A typical Israeli perspective: 7th of October

In order to understand the conflict from the Israeli point of view, it may be helpful to gain the perspective of a typical citizen.  I will attempt to share my  insights surrounding our new and confoundingly disturbing new reality.  It is reasonable to assume that these are common among of our citizens and representative of the mainstream.

Prior to 7/10, I lived with the knowledge that our enemies have a firm hatred of Israelis as Jews and sovereigns in the land of Israel.  I also struggled with the complexity of being a member of the ruling majority and with the rise of extremism in Israel and worldwide.   However, I  believed that the only completely safe place in the world for me is here.  Like others, I lamented the waning of old values for the pursuit of material wealth and individual promotion.  Nonetheless, my faith in my country and values was solid.

The world turned upside down on 7th of October.  My core beliefs were thoroughly challenged.  My leaders failed to see the signs, failed to defend the citizens and soldiers, and failed to gain control of the situation.  My enemies, who I still had hoped would one day become my friends or at least peaceful coexisters, revealed themselves in their pure hatred and cruelty.  At first, I thought the reports were false, exaggerated.  Unfortunately, the situation was even graver than I thought.

My people, citizens of Israel, as well as foreign workers were brutally tortured, raped, slaughtered and captured.  Not to mention the thousands of rockets fired upon us.  The government, army, and intelligence agencies were taken totally by surprise.  Some citizens of Gaza participated alongside Hamas fighters in the brutal attack.  The people of Gaza spontaneously took to the streets, handed out candies to celebrate the sight of Israeli bloodied hostages being paraded through the streets.  The most haunting example is that of one of the women that was brutally raped, with blood dripping down her pants leaving no doubt what happened to her, being shoved down the street while the mob cheered on.

Coinciding with this horror is the uplifting spirit of the Israeli people.  As individuals, long before the army properly mobilized, people set out to fight and defend.  Men, women, soldiers, retirees, citizens, parents, grandparents- everyone who could grabbed whatever gear they had and set out.  Some of them to the “front” and some of them to defend their homes and families.  It was incredible to witness the instinctual mobilization without structure or intstruction.  Within a day, the army mobilized, defeated the forces that remained in Israel, and waited for instructions.  The citizens also started their own campaigns to support the war effort (gathering scattered human remains for proper burial (yes, done by volunteers!), food and extra supplies for the soldiers, support for survivors, public relations, support for families of service members, etc.).  In that aspect, I was empowered with pride at our resourcefulness and solidarity.

In the first few days, the overall feeling was that any minute they are coming for all of us. This was a surreal experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Since then, life has been a roller coaster.  The hostages are foremost in my mind, thoughts of their experiences and their families in my mind and heart constantly.  Also, overwhelming sadness at the grave losses, the effects of the ongoing traumas on the citizens, soldiers and children, the plight of the more than one hundred thousand Israeli refugees in the country (from the north and the south of the country).  On the personal level, I experience delterious long-lasting effects on my family as we adjust to our new life under incessant attack from the sea, sky, and land.

The issues I struggle with are internal and external, personal, ethnic, regional, and world-wide.   The internal issues surround our local disputes fueled by very strong feelings on both sides.  There are several issues which have been “cooking” during our 76-year existence as a modern country.  In my mind, most of the issues touch on a conflict between the values of equality and those of individual expression.  These include the role of ultra-orthodox in the functioning of the country (including draft eligibility), constant claims of prejudice against certain groups of citizens, free market economics versus social-democrat views, etc.  It comes down to democratic principles as applied to life in the Middle East, where others do not play by the same rules.

Obviously, the issue with our neighbors has also been a constant storm since 1967.  Recently, the issue with the “reform” of the judicial system nearly pushed us over the edge.  There are no easy solutions to any of the problems.  On some of them, I have firm beliefs and opinions, on others I am still unable to put my finger on how I feel. Nonetheless, I am certain that we have to change the dialogue and to allow for listening.  It is amazing to have strong convictions, but if they are so strong, then they should be able to withstand being challenged.  Instead of meaningful dialogue, we are having one big screaming match with all sides convinced that these are life and death decisions.  I had hoped that what happened would have provided some proportions for us, but that was just temporary it seems.

The second internal issue is far more complicated.  Here, I will take a firm stance.  The current leadership failed miserably.  All across the board.  The first step in dealing with the failure, in my opinion, was taken by our defense specialists (military, intelligence, etc.) in the first few days: responsibility.  Many of the leaders of the different defense services immediately took responsibility for their failures and expressed determination to rectify as much as possible.  Not so our political leaders.  It makes no difference to me whether the PTB woke the prime minister up to tell him about the warnings of an impending attack or not, as manager and leader it was still his responsibility.  If he made policy decisions based on misinformation- that is also his responsibility.  It comes with the territory.  I need a confident and reliable leader in these times, and I feel that I don’t have that.  Many of the ministers and MKs are crass, populist, unethical people in my opinion.  In their perspectives, childlike and embarrassing behavior in parliament in session as well as now on taking a scheduled recess (in the middle of a war!) seemed legitimate, which  deepens my disappointment and insecurity.

Finally, the last group of internal issues is a segue to the external issues.  I am referring to news coverage.  Most of the press in Israel is biased against the prime minister, and on the other hand some of it is blindingly pro-Bibi.  It is nearly impossible to get straight facts without a ton of pathos.  It is emotionally draining and confusing.  Just like in social media logarithms, we each strengthen our own opinions and feelings by following those we agree with.  Even when I try to challenge myself by listening to opposing views, I am overwhelmed by their prejudices and assumptions and find myself more deeply entrenched in my beliefs.

