my voice heard, and feel like I’m doing something meaningful during challenging times. However, during this war I find it more and more difficult to write. Aside from the fact that the person who always helps me edit, polish and clarify my messages, my good friend Judih Weinstein Haggai, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Oz, just next door is not around. She was violently abducted from her weekly sunrise walk in the fields of Nir Oz, and has been held hostage in Gaza for the past 52 days, (as of the time of writing this article). Even with my love of writing it has become ever harder for me to concentrate on anything for the length of time needed to compose a written message.
Ever since that fateful, black Saturday on October 7th, when the lives of all Israelis, but especially for survivors of Oct 7th, have been changed forever , the world seems to have lost all sense of logic.
When I was a child growing up in the Bronx, New York, I used to hear about the harrowing experiences of Jews in Europe during WWII and play make believe, planning where I would hide if the Nazis came for me. Never did I dream that in the land of the Jewish people, with our own army to protect us, (the very same army which on that fateful day let us down) I would find myself hiding in my own home: the place that is supposed to represent comfort, safety, security.
Little could I have ever imagined that we would need to remain as silent as mice, speaking not at all, or in whispers, because we heard the shouting in Arabic just on the other side of the wall. I’ve always felt protected in my safe room. It was designed to keep us safe from rocket fire and mortar explosions but not built to deal with infiltration and couldn’t be locked from the inside.
I never considered that I would need to turn off the air conditioner so as not to have the sound of the motor betray the fact that I was inside with my son. Never did I expect to be sitting with him in that unlockable safe room as he held down the handle of the door to keep it locked against terrorists who could break into our house at any moment and try to open the safe room door We sat there looking at each other, and saying: “I love you”, with fear in our eyes and trepidation in our hearts.
I could never have imagined that to save my life I’d be required to hunker down in that room of refuge, without access to water or food. Sprinting to the safe room to find protection from the massive rocket barrage that began at 6:30 a.m did not give us time to use the bathroom. After a full night’s sleep we found ourselves unable to use our bathroom facilities for fear of being discovered by the terrorists who had infiltrated our country and our community. Men are designed more logically for situations like these and I was able to turn my head while my son urinated in a bottle.
As a woman, I did not have that option.
The world lost its coherence for me when the very same people who were always interested in holding their hands out in peace to their neighbors, were the ones who were forced to hide from the vicious monsters who had been raised to hate them. I can attest to the fact that most of the people who live where I do have always said that it’s in our best interests for our neighbors to thrive and prosper. And here I thought that our neighbors to the west had the same intentions. In my heart I believed that the majority of Gazans just wanted the same things that I did. I was certain that they wanted safety for their children, food on their tables and quality of life.
October 7th has made me wonder whether that is, indeed, what “most” of them strive for. The events we lived through on October 7th made me question: where all the “good Gazans” were on that day? Because it was on that day, when my neighbors, the beautiful souls who hoped and worked for peace, the compassionate Israelis who drove Gazans to hospitals in Israel so they could receive cancer treatments, WERE SLAUGHTERED in the most vicious and brutal way by the evil beasts of Hamas-ISIS.
I am sure you have all seen the clips of Gazan school children, putting on a play in school, dressed up as IDF soldiers and Gazan Islamic Jihad fighters, with the Palestinian fighters kidnapping and killing the IDF soldiers.
Have your children ever performed plays like that?
I doubt it. Neither did my Israeli children, but THOSE children took their education seriously. Those children grew up to be the monsters who invaded Israel 52 days ago, infiltrating my home or Nirim, as well as my neighbors at Be’eri, Nir Oz and the city of Sderot. It was a dark evil hoard of thousands of bloodthirsty terrorists whose goals have no connection to the laws of Islam (which, I am told, forbids the murder of children) rather follow the lead of Hamas whose charter clearly states that their goal is to murder all Jews and throw us into the sea. Their leaders, who have no national aspirations aside from the ethnic cleansing of Israel, sent their followers to butcher and humiliate us, armed with state of the art weapons, clear instructions and maps showing intimate knowledge of our communities regarding who lives where.
Imagine the depth of evil it takes to compose and act upon instructions which prescribe how many people to murder how to torture them before they are killed and what do to with their body parts after their murderous acts have been committed. The terrorists were also instructed as to how many victims to take as hostages, how many women to rape and what to do with pregnant women.
On November 25th the UN began the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, coined the “UNITE to End Violence against Women” initiative, led by none other than the secretary of the United Nations. Have you heard of the UN coming out against the atrocities committed against women and girls in Israel? Neither have I.
52 days after the morning I was sure would be my last, I find myself in the inconceivable situation of being a refugee in my own land, unable to go home for a period of time which no one can define for me. At home, I have everything I need. On Nirim, I want for nothing.
