newsIsrael at War

Israelis confront a new reality in the fall of 2023

An existential threat to our survival? Those fears were for our parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

The aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre at a music festival in southern Israel, where hundreds of young people were murdered and and kidnapped, Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90.
The aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre at a music festival in southern Israel, where hundreds of young people were murdered and and kidnapped, Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90.

What do you do when your neighbors act on their long-stated wish to annihilate you? Why, you go to the fields to sow new crops and harvest the produce that’s been waiting to be picked since the Oct. 7 massacre.

Over the past few days, thousands of Israelis and many volunteers from abroad have been channeling their grief, shock and outrage into traditional Zionist action. Answering the call from hundreds of farmers, young and old from every sector of society are flocking to the fields and greenhouses of dozens of kibbutzim and moshavim to work the land.

At Moshav Talmei Yosef, just a few miles from the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, dozens of people showed up for the back-breaking work of planting tomatoes in the sandy soil, shielded from the relentless sun by huge plastic greenhouse sheeting.

Others, under the direction of Hashomer HaChadash, a volunteer recruitment organization dedicated to protecting agricultural lands and farms in the Negev and Galilee, headed to Kibbutz Re’im to help plow the fields for the first time in more than two weeks since the grisly events that took place there.

Even kibbutzim in central Israel are feeling the pinch of the lack of manpower caused by the reserve call-up and foreign workers who headed for home as the war started. Moshav Haniel near Netanya put out a call for help in their avocado orchards, and they had to turn people away.

For many, the need to be actively involved in some physical activity in support of the war effort is a way to try in some manner to cope with the realization of the lengths to which our enemies and neighbors will go to accomplish their goal of destroying the Jewish state. Yes, we all knew about those clearly stated goals written in the Hamas Charter, but few could imagine that they could be carried out so easily in one day.

The extent of support for Hamas among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria is not really known, and so far, on at least one front, Hamas has failed in this war. It has not yet succeeded in inflaming those Arabs to rise up in violence as they did in the most recent major skirmish with Hamas in May 2021.

It’s hard to acknowledge that some of our immediate neighbors may harbor Hamas-like thoughts, but here in Jerusalem, police have arrested 110 Arabs suspected of incitement to terror over the past two weeks. Seventeen have already been indicted. One was on the cleaning staff of a Chabad school in the Gilo neighborhood. One is a doctor at Hadassah Hospital. Two Muslim preachers from mosques in the eastern part of the city were indicted for broadcasting inciting messages from their mosques. Pro-Hamas graffiti was found in a playground close to our apartment this week.

‘Failed the test’

Earlier this week, rolls of thunder echoed through the valley that divides my neighborhood from Silwan to the east. Nervous messages popped up on the local WhatsApp group asking if the noise was from explosives.

It’s all stress-inducing and taking its toll. One close friend spent the last two nights in the cardio unit at Shaare Zedek Hospital. “You think it’s stress that caused your symptoms?” she reported the doctor asked when she checked into the ER.

Motti Bootchkin, a ZAKA volunteer who spent almost two weeks searching for and identifying bodies in the south, collapsed and was hospitalized for exhaustion this week. He vowed to return to his “holy work” as soon as possible.

Every day, since the war started, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation’s Reshet Bet radio channel has been giving voice to the testimonies of survivors of the horrors and the stories of the heroes who rescued them and confronted the terrorists.

Members of ZAKA walk through the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kfar Aza near the border with Gaza, as they collect the dead bodies of Israelis on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.

Some speak in matter-of-fact tones about their experiences, while others break down as they describe the scenes they witnessed. It’s reminiscent of interviews with Holocaust survivors—an age-old national need to remember, document and preserve the memory of those who perished.

After U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council that the Hamas attacks “did not occur in a vacuum,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan announced that Israel would refuse to issue visas to U.N. representatives from now on. Guterres later tried to walk back his words to no avail.

Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan condemned Guterres’s “insensitive comments” and called out the hypocrisy of those who come on official visits to the Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Jerusalem.

“The slaughter of Jews by Hamas on October 7 was genocidal in its intents and immeasurably brutal in its form. It puts to test the sincerity of world leaders, intellectuals and influencers that come to Yad Vashem and pledge “Never Again.” Those who seek to “understand,” look for a justifying context, do not categorically condemn the perpetrators, and do not call for the unconditional and immediate release of the abducted fail the test. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres failed the test.”

Before Oct. 7, most Jews could not really conceive of an existential threat to our survival in 2023. Those fears were for our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. Now, in our sleepless nights, we try to wrap our head around the new reality. Then we look for the next opportunity to head to the fields to plant for the future.

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