Estee Horn

Facing Evil and Staying Kind

A Painful Journey of an Israeli Mother

Eight weeks ago, I woke up into a nightmare that turned my life upside down. Ever since that day, I’ve struggled, with the people around me, to be generous and hopeful in a world that’s falling apart. Facing unprecedented evil, however, enabled me to face new kindness as well.

First Hours: Horror

On October 7th, the world experienced the most cruel terror attack ever. Not the most murderous one – on 9/11 terrorists killed twice as many people – but one where terrorists sadistically tortured hundreds of children, parents, and grandparents.

The thousands of terrorists who suddenly invaded Israeli villages and towns came with equipment to break into houses. They burst into numerous homes, shot families to death, burned others alive, and deliberately tortured parents in front of their children, and children and babies in front of their parents. Palestinians were knowingly murdered too, they spared no one.

The terrorists also kidnapped hundreds of people, Jews, Muslims and Christians, including many children and babies. They raped teenage girls, encouraged by the cheering of the population around them, while using the girls’ phones to call their parents and let them hear their daughters suffer. They took dozens of videos of the various torments and put them online, taking pride in their actions.

Along that doomed day, I saw the reporters trying to stop their tears, and knew they didn’t show the worst atrocities they saw. I followed the mental health professionals’ advice and didn’t watch Hamas’ horrific videos. Yet, my daughter’s beloved boyfriend was enlisted the next day as a paramedic. He stepped up and joined the many volunteers who spent weeks collecting body parts of the victims. Though he had therapy, he can’t smile anymore, and it breaks my heart. He spared us the worst horrors, but what I know has kept me up at night ever since.

My grandparents survived the Holocaust, and I know too much about evil, but Hamas’ terrorists did things even the Nazis wouldn’t have done.

First Days: Fear

It took the Israeli army days to capture all the terrorists, under a shower of Hamas’ rockets, and rescue the injured survivors. Hundreds of soldiers were killed in the fights, and thousands were wounded. I was worried sick about the lives of my niece, my daughter’s boyfriend, and my friends’ sons and daughters who were immediately enlisted. As Israel is a country of ten million people surrounded by half a billion Arabs, who declare they wish to exterminate us, every Israeli is required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Now every skilled ex-military has joined the army to stop Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north from invading Israel and slaughtering us all.

Like every other Israeli at that time, I tried with my partner to figure out how we could lock our home to hold up against equipped armed terrorists. Like every other one, we knew we couldn’t. No one can.

We haven’t slept much since that doomed Saturday, and when we did, we dreamed about terrorists breaking into our house. When I see movies with children around the world, I feel worried because their parents don’t understand how unprotected they are, like we didn’t understand it a short while ago.

The future wasn’t certain anymore. My daughter needed winter clothes, but it seemed pointless to buy anything but food and tanks of water. I wasn’t sure what the future would look like. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure if there will be any future.

So every day becomes a struggle to keep hoping for peace. Sometimes I despair; sometimes I manage to gain a bigger perspective and believe in a future.

First Week: Grief

The fear, however, is nothing compared with the sorrow. I try not to read the stories about the cruelty and the loss, but the suffering is everywhere. So many families lost kids, spouses, parents, grandparents. There are hundreds of families whose loved ones are in the hands of these heartless terrorists, kept in the darkness, starved, molested and beaten, some of them murdered.

One of many calls to bring back all the hotages

It made us all feel, illogically, guilty for staying alive.

During the first weeks, I, like every other Israeli, spent much of my time going to funerals, hospitals, and mourning families.

I lost people I care about, but furthermore, I lost my belief that no sane man would be able to mercilessly torture children and babies. With this belief, gone a certain safety feeling in the world I’ve always had, and now I don’t.

I couldn’t comprehend how the world goes on, how my flowers are still blooming. Moreover, I remembered myself stopping my life after 9/11 and again when terrorists took over a Russian school, and I didn’t understand how people around the world ignored such atrocities altogether.

I believe we are all connected and affected by each other. Nowadays, it means that every time I wake up, my heart is clutched in pain.

Yet, I’d rather grieve together, than be indifferent on my own. Because in the long run, I believe, our connections are what make us human, and what enable us to be happy.

First Weeks: Struggle

Since the beginning of the terror attack, Hamas and Hezbollah are shooting rockets at Israel every day and night, incessantly bombing most of us. Almost all the children in the country nowadays are deeply frightened. My nephews, for example, are having trouble leaving their home or parting with their parents even for a moment. It’s tough for my sister, who is a doctor who nowadays has to be in the hospital more hours than ever, and comes back brokenhearted.

In many of the homes, moreover, one of the parents is on reserve duty, which makes dealing with the unending rockets even tougher. Numerous pets are traumatized, too (as a family I helped find a shelter explained, rockets are much more frightful than thunderstorms). The economic slowdown during the war, and the debts and fears it brings along, don’t help, either.

Near the borders, where the terrorists and missiles make life impossible, hundreds of thousands of Israelis had to leave their homes in a hurry. My brother’s family from the north, and my cousin’s family from the south, two hundred kilometers away (Israel is a small country), had to leave everything behind and crowd together with our parents.

While the government was overwhelmed for weeks, the citizens mobilized to do whatever is necessary. From day one, we invited unknown evacuees to our homes, and organized food and clothing for them. I, for example, first volunteered in a restaurant that became a soup kitchen, where dozens of volunteers cooked thousands of servings of food every day. Later on, I joined a group that connects evacuees with thousands of homeowners who donate their empty apartments and B&Bs to them. Other groups help find and bring furniture for the evacuees, help their children start over at school midyear, help them get what they’re entitled to from the public services, and so on.