When I escaped my community-turned-war-zone, I had just a few minutes to throw some poorly-chosen clothing into a trolley (which needed to be retrieved from my attic after our head of community security did a quick search to be sure no terrorists were hiding there). Luckily, at least I had the presence of mind to grab my laptop and beloved camera when I evacuated, both of which help preserve some sense of sanity and normalcy in this insanely abnormal situation. Now that winter has come, I need to buy everything new: warmer clothing, shoes, winter pjs. I have been forced into retail therapy, and while it feels good to be walking around shops doing an activity which is considered “normal”, there are multiple ways I would have preferred to spend my time and money. World travel is a recreational activity that most people in the western world enjoy on a regular basis to one extent or another. I have had the opportunity to travel abroad twice since October 7th, but for different purposes: intensive trips to depict the day when our lives were thrown into turmoil, and the times and challenges we are living now.
With all that, I am one of the lucky ones: since I’m retired, I continue receiving my pension, as well as additional help provided by the government for evacuees. Others are not so fortunate. Many of the evacuees are currently out of work and they either cannot reach their place of employment, or it is closed. Farmers cannot get to work in their fields, which are now closed military zones. Foreign workers have fled to their countries of origin leaving a dearth of helping hands in agriculture as in other industries. Our army is reliant mostly on reserves, so the men and women who are out there protecting us and fighting the enemy cannot be at their usual places of work. Imports and exports have been impacted as well. The economic repercussions of this war will be staggering and the impact will resonate for years to come.
Who ever thought that children would be legitimate bargaining chips for a military situation? Where in the sane western world could anything like this ever happen? This is not a situation of two armies going to war, this was an army of terrorists against a civilian population. Children and the elderly, and all ages in between, were ripped from their beds, barefooted wearing pajamas and dragged into Gaza.
At the time this article was written we have seen the release of 58 Israeli hostages: women and children, as well as foreign workers. However the fact remains that the International Red Cross has failed, miserably to do their job. Not a single hostage was seen by them in 52 days. The Third Geneva Convention grants the ICRC the right to go wherever POWs might be found and conduct interviews with them, provide vital medication. These hostages are not POWs!!! They are civilians! CHILDREN!!! How has this basic right not been granted to them for 52 days!?
Every time I turn on the television, I see faces of people I know from my region who have either been slaughtered or kidnapped, or family members of such. As a high school teacher for close to four decades, I know so many of them, residents of our region. I never could have imagined that an event of such dramatic proportions could ever happen: 1400 people slaughtered along the border in a matter of hours. 239 people of all ages and backgrounds, kidnapped. Not only Jews – there were foreign workers, Christians and Bedouin murdered as well. They didn’t care who they killed.
Radical Islam declares openly that their goal is to convert the entire world to Islam, and they will do it any way they can. Make no mistake about it: if this insanity happened in my home, it can happen in yours, no matter where you live. Paris? London? New York? Johannesburg? Montreal, Rio? Berlin? Oslo? Beware, because we are just appetizers. The West is next. We are fighting this war for the entire free western world.
We cannot do it on our own.
For the past 4 days the entire country has been holding its collective breath to see which women and children will actually be walking into the protective arms of the awaiting IDF soldiers at the border; soldiers who have received clear directives regarding how to talk with the children, what questions to ask and what responses to steer clear of. Armed with some of the children’s favorite personal stuffed animals, the soldiers will be waiting to see which of the children have been released with their mothers, and which have been so well hidden in the bowels of Gaza that even the Hamas don’t know where they can be found. We literally have no idea of who is alive, who is dead, who needs medical assistance and who is nowhere to be found. Why as Israelis and Jews do we get treated differently by the Red Cross and the whole world?
The war has negatively affected our economy and every sector is feeling it. From international export and imports to simple office functions everything has slowed or come to a complete stop. The growing economic woes affect every Israeli whether a resident of a border community whose home has been destroyed, a business owner, worker or welfare recipient. Especially impacted are those kibbutzim whose homes and structures have been totally destroyed: Nir Oz, Beeri and Kfar Aza. Israel is relying upon new money donations from the diaspora in order to be able to rebuild and support ourselves. Whatever you can do is appreciated.
Make no mistake about it: we will rebuild and be stronger than before. Am Yisrael Chai
I hold my breath to see if my friend Judih Weinstein Haggai will be among the list of hostages due to be released in the coming days. Her husband for sure will not. I will not wait for her to come home to share this article, but I would like to think that maybe – just maybe – by the time it is published, she will be back in Israel, and able to critique it in retrospect.
Originally published in Jewish Business News. Republished in ToI with their permission