Dear Times of Israel Community,
A month has passed. The pain of October 7 remains unbearably raw. As my colleague Amir Ben-David wrote on Tuesday, “Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have joined the ranks of the bereaved, the widowed, the orphaned, the broken, the traumatized, the terrified.”
This will not recede anytime soon.
Family and friends attend a ceremony for Israelis abducted by Hamas terrorists in Gaza a month after the October 7 massacre, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 7, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
The families most directly affected — those in mourning, and those whose loved ones remain unthinkably in the hands of the terrorists in Gaza — are living in abiding horror. Their worlds torn apart, many were also turned overnight into refugees, with no prospect of returning to their homes in the near future even if they could bring themselves to do so.
The changed, post-October 7 nation is unified with them, trying insistently to battle back from the slaughter. And it is a changed nation — with a citizenry that, largely, does not rely on its political leaders, but desperately wants to believe it can start to regain faith in its military chiefs.
Broadly speaking, Israelis see a government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that unconscionably and catastrophically underestimated Hamas before October 7, and has failed to govern ever since. It mainly sees a collection of self-interested nobodies most of whom refused to honestly acknowledge how badly they misjudged the terrorist threat; have sought to minimize contact with the bereaved, eschewing funerals and shiva calls; and have failed to swiftly allocate the financial resources to provide for our refugees and their broken communities, their agriculture and industry. Dozens of ministers who failed to so much as help the nation mourn at memorial events on Tuesday that marked a month since the catastrophe, leaving even that obligation to the spontaneous organization of our abandoned citizenry. A government that isn’t there, in an Israel fighting back despite its elected leadership.
And, broadly speaking, Israelis watch an IDF that has called up hundreds of thousands of reservists, called up the people, to help the standing army try to recover from the disaster of October 7 by ensuring there can be no repeat. And we hope and pray and worry that, this time, the higher military echelons know what they’re doing. That the new lives being lost will prove an additional terrible price that, nonetheless, is worth paying.
A month has passed. And we are told the IDF considers the war against Hamas is “going better than it expected.” Thousands of Hamas terrorists have been killed, tunnels and other infrastructure destroyed. The IDF’s losses are lower than anticipated.
Very few Israelis disagree with the twin declared missions of the war — to destroy Hamas as any kind of threat to Israel, and to get back the hostages. It’s just not entirely clear what destroying Hamas entails and whether it is fully achievable.
Blood in a home where Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, in an onslaught in which 1,400 people were massacred in southern Israel. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
For one thing, this Hamas terror group that our politicians and our security chiefs allowed to flourish across the useless border fence turns out to be an army.
Retired general Yisrael Ziv puts the number of trained Hamas gunmen at 30,000; others cite a higher figure. Every day, the IDF Spokesman relays details of weapon warehouses destroyed, tunnel infrastructure smashed, and “battalion” commanders eliminated. Relief at the destruction of such substantive enemy resources, and the killing of such dangerous terror-army chiefs, is offset by the mounting bafflement that they were allowed to take root in the first place.
Hamas, which we Israelis were led to believe was relatively puny and weak, certainly by comparison to Hezbollah at the northern border, transformed the Gaza Strip into “the biggest terror base mankind has ever built,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vouchsafed on Tuesday night.
An aerial view shows the compound of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 7, 2023. (Bashar TALEB / AFP)
Elaborated the retired general Giora Eiland, the US is “having trouble appreciating that Gaza is not Mosul and not like the areas where Islamic State was fought… It is the most fortified place in the history of humanity, with the best of Iranian technology, and billions invested…”
Well, never mind the Americans “having trouble appreciating.” Self-evidently, Israel’s political and military leadership failed to appreciate this either.
And where does Israel, where should Israel, draw the line between fighting Hamas and fighting in Gaza?
“We will destroy Hamas; we have no interest in harming civilians,” Gallant declared on Tuesday, drawing a distinction repeatedly cited by leading ministers and security chiefs.
At the same time, Eiland claimed on Monday that “Gaza to a very great extent is a Nazi state, in which they have managed to recruit the entire civil society in support of the struggle against Israel. Every other home in Gaza has an entrance down to the tunnels below. These are private homes. All the hospital and school administrators are Hamas workers. There is a great effort by all Gazans against Israel…They are united around their leadership, not opposed to the leadership.”
So, again, how goes the war?
It seems clear, for all the fog, that the IDF is gradually tackling that “most fortified place in the history of humanity.”
But also that it cannot destroy in a few weeks what was built up during more than 15 years.
IDF officials, indeed, speak in terms of months. Are they going to get that long?
IDF troops of the 36th Division are seen operating in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image issued November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Global intolerance for the war — already sky-high as the world marginalizes the atrocities of October 7 and Israel’s obligation to prevent the further massacres of its own people — will only head higher into the stratosphere as the Hamas-supplied Gaza death toll, however utterly unreliable, continues to mount. The sickening surge of global antisemitism will spike still higher.
Unstinting support from the Biden administration is also now accompanied by frequent requests for “humanitarian pauses” in the war, even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged legitimate concerns that such timeouts would offer the potential for Hamas to regroup.
It won’t take many IDF mistakes, or even falsely alleged mistakes, causing large-scale civilian casualties, for requests to become demands, and, potentially, for “humanitarian pauses” to become “ceasefires.”
The ground forces are said to be closing in on Shifa Hospital, which sits atop what the IDF has detailed as a major Hamas operations base and tunnel hub. Does the IDF have a plan? Will it perhaps be sending in ambulance convoys together with the troops, rescuing the patients even as it tackles the terrorists?
Does it have all the skills and the means to destroy the Hamas tunnels and the terrorists inside, and to do so without sending in soldiers, as former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan insisted last week? And to do so without endangering hostages held captive within?
Netanyahu on Tuesday night, in one of the brief TV statements he has been delivering of late, declared that the IDF was reaching places Hamas “thought we would never reach.”
But Netanyahu makes no secret of the fact that the battle is far from over.
Hamas’s rocket fire on Israel sometimes appears to be tailing off a little, but many analysts believe it still has plenty of stocks. And is not showing what might be a clear sign of pressure — in the form of a push for a deal on the hostages.
Gallant asserted Tuesday night that Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar is deep in a bunker, disconnected from his chain of command, unaware of how badly his terror-army is being battered. Does Gallant saying it make it so? All of Israel would like to think so.
New ToI original video series: Times of War
We’re now actively producing a new series of short videos to document some of the remarkable stories in Israel during this war.
The series, entitled ‘Times of War,’ has so far covered an underground medical facility for children, the extraordinary citizen volunteer effort in Jerusalem, and more. View it here:
Israel Story: Wartime Diaries
Since October 7, our podcast partners at Israel Story stopped everything they were doing and began releasing “Wartime Diaries,” which is something completely new for Israel Story – not exactly stories, but rather “postcards” that try to capture slivers of life right now.
On a recent episode of Wartime Diaries, we hear from Gidon Lev, a holocaust survivor who lived in Kibbutz Zikim on the Gaza border and fled the October 7th attack to the shores of the Dead Sea.
On the latest episode of ToI’s What Matters Now, Amanda Borschel-Dan talks to Israel Story’s Mishy Harman about Wartime Diaries and how the country’s foremost podcast team pivoted to amplifying slices of life during this uncertain time. Listen here:
** Israel Story is produced in partnership with The Times of Israel.
🔔 And be sure to subscribe to What Matters Now on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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~ The Times of Israel Team