This leads to the external issues.  Firstly, we are losing the PR war horribly.  Whatever the government was supposed to do was not done.  Private citizens took this task upon themselves and are doing a great job, but it is not enough.  The messages and behavior of our leaders, including some very damaging and irresponsible quotes from different people, have exacerbated the situation.

The international press has also fallen under the popular “underdog theme euqals better ratings” bias.  You can pit 2.5 million Gazans against 10 million Israelis, or see it as part of the attempt of 15.7 million Jews trying to survive in world with 1.9 billion Muslims.  In a tiny country the size of New Jersey, surrounded by Muslim countries.  Furthermore, our current enemy is the Hamas.  The Hamas has zero desire to live peacefully by our side, as stated in their 1988 Charter (From Rafael Yisraeli, in Y. Alexander and H. Foxman, eds., The 1988-1989 Annual on Terrorism (The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers)):
Article 7- The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).
Article 13- There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game.

Mostly, I do not understand the entire world ignoring the simple fact that the Hamas clearly states as its purpose the annihilation of the Israeli and Jewish peoples.  Would they have us lay down and die?  The hypocrisy of asking us to find a magical way to hurt only the terrorists while they literally hide behind their grandparents’ and babies’ backs is astounding.  How would you do it?  If rockets were fired at your country from a church or synagogue, would you turn the other cheek?  How about a hospital? Nearly every action taken by our soldiers was preceded by attempts to warn and move the civilian population.  The claims of genocide are frankly offensive.  Often, our attempts to protect civilians cost us lives of Israeli soldiers and puts us at a disadvantage with our enemies who get notice of our next moves.  War is hell.  I will not provide examples (despite their profundity), but suffice it so say that international coalition forces have often performed much less humanely under similar circumstances.  That is why nearly anyone who served in the Middle East supports the Israeli military-because they know the truth.

It is absolutely tragic that so many civilians have died.  Our enemies use them literally as human shields.  There are no sterile wars.  No breaks for afternoon tea, those days are long gone.  Every civilian death is painful.   I have also seen evidence of how complicated things are. Gazan mothers send their five-year-olds to jihad summer camps where they are indoctrinated to hate the Jews and see murder as a guarantee to a better future.  I am reminded of a story I saw on the news a few years ago.  A Gazan mother was interviewed at the Sheba Medical Center, where her young son was being given life saving treatment for cancer.  The interviewer asked the mother- what do you want your child to do when he grows up?  She said, “of course I want him to be a martyr”.  The mother saw no irony in her response.

The other international issue is of course Iran.  I learned recently that not all Americans are aware that Iran stands behind all of this current mess.  They support Jihad efforts and concentrated efforts against Israel through their many proxies.  They support Hizballa in Lebanon and its branches in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, Huttis in Yemen, and certain factions in Iraq.  Their influence is wide, their strategy patient and intelligent.  They are the most dangerous enemy we face.  The Islamic Revolution is a tragedy for the lovely people of Iran, and a danger to the entire world.  Succeeding in defeating their current efforts would help the world prevent or at least slow Iran’s long-term plan for world-wide jihad. But this broader context is ignored completely in the search for tear-jerking human-interest stories, abundant in war time on both sides.

Earlier, I stated that I “mostly” do not understand the world’s stance on the current war. In truth, recent events have reminded me that the Jews were, are, and always will be susceptible to antisemitism.  Antisemitism is irrational and often thought to be gone from the world.  However, we are the most popular scapegoats in the world throughout history.  Recently, a friend asked me why we insist on this tiny slice of land.  As if by forgoing the land of our forefathers, we would be left alone to exist and continue to thrive as a people quietly.  It has never been so, and for reasons beyond me, will apparently continue forever to be this way.  As a people who yearn for the day when “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah, 2:4), we constantly have to defend ourselves or be the victims of genocide.

Additionally, my children explain to me that world opinion is guided mostly by what people see on Tik-Tok.  No room for complexity, context, or clarity.  Just tragedy and easily identified bad guys (us).  I see many examples of complete ignorance on my social media.  If what I see is to be believed, most Americans have no idea where to find Israel, Gaza, Iran or even Mexico on a world map.  I seriously hope that my feed is also biased and this a gross exaggeration.  Nonetheless, it is clear that a relatively unbiased and well researched approach to any conflict, especially this one, would improve things greatly.

As I opened with, I am still hopeful for a better future.  The frightening attack by Iran was thwarted thanks to international efforts of countries that came to our defense despite all of their criticism, as well as Israeli ingenuity.  I am proud of our people who rallied and are functioning incredibly despite all of the pressures of this long war.  I am sobered by my understanding that right and wrong are not always important and truth is no longer important.  I am frustrated by our leadership.  I am painfully aware of our shortcomings as Israelis, but accept that perfection is far beyond us.  I love my family and my country and fellow Israelis (of all religions, sizes, and colors).  I do what I can in terms of volunteer work.  I often deal with bouts of a depressed mood, but am far from broken.   I pray for a better future.  In these things, I am pretty mainstream in Israeli society.

About the Author
Nomi Venkert returned to Israel in 1988 when she was almost 18, expecting to stay for one year. She served in the army and studied psychology and education at the Hebrew University. Since 1997, she has been working with autistic people and their families in a wide range of areas (homes, family support, workplace). She now works as a socio-sex educator for teens and adults on the spectrum and people with intellectual disability in a public clinic and her private clinic. She is married with 3 adult children. In her spare time, she volunteers in several capacities. She has been in charge of her community's emergency response team for eight years, where she has gained perspectives on different aspects of our unique life style in Israel.
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