Helen Joyce

Dancing with the Devil

My emotions and my reason are out of step. ‘Normal’ disappeared on October 7th when a horde of Hamas savages broke the existing ceasefire and breached Israel’s southern border defences. It was a masterstroke of deception. Hamas had convinced the Israeli government, army and intelligence services that rather than armed ‘resistance’ i.e. indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilians it was entering a more reasonable phase. It seemed to accept economic incentives and Israeli money, apparently satisfied that over 20,000 of its benighted civilians had work permits to enter the Israeli border communities for much needed employment. It succeeded in giving the impression it was war weary, whilst simultaneously preparing for a terrorist attack of unprecedented proportions and barbarity.

Israel is suffering dearly for its complacency. Workers from Gaza who had been welcomed into the border communities gave detailed intelligence about the men, women and children occupying each home. Detailed maps found on dead terrorists attest to this betrayal. Over 1400 innocent men, women and children were slaughtered with a savagery that beggars belief. Babies burnt alive in ovens, women raped, a pregnant woman’s belly slit open and the foetus left dangling by the cord which could no longer sustain life. This mother was shot in the head. Before or after her infant was ripped from her? We do not know. We cannot bear to think.

How humans can behave like this – and film themselves proudly committing these atrocities – is simply beyond comprehension. The perpetrators, complete with GoPro cameras to record their deeds, munched on the contents of their victims’ refrigerators. Good food, I’m sure. Holiday food, prepared lovingly for the family get togethers which is the norm on any given Shabbat and was certainly the case on that Shabbat; the joyous festivals of Simchat Torah.

Sated with food and slaughter, they rounded up around 240 innocent captives. Mothers with their children; children whose parents had been murdered before their eyes; old people, young men, and dragged them all into captivity in the underworld of tunnels constructed by Hamas. Tunnels accessed by means of hospitals, schools, mosques and kindergartens. How many war crimes can we count here? Indiscriminate rocket fire from civilian infrastructure towards civilian targets, holding their own civilians hostage by hijacking their most vulnerable institutions and thus stripping them of protection under international law and rules of engagement in war. Killing and torturing our civilians and taking captives. Not prisoners of war. Captives including a nine month old baby!

At this point my emotions and my reason were totally in sync. Horror, disgust, sadness and anger chimed with the rational need to declare war on a cruel enemy. Not out of revenge, but from the need to secure our borders from future attacks, the need to allow our hundreds of thousands of internally displaced refugees to return home if they wished in order to attempt to rebuild their shattered lives and last, but by no means least, the need to get our hostages back if at all possible. Another emotion at that time. Confusion. Where was the straightforward condemnation of these atrocities? From the Secretary General of the United Nations we heard equivocating condemnation about these horrific event which, he stated ‘did not occur in a vacuum’. Every UN organisation failed in a similarly spectacular way. The UN Committee of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) failed to condemn the sexual violence endured by young Israeli girls and elderly women. Sisterhood? Way to go!

But still at this point, my emotions and my reason are coordinated. The war Israel declared? Necessary. Justified. Its aims? Clear and unequivocal. Destroy Hamas, a terrorist organisation which has almost redefined terror and liberate the hostages. So Israel went to war. Like all its wars, this is a war of defence. To defend me, my children and my grandchildren from the possibility of a similar attack in future. To root out and destroy Hamas infrastructure which, illegally, is located in such a way so as to use the Gazan population as human shields.

As we have come to expect from our army, the IDF onslaught has been heavy but humane. Millions of leaflets were dropped and text messages sent to civilians warning them to move out of harm’s way. Shifa hospital, long known to be the head of the terrorist octopus whose tentacles spread for hundreds of kilometers underground, was not bombed by air or attacked by ground. Rather it was surrounded and besieged until the individual gun battles with the ‘innocents’ who were firing from within the hospital (unusual that for a hospital, don’t you think?) had subsided and the IDF could enter carefully and help evacuate the most vulnerable patients. Israel even provided medical personal, Arabic speakers and battery operated incubators to move 39 premature and sick babies to safety. Oh yes, Israelis are really brutish!

So where does my dissonance come from. We are now in a ‘pause’ in the fighting. Hamas, surrounded and slowly being dismembered, has offered hostages for calm. 12 to 13 hostages a day, for four days of ceasefire. The deal was done. The first batch of 13 women and children were released on Friday afternoon as per the agreement. Oh the joy to see these children reunited with parents. The grandmothers with their traumatised relatives. Like pulling teeth, the second release eventually went through on Saturday night. Not as agreed. Delayed, but another 13 innocents saved. And yet, the agreement is being stretched and broken. The promise of releasing mothers with their children? No, only the child and not the mother. Where is she? Hamas can’t seem to find her! But still, of course, joy and relief to see a few of the many free and safe.

And yet? What price will Israel pay? Will Israel be pressured, as the world seems to hope, into extending the ceasefire and ‘dropping’ the war? And here’s the thing. Have we made things worse for ourselves by dancing in step with the devil? Have we opened the way for more hostage taking in the future? Will the young criminals we released in exchange for our innocent hostages grow to full manhood like Yahya Sinwar? A convicted terrorist who was released from Israeli prison and exchanged along with 1,026 others in a deal to release one Israeli. Gilad Shalit. Will this ceasefire cost the lives of more of our troops?

So here is the dilemma. Should we – could we – have ignored the plight of the hostages and pressed on with the war until Hamas was destroyed? My head tells me that we should have been merciless. We should have destroyed our enemy first. But my heart – and the hearts of all Israelis – ached too much. We simply cannot. So, here’s the question. Will our soft hearts be the death of us?

About the Author
Helen is the author of award-winning Good for a Single Journey, a four generational family saga based on a true story, published by Amsterdam Publishers in 2023. Born in London to Jewish refugees from Hitler, Helen studied Psychology at University College London and went on to specialise in clinical research and relationship counselling. She taught Psychology in Immanuel College, Bushey where she was Head of Sixth Form (Grades 12 and 13). Helen retired to Israel in 2013.