David I. Roytenberg

Together We Will Win

In Ashkelon, the flags and signs are everywhere. בְּיַחַד נְנַצֵּחַ Together we will win. The road into town is lined with pictures of the hostages. Meanwhile life goes on. The restaurants and cafes are open, though custom was slow when we were there on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Construction of new homes continues. Traffic on the roads is brisk. The spirit of Israeli resilience is visible.

May be an image of cloud and horizon
Image: The Marina in Ashkelon — photo by David Roytenberg

On Friday morning, we drove to Jerusalem. It takes a bit more than an hour to drive from Ashkelon, near the northern boundary of Gaza, to Jerusalem in the heart of the country. It reminds you just how small Israel is. Jerusalem too, is festooned with flags and posters proclaiming that Together We Will Win.

I spent Shabbat with my sister. She is hosting her daughter who has a ten month old baby, while the baby’s father is away fighting in the war. While there, my sister’s granddaughter took her first few steps unassisted, to everyone’s delight. Baby’s Dad had a chance to call for a few minutes to see his daughter from somewhere in the war zone.

Like all Israelis, my sister and her family are doing what they can to carry on with life. My brother in law, a busy personal trainer finds time to volunteer harvesting produce. My nephew is completing his last year of engineering as Israeli universities have reopened since the beginning of January. His wife is pursuing the beginning of a promising law career.

* * *

It is clear that the war has brought Israelis together. 300,000 reservists reported for duty on and after October 7. They pursue the grim task of destroying the enormous war machine constructed by the enemy in Gaza over the 16 years that terrorists have ruled there.

At the same time, the political and social tensions from before the war and those caused by the war are very much in evidence. With relentless international pressure on Israel to reduce civilian casualties, the IDF fights on, paying a daily price in the blood of its fighters. A campaign pushed by the families of over 100 captives demanding the return of their loved ones by any means necessary is cynically exploited by the enemy to try to win ruinous concessions from the Israeli side. The Prime Minister foolishly and insensitively says publicly that the pressure from hostage families is making it harder for the government at the negotiating table.

While all Israelis support the liberation of the hostages, most also understand that they can’t be freed at the cost of abandoning the other goals of the war. One conversation I’ve had since I got here was with someone who said, “I support bringing them home, but it can’t be at the price of freeing the enemies who perpetrated October 7.” The grip of terrorist rule on Gaza must be broken.

Other Israelis have tried to block aid going into Gaza and the government is denounced for caving in to international pressure. The effort by Hamas to control humanitarian aid and use it to resupply its own fighters, while using it to extort continued support from desperate Gazans, adds to the fury of Israelis, who see the government allowing logistical support to an enemy it has vowed to destroy.

Political divisions within the government were evident as 15 coalition MKs attended an event to promote the return of Israelis to live in Gaza. This event was prominently reported in the world media, undermining the Israeli government’s position that it has no intention of governing Gaza once the war is won.

On Thursday I had dinner with an old friend who was angry that there was talk of restoring the Israeli civilian presence to Gaza. Why should my grandson die to defend a few thousand Jews living in the midst of a hostile population?” he asked.

Tomorrow my son and I will begin our volunteer work at Kibbutz Saad. It is inspiring to read of many other people coming from abroad to help with Israeli farms and social services, struggling to operate with so many of their regular workers away fighting and the Palestinian work force from both Gaza and the Palestinian Authority barred from entering the country. Foreign workers such as the Thais, dozens of whom were kidnapped and killed on October 7 have also vanished.

I believe that the influx of foreign volunteers is only beginning. All of the Israelis I’ve spoken to are very moved to see this flow of people coming here to help. They are determined to be part of the response to October 7 and the continued struggle until victory. Just as Jews and allies rushed to help while Israel’s existence hung in the balance in 1948, a new wave of Zionists is pouring into the country to help with whatever needs to be done. Together we will win.

This article was originally published on Canadian Zionist Forum On February 4, 2024

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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