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A home damaged by a Hamas rocket attack

Editor’s Report: A Smashed Cell Phone and a True Conversation-Israel at War

by Rhonda Spivak, October 27, 2023, updated Nov 2, 2023

[The article below is based on a true conversation I  had recently had with a  young adult in our community who has deep ties to Israel.There are many young adults in our community who are experiencing worry and  grief, on learning of  people they know and care about who have been injured, gone missing or have died as a result of Hamas’s atrocities.]
Ben, ( not his real name) a Winnipegger in his early twenties, was naturally very upset when he learned that his friend Michal is in Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, a city in Southern Israel, since she was injured in a recent Hamas rocket attack. A friend of  Michal’s  who was at the hospital called to tell him this.  As he relayed this to me,I had  a flashback of my last time at Barzilai  hospital in 2008, when I reported on the unusual situation of how Israel was treating on a humanitarian basis Palestinian gunmen from Fatah  (the PLO)  who lived in Gaza and had been extensively injured by Hamas, at this very hospital in Israel.
Ben next became more upset upon telling me  he learned that his friend Chana who lives in Ashkelon was missing, and feared to be dead. She had not been heard from from over 27 hours and her cell phone phone was found smashed. As Ben described this to me, my stomach began to churn.
I began wondering how Ben and other young adults who are learning about people they know in Israel being injured, murdered or held captive are processing all of this and dealing with this  grief. How do we console, comfort, talk to these anxious, grieving, young adults. After all, so many of us, myself included, are having trouble processing the terrible calamity that has befallen our people.
Ben wanted to know if Chana were in fact kidnapped, would Israel be able to negotiate for her return, and then said, “but they won’t because Hamas wants Israel to free hundreds and hundreds of Hamas prisoners.”  I told Ben that I wish I could  tell him I knew if the hostages  would be returned, but the truth is I do not know.  Israel has said at the outset of the war that its goal is to topple Hamas and it would only negotiate for the return of the hostages who  number 240 only after the fighting ends, although that appaers to be changing, as the US wants to have a humanitarian pause in the fighting in order to focus on the potential release of hostages  I didn’t have the heart to tell Ben,I feared some hostages could well end up being dead. (Israeli forces have already found about 10 bodies just inside Gaza).
I explained to Ben that the reason Israel initially  cut off  Gaza’s electricity, fuel, and water is because Israel believed this this may be the only way the world would put enough pressure on Hamas to free Israeli hostages. Israel was of the view that if the international community wanted Israel to allow international aid to come into the Gaza Strip, Israel would respond  then Hamas will need to solve Israel’s  humanitarian crisis by liberating the hostages. 
But, as I told Ben candidly, I did not know if this strategy would work to free the hostages. In fact, as I told Ben, I’m very aware that as Gaza is pummelled in the days ahead, Israel could well be blamed by many in the international community  for creating a major humanitarian crisis for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has told Gazans in the north to move to the south to avoid being killed, but Hamas is blocking the roads leading south, as it wants the Palestinian death toll to rise, so Israel can be blamed. President Biden successfully pressured Israel to turn the water back on in southern Gaza and to allow delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza through Egypt, but no one has managed to get the Red Cross to be allowed to see the hostages. (Although the US  wants thet  fighting to be stopped for "humanitarian pauses," Israel fears this will enable Hamas to sucessfully re-group, but  Israel may well agree to the US request for humanitarian pauses)
I asked Ben if his friend Chana who was missing had siblings. He nodded in the affirmative, “But they are younger so they can’t be called up…”
Ben told me he know Israelis who are stationed near Ramallah. Is Hamas there too? He asked. “No, I replied Hamas just controls Gaza.The Palestinian Authority  rules in the West Bank.” I didn’t have the desire to  tell Ben that the Palestinian Authority, which is very corrupt is also very unpopular, and if an election were held today, Hamas may well win in the West Bank. It’s also true that the Palestinian Authority’s aging leader Mahmoud Abbas had not condemned Hamas for perpetuating its atrocities, even before Israel began bombing Gaza. 
Ben then asked, if  I had been in Israel during this war, would I have been afraid? I agonized, before answering, since I didn’t want Ben in the future to be afraid to visit Israel again, but I told the truth.”Yes, I think I would be anxious and possibly afraid if I were there now. It’s ok if you think you would be afraid. It’s natural.”   I did not answer more fully that  given Iran is behind these attacks, I feared its proxy Hezbollah may well decide to enter the war, forcing Israel to fight on two fronts. It is one of the reasons that Israel is bombing Gaza to such a great extent-it wants to deter Hezbollah.
Ben had question about how this all happened. I explained to Ben that one of the reason’s there were so few soldiers in Southern Israel at the time Hamas crossed the border to perpetrate its attacks is that IDF units had been dispatched to the West Bank to deal with violence there.  (I have wondered whether this could have been all part of  a coordinated attack so as to get the IDF attention focused elsewhere). I told Ben that another reason so few soldiers  were stationed near the border is because the IDF relied  far too much on the high-tech border fence, believing that troops didn't have to physically guard the frontier in large numbers.We won't know all the details of what happened quite possibly for a long time, until Israel's state archives are opened many years from now
”If  my friend who is missing is dead, will they know," Ben  asked.” Yes,  but since there are a lot of dead,  it will take some time to identify all they dead, but families will be notified as soon as they know.” Ben mentioned  that his missing friend Chana had a tattoo, and I was thinking but not saying that that may enable the State to identify her body, if she’s not alive.
”I  want to believe that my friend  is still alive,” Ben said. ‘There’s  a chance she could be found.” I replied that yes, we will hope she’s alive.
Ben then mentioned another friend  of his who  knows someone who was at the rave music festival and was one of the 260 young people murdered by Hamas there.
I was thinking how much this all was for Ben to process. I was much older, and it was so much for me to process. 
Ben mentioned he knew two young adults roughtly his age who would be in combat, going into Gaza, 
and he hoped they would be OK.
Ben called the next day. He was extremely relieved to learn that his friend Chana had been found.  She was called up but somehow she got separated from her unit. Her cell phone was smashed, but she was eventually found 

I breathed a sigh of relief.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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