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Day 55: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

When hatred, unbridled cruelty, and brainwashing come together, there are no limits to the destruction and devastation they cause. It’s so bad that even the killers themselves are unable to explain their actions in the aftermath, in a moment of sobriety, as is evident from the testimonials collected from the terrorists caught after the October 7 massacre. They admitted that what they did—killing innocents, including women and children, and inflicting brutal abuse—is contrary to the laws of Islam.

This truth is relevant to every one of the terrorists and to their evil leader. One of the hostages who was released a few weeks ago is 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz. Yocheved and her husband, both peace activists, were kidnapped from their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Both have longstanding relationships with their Palestinian neighbors in Gaza, including driving them to hospitals in Israel for medical treatments. The Lifshitzes, like many others in the southern kibbutzim, created a bridge, the lifeline for many Gazans, to modern medicine, advanced treatments, and, indeed, to life. These essential necessities were denied to them by a tyrannical and oppressive regime that prioritized armaments over the well-being of Gaza’s residents. Yocheved Lifshitz and her friends, generous volunteers, filled the vacuum created by Hamas, the corrupt terror group.

While in captivity, hidden in Hamas tunnels, Lifshitz met Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas. Without fear and with nothing to lose, she asked him if he has no shame doing what he is doing, given that she and her friends have supported peace all these years? Sinwar had no answer. What can his answer be? Although the two spoke in Hebrew, the conversation was in two different languages—the language of a peace-seeking person and the language of a terrorist, a murderer, the leader of the most vicious terror in the world.

When hatred, cruelty, and brainwashing blind the eyes and seal the heart, they do not distinguish between a child and an adult, between a woman and a baby, between the elderly and the disabled, between Jews and Arabs. The poison is aimed at everyone, and thus, on October 7, Arabs, Thai foreign workers, and Bedouins were massacred as well as Jews. Those who survived were kidnapped and so it was that in the terror tunnels, Jews, Arabs, Thais, and other foreign nationals sat together, side by side, all victims of Hamas’ total blindness.

Later tonight, 17-year-old Aisha and 18-year-old Bilal al-Ziadna, two Muslim Bedouin siblings, will return home after spending 55 days in captivity, where their father and one other sibling remain. I can only imagine the welcome feast that will greet them in their Bedouin village tonight, even as concern for their captive father and brother does not let go for a moment, making the joy incomplete. Aisha and Bilal probably will share the same horror stories we are now starting to hear as more hostages return and begin to talk about the atrocities they experienced while in captivity.

Since October 7, this thought has been driving sleep from an entire country and especially from the families whose loved ones were kidnapped to Gaza: Under what conditions are they being held? How are they being treated?

Since the end of last week, when the hostages began to be returned from captivity, evidence in answer to these questions has accumulated: Some stayed only in the tunnels, others were kept in hideouts. They slept on chairs and received almost no medicine. Some got to listen to the radio, others were completely cut off from the outside world. The children were required to whisper, and the psychological terror continued until the last moments of their captivity. They talk about the beatings, the mental abuse, the withholding of food, the harsh conditions with not even one shower throughout the 50-some days.

And despite the ceasefire, the desire and motivation to kill Jews did not cease. Today the murderous, long hand of Hamas reached the heart of Israel’s capital. Three civilians were murdered and many more were injured while waiting at a bus stop at the start of another working day.

Livya Dikman, a young, pregnant teacher, was on her way to school when the terrorists opened fire. Livya took advantage of the time she spent waiting for the bus to complete her morning prayer. Thus, while her eyes were in her prayer book, she was shot by assassins. Hours later two reservist soldiers were injured in a stampede attack in the Jordan Valley.

We live in a harsh reality. Our enemies are near and far—in Gaza, Lebanon, Judea, and Samaria, as well as in various Palestinian cities that are so close to our homes in Israeli cities and towns. With the strange limbo we’ve been in since last Friday, the reality is even more complex, with many Israelis experiencing a different kind of tension.

On one hand, the war is in full swing, and we have many more days of harsh fighting before we achieve the necessary goal of removing Hamas, a goal that unites all Israelis. On the other hand, a ceasefire is in place, which means soldiers get longer vacations, there are no alarms or missile-related warnings, schools are back in session, and, most importantly, we welcome kidnapped citizens home daily, following hours of tension regarding who, in fact, is being released and in what condition.

Like the weather, days of rain and wind are interwoven with sunny ones. As is our mood, so is the state of the nation. We long for bright days and yearn for stability and quiet so we can disconnect from the news for a few hours, knowing nothing is happening, everything is calm. Most of all, we long to know that our loved ones, all of them, all the sons and daughters of this wonderful country, are safe and sound in their beds, unthreatened.

We pray for the day when the news will return to report on local political intrigue. Oh, how I miss those days…

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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