newsIsrael at War

New York officials tour Gaza border areas devastated on Oct. 7

“What is not surprising is the resilience of Israel—a nation born out of struggle,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told JNS.

New York state and city officials visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of the JCRC.
New York state and city officials visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of the JCRC.

A delegation of officials from New York State and City on Wednesday visited Israeli agricultural communities near the Gaza Strip that suffered the brunt of the Hamas onslaught on Oct. 7.

The Americans underlined their strong support for Israel, saying it was shared by a majority of their countrymen.

The three-day solidarity trip, which included State Assembly and City Council members, comes on the background of a surge in global antisemitism, including in the United States.

“The continued trauma being felt by the Israeli people after Oct. 7 and the unexpected devastation in terms of the human cost as well as the psychological-emotional impact underscores that it will take a long time to do physical and emotional rebuilding,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told JNS.

“What is not surprising is the resilience of Israel—a nation born out of struggle. Despite all the divisions you have here, a resolve to get through this and past this is very strong,” he said.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli outside homes in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Feb. 21, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of JCRC.

To bear witness

As the delegation made its way to Israel’s “Ground Zero” at this once lush border-area farming community, the devastation was still apparent despite the time that had passed, the change of seasons, the winter rains and the now green grass and spring flowers.

The blackened rows of bullet-riddled, burned-out homes and the overturned furniture-strewn outdoors were frozen in time from the carnage on that fateful autumn holiday weekend in which Palestinian terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the northwestern Negev, and abducted about another 250 to Gaza. 

Large signs outside the neat rows of demolished stucco homes show the names of the victims and those being held hostage along with their photos.

“It’s really hard to process how such a mindset can work,” said New York City Councillor Mercedes Narcisse. “As a registered nurse, I cannot process how people can hunt down civilians as they did here.”

“I come from a rough neighborhood in Staten Island so I know a little about living in fear, but nothing like this,” offered NYC Councillor Kamillah Hanks, who also visited the kibbutz two years ago, when she broke bread with some of the residents murdered in the attack. “When I heard this kibbutz was attacked, I was determined to come back. You have to bear witness.”

Strength and resilience

“People are hurting but the strength of people in this country, particularly the women, is really amazing to see,” said NYC Councillor Lynn Schulman from Queens.

A long-time community and LGBTQ activist, with decades of leadership in healthcare advocacy and progressive causes, Schulman was on her first-ever trip to Israel. Like many other American Jews, the Hamas massacre deeply affected her. “I was raised a secular Jew, but being Jewish was never my thing,” she said. “After October 7, I took on an identity: I am a proud Jew.”

“New York is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world and its elected representatives reflect that diversity,” said Michael Miller, CEO emeritus of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which organized the tour. “A key element of our mission, irrespective of October 7 but reinforced by it, is establishing relationships with leaders from multiple ethnicities and faith groups.”

Disconnected from reality

The virulent anti-Israel protests that erupted in America and in New York in particular since the war broke out shocked members of the delegation, who were themselves blacklisted on social media for coming to Israel on the solidarity trip.

“As a New Yorker with a long association with the Jewish people and the State of Israel, I find it disheartening that some New Yorkers are so disconnected with the reality of what Israel is all about,” DiNapoli said. “It’s 2024 and we still have to deal with these shocking outgrowths of antisemitism.”

After a day of touring the scene of the attacks, the N.Y. officials all said they were determined to bring the messages home with them as they prepared to fly back to the U.S. on Thursday night.

The comptroller has cemented New York’s position as the largest holder of Israel Bonds of any other state in the U.S., purchasing nearly $100 million in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks for a total holding of $330 million, and with plans to buy more.

“It’s not just support; it makes good business sense,” he said.

“This is not just a personal catastrophe but a catastrophe of humankind,” said Chen Kotler, a resident of Kfar Aza, as she bade the group farewell after showing them around her community.

“This is the playbook of terror for the next attack,” she said.

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