There is a feeling that most of the nation, Jews and Arabs alike, turned out to be a very big family. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

First Months: Sorrow

A few days after that doomed Saturday, while burying hundreds of victims and hundreds of soldiers, trying to identify hundreds of bodies the fire or tortures mutilated, and treating numerous casualties, under an ongoing cascade of rockets everywhere, the Israeli army entered Gaza. It had to stop the missile firing, prevent another massacre, and free the hostages. It aimed to go after the myriads of terrorists with minimum casualties among our soldiers and among the civilian population, in an area governed by Hamas which uses the population as a human shield.

An impossible mission, where every failure is disastrous.

Hamas, as a terror organization governing the population of Gaza, uses the huge amounts of money it gets from Europe and the Emirates to buy plenty of weaponry and build shielded tunnels to drive underground. When the poverty-stricken population demonstrated in front of Hamas’ palaces, Hamas shot many of them to death. It also built its headquarters under schools and hospitals, and it places its many rocket launchers in population centers. If Israel doesn’t bomb them, Hamas keeps shooting at Israel’s citizens. If it does bomb, ignorant people worldwide blame Israel for the many casualties. Either way, Hamas sees itself as winning.

There are people in Israel who claim that Hamas sees our caring for human lives on both sides as a weakness. They say we should take revenge in order to deter it from attacking us again. Like the majority of Israelis, however, I believe we should do the right thing, no matter how our enemies see it.

Therefore, Israel asked the population to evacuate the areas of the fights. Yet Hamas didn’t let them leave and shot convoys of evacuees. Then it showed the heartbreaking pictures of the people it killed as victims of Israel. (Unsurprisingly, terrorists who torture children don’t try to be truthful.)

So Israel protects the convoys of evacuees, and doesn’t bomb the hospitals headquarters where Hamas hides. Not bombing some of these buildings, which are partly wired with explosives, requires the soldiers to get in, and dramatically raises the number of Israeli soldiers killed every day.

No wonder my friends, many of them mothers of soldiers fighting the terrorists for sixty days now, can’t sleep at night.

All Along: Love

The only thing that helps me cope with the grief, the fear, and the despair, is the unexpected feeling of unity. It seems like almost every person in Israel is engaged in helping others. Supporting the families who lost their loved ones, the families who lost their homes, the families of the hostages. Raising money and donating massively, ensuring everyone has a place to live, food, clothing, furniture, and school. Helping the families of the soldiers, even sending them flowers to cheer them up, and giving the soldiers whatever they need, and more.

My daughter’s boyfriend, for one, whenever he had several hours at home, got snacks and food on the streets from complete strangers. One family even invited him to dinner, and then the mother, a psychologist, had a long conversation with him about the horrific things he encountered, and they both cried together.

Hearing about it, I felt so thankful for her heartfulness. I felt he was no longer lonely when he was away.

Everyone, so it seems, does whatever they can. Every singer and performer voluntarily entertains evacuees and casualties in hospitals around the clock for weeks. Many of the Israelis who live abroad rushed here when they saw the news, joined the army, or helped wherever they could. Foreigners also came: doctors who helped in hospitals and others who helped in the fields, alongside myriads of Israeli volunteers, as all Israeli farmers are enrolled or lack workers.

Surely, when you ask an Israeli how he is these days, no one is fine. Everyone, me included, is sad, worried, sometimes desperate. Yet, we all try to help others and be there for the ones who need us the most in this moment.

And it helps.

Being together helps.

Supporting others, whether they are friends or strangers, helps us not to fall apart.

In the face of so much hate and death, acts of kindness and love keep our hope alive.

The Future: Hope

Does this terror attack concern only Israel and Gaza?

Sadly, no.

This war is the result of several processes relevant to every person, in every country around the world.

The main process is the rising violence caused by the increased global food insecurity. The environmental crisis, which originated mostly by the western countries, causes land infertility, affecting mostly the desert belt of Central America, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. That’s why more and more immigrants are coming from there. That’s also why we see in these areas more wars, and more, bigger, terror organizations.

Therefore, reducing immigration and dealing with terrorists won’t help anyone in the long run. The only way to root out the problem is to deal with the environmental crisis immediately and thoroughly. Leaders who promise us security without dealing with the underlying origin simply can’t deliver. We must prioritize addressing the fundamental climate crisis. Wherever we are, however we can.

Still, denouncing terrorism and fighting it firmly is crucial, too. The situation where terror groups all over the world watch one of the worst terror attacks ever, ending in huge demonstrations supporting the terrorists, is hazardous. Many people, intending to help the Gaza population, give money to Hamas, which uses it to pay its terrorists for their murders and hostages. Supporting Hamas, Al Qaeda, and terror groups in general is practically an invitation to massacre people everywhere. It promises terrorists that no country will be able to effectively fight terror.

Terror is all about public opinion. So the world must say loud and clear that there is no justification for murdering innocent citizens, let alone children and babies, ever. We must declare that no end can justify evil means. Otherwise, terrorists will kill more and more people everywhere, in more and more homes.

Terrorists rely on another problematic process we all go through: the spreading of fake news, hatred, and polarization. Social media spreads fake news six times more than real news, because the fake ones provoke more emotions and anger, which keep people in the media. We must consider this, not share mistrustful information, and demand social media’s decision-makers to change these hazardous algorithms.

All in all, the most important thing we have to do is decrease hatred and increase cooperation and love. We better care about suffering people in other parts of the world because we are all connected, and whatever we do affects us all. We mustn’t be racist and address people according to their ethnicity and religion, but treat every individual, fairly and open-heartedly, according to their own deeds. We have to do our best to reduce evil, and to induce kindness.

Because together we stand, divided we fall.

So we need to choose love.

We need to choose life.

For our children, and for our future.

About the Author
Estee Horn is an author and an explorer, who uses her M.A. in Eco-Psychology to help people live better.
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