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Day 20: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

When poet Haim Gouri, z”l, an Israel Prize laureate, was asked about his well-being, he would answer: “I am doing as well as my country is,” which in Hebrew sounds much better: שלומי כשלום המדינה He then went on to describe his aches, illustrating the idea that when Israel hurts, he hurts.

We are all familiar with the Hebrew question: מה נשמע? | Mah nishma? which means “How are you doing?” Usually, Israelis will answer with “Sababa,” which basically means, “Cool.” But not these days. For the past three weeks, the question “How are you doing?” is answered by a sad nod or by lowered eyes.

We are not okay. We are doing as well as our country is, and our country is not well. She is hurting, suffering, in deep sorrow and grief. We are not okay.

Among those mourning the late Dror Behat, a kibbutznik from Beit Alfa who was murdered at the Nova festival, is his beloved dog, Ryder, who has lived with Dror for the past six years. For almost three weeks, seven-year-old Ryder has been wandering around sad and lost, looking for his owner, waiting by his grave. This innocent dog, waiting for his owner’s return exemplifies oceans of sadness. So human, so touching. How long will Ryder wait in vain? Ryder is not okay.

Today, two more names were added to the list of abductees. The number now stands at 224 captives.

Imagine a family that for three weeks has had no idea what happened to their loved one, wavering between hope and despair, drawing hope from every piece of information, but constantly wondering:  Are they kidnapped and alive? Wounded and abandoned somewhere? Perhaps dead, the body unrecognizable and destined for burial in a mass grave or burned to the bone, ashes united with the earth?

Today they wake up to news that their loved one has, in fact, been kidnapped. It’s horrifying to think that these days, this is good news.

Liane Sharabi and her two daughters, 16-year-old Noya, and 13-year-old Yahel, from Kibbutz Be’eri were buried yesterday. Their father, Eli, is missing. Three weeks since that cursed day, and it is not yet known what happened to him. His brother Yossi was kidnapped.

They represent one family that embodies the entire tragedy—a mother and daughters slaughtered, a missing father, an abducted uncle, and a home burned to the ground. The chronology of disaster. A bleeding puzzle in which not all the pieces fit together yet.

The thought that there may be missing people who will never be found and whose fate will never be known or bodies that never will be identified is formidable, unimaginable. The families of these victims will have no grave to cry over, no place to plant a flower, water it, whisper a secret. They will forever live with cruel uncertainty.

Hamas didn’t spare a soul—not even among their own people. The IDF continues to urge the residents of the Gaza Strip to move to the humanitarian areas in the south to ensure their safety, but in a conversation intercepted by Israeli intelligence, a resident of Gaza was heard saying: “Hamas is blocking roads and shooting at anyone who tries to escape.” After all, the greater the number of dead Gazans, the stronger the sympathy of the world, so why deny Hamas that sympathy? What is more important: human lives, their own people’s well-being, or the support of the hypocritical world?

Israel is at war, and it is a war that was imposed on us. We pursue peace, as we always have. To achieve peace, we gave lands and territories to the Arab countries who are our neighbors. We are not colonial or greedy for land. We cling to life. Advocate for peace. Our enemy seeks strife and discord.

In 2005, 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip were unilaterally dismantled, and Israeli settlers and the army evacuated from inside the Gaza Strip. Initially, the Palestinian Authority ruled Gaza, but in 2007 Hamas took full control.

Although we did not initiate this war or any war in our history, Israel will do anything to defend itself—just as any other country in the world would do.

We are fighting with strength, bravery, and determination to eradicate evil—once and for all. We must stop the tens of thousands of missiles that have been fired at us since 2014, all intended to harm civil society in Israel. We must eliminate the terrorists’ repeated attempts to penetrate Israel through underground tunnels. We must end explosive balloons that set Israeli fields on fire. We must do everything we can to prevent a repeat of the events of October 7. This is our moral duty to ourselves, to our people, to the world. Hamas threatens us all, including its supporters, whoever they are.

We fight according to international law, under strict self-control, but war is war. It’s ugly, cruel, exhausting. What choice do we have? What world portrays the attacker as the victim? In what reality does the one who crosses the border—galloping wildly to carry out a vicious plan, murder, behead, loot, burn, kidnap, rape—seek recognition as if the crime was committed against them?

And in what delusional world do so many fall into the trap of accepting the lies, the distorted truth, the injustice of it all? How can anyone identify with the attackers, turning them into victims?

Don’t let the propaganda confuse you. Nothing in this war has anything to do with the Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is important that the world knows and understands this fact. This was a murderous terrorist attack aimed at civilians. What happened on October 7, unfortunately, can be repeated because hatred and motivation to kill have not disappeared. If we don’t cut it off, the monster that feeds on distorted public opinion and images of dead people and blood will only grow.

Listen to the inspiring words of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Spread the truth, stand by the truth, embrace the truth, and make sure it is widely known, because we are not well, and it will take time until we are well again.

Until the sun comes out again, we have a war of existence to fight, and a war of consciousness to win, and a war for life—like no war we have ever fought before.

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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