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October 7, A Day of Barbarism

Hostage-Square A hundred thousand people gathering at Hostage Square on Nov 25

Tsur Yitzhak, Israel, December 5, 2023

We are grieving; we are heartbroken, we are bereft; we are mourning; we are widowed and orphaned, we are battered and shocked; we are appalled and bewildered...we are enraged. We cry out: "How? Why?"

But we are not defeated. Let it be known that atrocities such as October 7 will not be tolerated; will not be endured; will not be accepted without a fight to eradicate the sheer evil that perpetrated this carnage. Atrocities that here, in Israel 2023, in the State established to protect Jews, despite all our promises of "Never again!" happened...again...the worst murder of Jews in one single day since the Holocaust.

Let that sink in for a moment. The Holocaust; the mass industrial extermination of Jews, that we learn about, that we mourn in our minute-long silences and ceremonies every year on Yom HaShoah. It's suddenly here, in our faces; this time in vivid color on our television screens. The carnage, murder, rape, violation, abuse, hostage taking; pure, unadulterated evil.

Grandparents, great-grandparents who had survived one Holocaust, were now subject to another. Their children and grandchildren whom they had believed were protected in the Jewish State, were now subjected to another abomination.

Now is two months later. I am writing this account from a deep well of pain. A gnawing angst which I can hardly describe. Although it dissipates during a busy workday, it raises its ugly head every few hours in a wave of profound distress at the enormity of this tragedy; with visions of the monstrous attacks. Peace-loving party-goers fleeing in panic from murderous barbarians bent on death and capturing young girls for brutal sex before killing them; young women soldiers in lookout bases abused and murdered in the most nauseating way; families jolted from their sleep to plunge headlong into an inferno engulfing their own homes, their loved ones, their very existence – and most ironic of all, their ideology...betrayed on so many levels.

Their pure ideology, OUR ideology, the epitome of the Zionist vision; settling the land – Israel proper, not contested territories – reaping its bounty and reaching out the hand of peace to Arab neighbors...just across that field, just over that sand dune, just behind that grove of trees.

These kibbutzim and moshavim were among the most liberal, peace-loving sectors of Israeli society. Settled in the early 1950s by left-wing Zionist youth they retained much of their progressive approach. Men and women committed to reaching out to the Palestinians of Gaza in an attempt to create connections; to help them, driving them to Israeli hospitals for treatment and so much more – indiscriminately slaughtered, bound and dragged into Gaza as hostages, without a damn for how much "peace" and "co-existence" they may have aspired to.

This was a betrayal of trust for us all: trust in the supposed relationships forged with Palestinian communities; and trust in the very institutions meant to serve us, to protect us, to save us.

A betrayal of friendship: the apparent friendship of students, universities and academic institutions around the world; our liberal thought, the concern for the downtrodden, the helpless, the "... tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." We believed in the same broadminded principles, the same freedoms; trashed in hate-filled marches, with moronic calls of "from the river to the sea..." with detestable chants of "gas the Jews".

The betrayal of principles. Principles of right and wrong, of Human Rights organizations – International Children's' Day, but not if you're a Jewish child, held hostage in Gaza: "Women's Rights for All", unless you're a Jew who was raped on October 7. "Believe every woman" – unless she's a Jew. Empty, worthless slogans.

A betrayal of hope; hope for a better future. For the victims of the Gaza Strip communities this meant seeing their children, grandchildren and beyond grow in a healthy, free and open-minded environment and society. Hope for us all. It meant the same thing in different settings, but essentially the same thing. Isn't that why we came here in the first place? The Zionist dream?

October 7 molested the dream: leaving the entire nation of Israel bleeding and traumatized, dazed, shaken and stupefied, at the ease with which it happened, and the sheer brutishness of its execution.

In the early hours of that imminently bloody Shabbat, the dawn chorus harmonizing with the music pumping out of the Nova festival, where a thousand or more revelers, gathering in the typically idyllic desert, celebrated love, life and peace – until the strumming of guitars was harshly drowned out by the moan of air raid sirens; the percussion of the music by the percussion of gunfire...and the festival of peace became a bloodbath with 300 revelers slaughtered like ducks in a shooting gallery.

