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Israel visit brings Hamas Holocaust home

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A few weeks after the start of the war following the 7 October Hamas attack, I heard of a “solidarity” mission to Israel. My feelings were mixed. Whereas there was no doubt that the idea came from a good place, I wondered it if was a little self-indulgent and if it was fair to ask a country during its own horror to host people from outside the country.

Six days into a six-day solidarity trip to Israel, organised by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) South Africa, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), I know that none of these are concerns. Especially for a group travelling from South Africa.

The mission had a dual purpose: to show support to Jews and citizens of Israel and to send a message that the South African people aren’t their government. And that there are those who stand alongside a country facing a war that it didn’t start.

Over the few days, the mission met with members of the media; government spokesperson Eylon Levy; and senior officers running the war campaign including Brigadier General Dan Goldfuss. It visited three different army bases, and did the South African thing of braaiing for the soldiers – an unforgettable evening where it was clear to the group that I wasn’t built to stand behind the braai, and more suited to chatting to soldiers.

But it was the day spent in the Gaza envelope that gave me some of the perspective that I have until now been lacking. And in not having the perspective I have, like others, perhaps erred in how we informed people of the events of 7 October.

This wasn’t a terror attack. It was a full-scale invasion. It was meticulously planned and executed. Sixty sites were hit simultaneously, including army bases and police stations. In some cases, the kibbutzim were cut off, making them enormously difficult to reach, even had the army not been fighting its own battles. Three thousand Hamas operatives descended on a sleepy area, where rifles were locked in the armouries. The brutality and scale of the murders at the Nova musical festival added to the chaos and confusion.

From the most senior officer to the person in the street, there’s widespread recognition that there was a massive systems failure that resulted in the 7 October invasion. Person after person recounted the day and the process that they went through as recognition slowly dawned on them about what this was.

I asked the question to Keith Isaacson, who heads up the security of the Eshkol region: “What can you do to make residents of the south feel secure so that they will be able and confident to return and rebuild?” His answer wasn’t the one I was expecting. He said, “Take away the word ‘feel’. It’s not about feeling secure. It’s about being secure. The residents felt secure before 7 October. It didn’t help them.” When I asked about what went wrong, his emotions and language expressed a heaviness that I know will never leave him. A responsibility that although not all his, will be felt forever.

All of this was made more real when a JNF, SAZF, and KKL memorial service for South Africans who lost their lives brought us closer to human suffering. Set in the beautiful JNF memorial forest, we heard from parents who had lost children, and from Aviva Siegel, a South African, who along with her husband was taken hostage. He remains a captive of Hamas.

The horror is overwhelming. But so, too, is the strength, warmth, and resilience of the people. In many ways on the surface, the country appears to be “getting on with it” and carrying on as needs be, but a few seconds into any conversation, and it’s clear that this is a people hurting more than it’s able to express.

But from what I saw, it would be a mistake to confuse pain with weakness. There’s little doubt that the power of the people will triumph.

The priorities are clear: bring back the hostages; destroy Hamas; and determine what went wrong so as to ensure that this will never be allowed to happen again.

I came to Israel to see for myself. And I’m deeply grateful that I did.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Glen Osher

    Feb 23, 2024 at 12:45 pm

    In our prayers 🙏

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