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by Dr. Rafael Medoff, posted here Dec 2, 2023




The followiing article was first  published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles on November 15, 2023, and is being reprinted with permission of the author.
(Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.)


    The status of day laborers from Gaza has always been a bone of contention between Israel and its critics. The State Department has repeatedly pressed Israel to admit more of them. Many Israelis worried about the potential security risks, citing the occasional laborer involved in a terrorist act.


    Now it turns out that the security risk was much greater than anybody imagined.


    The Washington Post reported November 12 that the reason the Hamas terrorists were so well versed in the access points, layout, and other aspects of the Israeli towns they invaded is because they had “compiled information from Gazan day laborers, who were allowed to enter Israel every day to work.” The Post cited as its sources for this fact “intelligence officials from multiple countries.” 


    “Many of the laborers worked in the communities that were ravaged by Hamas, where entire families were shot, burned alive, and mutilated in their homes,” the Times of Israel noted.


    Until October 7, the main security risk from the day workers appeared to stem from the relatively small number of individual laborers who used their access to commit acts of terrorism.


    One such episode in 1994 particularly shook the Israeli public. The victim was a Holocaust survivor named Isaac Rotenberg, whose life in many ways had symbolized the rise and success of the State of Israel. 


    Deported with his family to the Sobibor death camp as a teenager, Rotenberg managed to escape during the October 1943 uprising at the camp. After the war, he made his way to British Mandatory Palestine. Despite all he had suffered, despite the loss of most of his family and his own brushes with death, Rotenberg found himself compelled to take up arms again, this time as a soldier in Israel's War of Independence. 


    When the war ended, he and his countrymen set about building new lives. He married, raised two children, and helped found the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. Rotenberg was a plasterer by profession, but when he reached retirement age in 1993, he was too devoted to his lifestyle of old-fashioned hard work to turn his attention to bridge or shuffleboard. That’s why, on the morning of March 29, 1994, the 67 year-old Rotenberg was fixing the tiles in a floor in a building in Petah Tikvah.


    Two of the other workers, Abu-Moussa Atiya and Shabbi Hazam, came each day from Gaza. On March 29, when Rotenberg's back was turned, Atiya and Hazam butchered him with axes. The State Department later pressured Israel to free a number of imprisoned terrorists as a “confidence-building gesture” to the Palestinian Authority, and Atiya walked free.


    Despite such episodes, some past and present U.S. officials have called on Israel to significantly increase the number of day laborers it admits from Gaza.  

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.