Each day of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza brings new revelations about the depravity of the terrorist organization’s Oct.7 onslaught.
Israeli archaeologists with expertise in examining fragments of burned bodies started work this week to try to complete identification of the remains of hundreds of unidentified victims. While the Israeli government spokespeople attempt to convey these grisly facts to the international community, on the home front, Israelis are deep into the anxiety, fear, grieving and mourning that accompany war.
Anxiety shows on the faces of shoppers in the mall and pedestrians in the street. As IDF ground forces move methodically through the northern Strip Gaza to neutralize Hamas and attempt to rescue the hostages, the list of soldiers killed is updated in the hourly radio news bulletins.
While hundreds of families are still mourning those murdered in the south in the initial Hamas massacre, there are still enough people who turn out in the hundreds for the funerals that take place one after the other at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem and at military ceremonies elsewhere in Israel.
Dozens of neighbors silently line the street holding Israeli flags as the bereaved families leave their homes to escort their sons on their final journey.
On Wednesday, the skies unleashed heavy rain and thunder rolled through the hills of Jerusalem as Lavi Lifshitz, 20, from Modi’in was the first soldier of the day to be buried in the national cemetery filled with more than 3,000 other fighters laid to rest there since 1948.
Fear for the fate of the 240 hostages held in Gaza hangs over the country. Despite the release of four women and the daring rescue of one woman soldier, the outrage at the kidnapping of babies, kids, women and the elderly is hard to ignore. Yellow ribbons and banners with pictures of the captives hang on streets all over the country.
Fear for the safety of soldiers serving in Gaza and on the border with Lebanon permeates every conversation with anyone who has a relative in a combat unit. Many people take part in coordinated reciting of Psalms, in person and online.
Fear of missiles is already ingrained into those who are enduring the fourth week of running to the protected space. Hamas has fired more than 7,500 missiles at Israel; it has about twice that number still in its arsenal, according to the IDF.
Hamas continues the daily barrage on southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv, which generally starts in the afternoon and continues into the evening. This week sirens sounded in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, too, just to keep those deeper inland on their toes.
The Iran-backed Houthis joined in the day after that, sending drones and ballistic missiles towards Eilat from Yemen. Eilat, where thousands of survivors from the communities destroyed on Oct.7 are being housed, had been siren-free since 2006.
The girls were saved
One of those temporary Eilat residents is Adele Raemer, a longtime resident of Kibbutz Nirim, who confronted the fear and led a couple of BBC reporters back this week to the remains of the abandoned kibbutz where many of her friends and neighbors were murdered.
In her son-in-law’s house, where the blood of the terrorist he killed was visible on the floor, one reporter remarked in shock, “There’s a little girl’s flip-flop shoe there in the blood.” The girls were saved.
Nobody really wants to say it out loud, but of course there’s fear of Hamas-inspired attacks by Israeli Arabs on other Jewish communities and city neighborhoods. Seven hundred new community patrols have been formed and trained since the war began.
Last week, the Jerusalem municipality offered to adjust the steel doors of the bomb shelters in older buildings. The friendly worker who came to our building instructed us on the best way to pull the heavy metal handles and hold the door tight for long periods, “to keep the barbarians out. They’re worse than the missiles,” he said.
Some of the anxiety is fueled by the fact that there is no distance between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in several Israeli cities, nor between Arab villages and rural Jewish communities.
Along the frontier with Lebanon, the villas housing Hezbollah are within shouting distance of the Israeli side of the winding concrete border barricade. Even closer than Hamas strongholds in Gaza were to Israel.
Back in 2018, the IDF used concrete to flood a major tunnel dug by Hezbollah from the village of Kafr Kila. A few months later, I watched a confident IDF spokesman lead members of a Jerusalem think tank to a manhole just inside the Israeli border near the city of Metula. It was one of the many openings of Hezbollah tunnels that were being destroyed by massive pieces of Israeli equipment. But the attacks that have come from Hezbollah over the past week did not use tunnels.
Now the residents of 28 towns, kibbutzim and moshavim along that northern border have been evacuated to try to evade the Hezbollah threat—in contradiction to the original concept under which those communities, along with those on the border with Gaza, were established in the first place—to be a first line of defense.
Massive volunteer effort
As of this week, about 250,000 Israelis have been displaced from their homes, with no projected date for when they may expect to return. The social and emotional disruption is huge. Day by day, more state and other official services are being directed at the evacuees.
Banks are suspending mortgage payments for the evacuees for the next five months. The health funds (think HMOs) are prioritizing their medical needs. The Israel Electric Corporation has suspended collections for late payments. Millions of shekels have been allocated to provide free cultural activities for them. Temporary schools are being set up in places like the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem.
All these services supplement the massive volunteer effort that has accompanied the evacuees thus far.
“I feel like I’m not doing enough,” a friend confided yesterday. She’s a volunteer counselor for new immigrants experiencing their first war; takes three shifts per week preparing food for soldiers at the base near her home; bakes challot for displaced families in her neighborhood; and helps her daughter with three kids while her son-in-law is in the IDF reserves.
Her level of activity for the war effort is far from unusual. Everyone feels compelled to do his or her part. It’s a concrete way to try to alleviate the anxiety and allay the fears that keep us all up at night.