Israel was facing its Brexit. It got its 9/11

Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP / Times of Israel
Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP / Times of Israel

Days like these usually require time for me to pause and reflect before I process my thoughts on what I have seen. It is my responsibility as a writer — and a member of Israel’s community — to report truthfully and rationally on one of the biggest attacks Israel has experienced. My thoughts are dizzying and yet I’ll do my best to put them on the page. 

What we saw yesterday cannot be described without evoking some of the most terrible things imaginable. Elderly people and children were kidnapped; sons and daughters were killed indiscriminately; kids were spitting on the naked dead bodies of Israeli women while celebrating their demise. It was sick and inhumane. 

It was an extraordinary day in Israeli history where serious questions now need to be answered by the country’s government for how it could allow such a thing to happen. 

First off, I am OK. My wife Daniela and I are, as fate would have it, currently in Cyprus on a planned weekend trip to visit family for the end of the Jewish holiday period. Like the rest of the world, we were watching in horror as the world’s media turned its attention to some of the atrocities committed by Hamas and celebrated by some members of Gaza. 

Except we also had our social media feeds blasted with posts from friends sharing their safety status, or urgently asking for any contact from their missing loved ones. We had live reporting from our streets, and we spoke to our community from bomb shelters in various cities. It was an utterly disorientating experience we will likely never forget. We still don’t know when we will be able to fly home and help those who need our assistance.

It is times like this that remind us of Israel’s constant and stubborn need to protect itself and its borders. As the lone Jewish state, it is under constant threat of attack whether physically from its neighboring regions or vocally from liberal college campuses across Western democracies. Every day it must be on high alert due to a bubbling sense that something dreadful might happen. 

Yesterday it did. 

Seeing all this unfold has had a profound effect on me as a native Brit now living in Israel as a journalist. My father Michael was born in South Africa but raised mostly in Israel. He lives now with my mother Lynda in London, and growing up he used to say to me: “If Israel’s enemies want it gone off the map, all they would need to do is leave it alone and it would destroy itself.” Before having moved to the country myself, I never quite understood what he meant — but this year we almost saw that happen. Potential judicial reform and weekly protests nearly broke it up from within. We were told this was Israel’s ‘Trump’ or ‘Brexit’ moment. 

Now, as has already been described online, Israel is experiencing its own 9/11

The worst thing Hamas could have done was attack Israel the way it did. Not because it will weaken the country, but because it will strengthen it. Israelis are more united today than they have been in the last year. 

Youngsters who both express support for a Palestine while also belonging to liberal identity groups that would have them assassinated if they were to visit there have been left humiliated by their ignorance. Their voices are shunned and left in the void where only fans of the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn or America’s ‘Squad’ reside. World leaders share a collective disgust at what these terrorists have done, and Israel has their full support to defend itself.

Yet Hamas, for whatever reason, had felt more emboldened yesterday than it has felt in decades. Perhaps because British politicians had called the terror organizations ‘friends’. Perhaps because American politicians have at times called for Palestine “to be free, from the river to the sea.” Perhaps because media outlets focused more on Israel’s retaliation than its victims, determined to call members of Hamas ‘militants’ and not what they actually are – terrorists.  

Or perhaps because its biggest funder and supporter, Iran, was about to receive $6 billion in unfrozen funds from the Biden Administration allegedly for humanitarian aid. The president, who stumbled to his podium several hours after the attacks started, mumbled some words about America’s support for Israel and once again took no questions from the media. His team has been sending out intermittent Posts on X ever since, expressing his support from his social media accounts.

How far the region has fallen. The 2020 US Presidential election took place during the historic achievements of the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israel’s relationship with several of its neighbors in the region. The fact that American leadership changed halfway through and has within three short years crumbled to what we saw yesterday has been devastating. The election for Israelis and Jews was focused on the expansion of peace, not the reduction of war. I said at the time that President Trump deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts and I stand by that despite the initial blowback I received from some friends overseas. 

Today, that history feels like a different reality. It contained a future we will never get to see. 

Leadership from Israel’s biggest ally matters. Elections, as President Obama often reminded us, have consequences. We have all felt the consequences of that election in some way or another in the years since it took place. There might be some solace in the fact the mean tweets are gone at home, but the wider world is undeniably a more dangerous and unstable place than it once was. 

We are in a period that will change the direction of the country and the region forever. The world we had, and the optimistic potential the country once enjoyed, have gone. But one thing can be certain: Israelis are more united to each other and protective over the sole Jewish State than they have been in decades. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed yesterday: “We are at war. Not an operation, not an escalation — at war.”

Perhaps it is sad that a country can only thrive when it is attacked, and perhaps we almost saw how when left alone for too long it might not survive its own challenges, but it is clear Israel’s enemies never let us know the result of that theory. 

And that will ultimately be Hamas’ biggest failure and humiliation.

About the Author
James Spiro is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist, where he reports on Israel's tech sector and moderates conferences across Europe, North America, and Asia. He has a background in journalism and public relations and can often be found Tweeting his thoughts: @JamesSpiro
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