As the news filtered out across the country in those early hours, TV screens and social media sites lit up, reporting on the enormity of the massacre. It was with heart-stopping shock and disbelief, quickly tumbling into horror, that we learned of what had happened, maybe an hour's drive from our front doors.

A tsunami of phone calls and frantic WhatsApp messages flashed around this tiny country, where everybody knows somebody who knows somebody – two degrees of separation: somebody's cousin, or brother, or in-laws who lived on Kibbutz Be'eri, Kibbutz Aza, or Kibbutz Nirim, or in Sderot, or whose kids or friends of those kids, might so easily have been at that festival.

Israelis and foreign workers, murdered, butchered and defiled in an orgy of death; and the hostages, men, women, children, babes-in-arms, Holocaust survivors, dragged into the Gaza pit of hell...

We waited, aching, almost not breathing, for the list of names, ages, which kibbutzim or moshavim they were from; or if they had been at the Nova Rave party. Waiting and then sighing with guilty relief when we didn't recognize any names...

Time was suddenly divided into "Before October 7", and "After October 7". Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing we'd worked for, nothing we'd hoped for. Everything was upside down. Terrible questions arose: if all we'd built could be obliterated in a fury of destruction, fueled by hatred, why did anything matter?

Yet despite the trauma, despite the grief that we felt, in an instant, the family that is Israel ceased its bickering and factional fighting, and melded together into one caring and highly active, motivated nation.

Reservists overwhelmingly flocked to their bases. Battalions of Jewish mothers, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, secular and religious, banded together to cook food for their soldier sons and daughters; schoolchildren volunteered to pack clothes, food and supplies for evacuated families; building contractors with finished but as yet unoccupied new buildings opened them up for those fleeing their homes. The organization behind the weekly protest demonstrations, in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis protested against their government's proposed changes to the judicial system for nearly nine months, instantly switched its vast WhatsApp and Messaging network to the mission of bringing volunteers together to meet the challenges for those in need.

The circle of Teddy bears at Hostage Square, Tel Aviv

Almost organically, as the identities of the hostages were revealed, thousands of concerned Israelis started converging on what became known as Hostage Square, the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to demand the immediate release of the estimated 260 hostages. The weekly peaceful demonstrations for their release have become as much a feature of Israeli life, as the anti-government protests were over the past nine months. The initial ceasefire, pause, truce, break in the war allowed about 100 hostages – women, children and foreigners – to return to their thankful families. The "pause" highlighted the impossible questions posed to our military − to continue action which could threaten the lives of hostages held in unknown locations in Gaza, or to pause, or observe a ceasefire in return for more hostages, which would enable our enemy to rearm, regather and replenish their war machine. Damned if you do and damned if you don't...with only tragic answers either way.

We are a tiny nation, a feisty little nation punching way above its fighting weight; a proud nation. A nation at war for it very existence. Because if we do not defeat Hamas, completely and utterly, we will be bound up in the conflict for another 100 years.

But we are a nation that despite the mauling of October 7, has come back stronger, more determined to recover, hopefully more unified than ever, ready to make necessary changes, to create a new paradigm; more grounded, based more on practicality than partisan folly, based on true patriotism rather than nationalism.

We need to create the right conditions for the "Day After" both in Gaza AND in Israel; the thought-processes, the principles, the vision for both nations must be well-defined. We must be ready to guide and help our neighbors, if they will allow it, in so many ways, for the creation of a viable and flourishing society, free of hatred; to accept the fact that we are here and intend remaining here; that we accept the fact that they are here and are not going anywhere.

These high-minded principles are certainly extremely difficult to achieve. They need sincere and very deep soul-searching. They need clear-headed individuals on both sides to inspire us, to guide us in the endeavor, the difficult work needed to achieve these aims. For if we don't, then everything that happened in the weeks and months after October 7, will have been in vain. The struggle betrayed, yet again. 

 

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