It is Saturday night and Habima square, the site of reoccuring protests for over 40 weeks in middle-upper class Ranaana, is silent. There are no people marching with Israeli flags. If there are Israeli flags they are on the windows of people’s apartments. They are not there to support the protest movement. Rather to show a new found unity that Israel has not seen for a long time.
Dizingoff Square, the spot of near-weekly protests and the scene of inter-Jewish violence over gender-segregated prayer services have turned into a mass candlelight vigil. One of many across Israel.
A week ago, Hamas succeeded in penetrating the Gaza security fence and went on a bloodbath on Israeli communities in the South. As far as Ofakim, over 30km inland Hamas fighters penetrated. There a spontaneous citizen resistance sprang up to combat Hamas terrorists and there, in the course of several hours, armed citizens with pistols stopped fighters with automatic weapons, RPGs and grenades. Communities closer to Gaza, and in an all night music festival nearby were not as fortunate where full families were butchered in their homes or in fields. The overall numbers, still coming in, amount to the largest loss of life of Jews since the Holocaust in 1945.
The situation on the street is somber but resilient. With the exception of small groups of family members of the hostages protesting Benjamin Netanyahu, there is a silent resolve. Nearly every family has diverted attention to spring up, almost overnight, countless initiatives to support families in need or Israeli soldiers. One at the synagogue where I am staying in Rananna wanted donations to assist with defensive equipment for soldiers.
The protest movement is now focused on the war effort. Some of the leaders, including high ranking military officers, were among the first to arrive on the scene of the Gaza invasion. One general, formally a protester, Major General (ret) Noam Tibon picked up a group of soldiers and went on the rescue his family in an intense firefight. Others have opened their homes to victims and families.
Across the country there are prayers for all of Israel. With talk of a major religious/secular divide engulfing Israel suddenly there are calls to help anyone, regardless of their stance on civil and religious issues. On one bus, a scene that was infathomable weeks ago took place: a Haredi Jew and a secular Jew that is a likely senior citizen were in agreement: the IDF must go in hard against Gaza and the nation to be united. In supermarkets, citizens were helping everyone regardless if they were wearing a kippa to head to an air raid shelter as sirens went off. News media no longer speak of a national divide. A division that is years in the making may have been corrected by one brutal attack by Hamas.
Note that while societal division seems to be shelved and protesters directed at Netanyahu seem to have stopped it does not mean he, personally, is popular. According to a Dialog center poll, 94% of Israeli Jews believe the government has some responsibility for lack of security preparation that led to the massacre. 86% of Israeli Jews including 79% of coalition supporters blame the governments leadership directly. 56% believe Netanyahu must resign, As statistics show, the unity is not one of Israel toward the leadership, albeit they are silent for now as the country focuses on fighting the war. The unity is one toward segments of society, that are shocked, as if reality has sudden shaked them hard to the core. The people who died were from across Israel, representing many, including from the local arab minority. Suddenly, societal divisions appear to cease.
As the local rabbi said in his words to a congregation. The Jewish people have like a “voodoo doll” effect. If one bleeds, the whole nation feels it. The pain is evident in the public sphere as what were once bustling busy streets have quieted down. What was once a climate of near civil war has suddenly vanished. Across Israel people are mobilizing and protest for the first time in years has been silenced. As the local rabbi said: when you help, make sure that half the victims are secular. We are all one nation.