Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda vegetable market, always among the most vibrant places in Israel’s capital, was pitifully underpopulated on Thursday, much worse than anything seen at the height of COVID. By early evening, many stalls were closed, and others were pulling down their metal shutters with vast quantities of produce unsold, and much of it likely to be unusable by the time the market is set to reopen, after Shabbat, on Sunday morning.
Out in the world, much of the international community is currently arguing obscenely about whether the Hamas monsters who two weeks ago slaughtered, beheaded, burned, raped and abducted our citizens, inside our homes and communities, inside our sovereign land, should be considered “terrorists.” Much of the international community is choosing to give credence to an evidence-free Hamas claim that Israel bombed a Gaza hospital, over the IDF’s fact-based conclusion that a misfired Islamic Jihad terror group missile was to blame.
But here, inside Israel, right now, for all our outrage and disgust at the misperception and misrepresentation of what has been playing out, we are preoccupied with the army’s imminent mission to send ground forces into Gaza to try to ensure Hamas can never harm us again.
Israelis have been evacuated from the south. They’re now being evacuated from parts of the north, as Hezbollah gradually intensifies confrontations there.
Rocket fire from Gaza is incessant — traumatizing for central Israel, which nonetheless has a little time to dash to safe rooms and bomb shelters, and the generally reliable protection of the Iron Dome defense system; potentially deadly for the south, where there is precious little time to rush to find safety. Among the few shoppers in Mahane Yehuda on Thursday, a goodly proportion were from the south, relishing the opportunity to venture out in relatively safe surroundings.
The country is quieter than I’ve ever known it. Right now, the only sound I can hear in my entire neighborhood is the tweeting of birds. Traffic-snarled Israel’s streets are emptier than they’ve been for decades. Shops are operating with skeleton staffs, closing early, not opening at all — too many staff called into the IDF. Every day brings further unwatchable documentation of the horrors Hamas perpetrated against our children, parents and grandparents. Every day brings more funerals.
Everybody here knows not only one or more of the 1,400 Israelis who were massacred or abducted by Hamas across southern Israel on and after October 7, but also one or more of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in our standing army and our called-up reserves in an IDF about to venture into Hamastan — a hell of booby-trapped homes, underground terror tunnels, gunmen dressed as civilians and the devil knows what else.
We all know our people’s army will be doing exactly what Hamas — an Islamic extremist terrorist army sworn to destroy us — wants the IDF to do: walking, eyes-open into a trap. And we all know that Hamas was dreadfully underestimated by our political and military leadership ahead of October 7.
We hugely appreciate the solidarity and the practical support we’re getting from US President Joe Biden and his administration. His visit warmed our souls. He spoke like a grandfather who knows his family is in real trouble, conveying a personal empathy based on his own experiences of loss. And he promised us: “The United States isn’t going anywhere either. We’re going to stand with you. We’ll walk beside you in those dark days, and we’ll walk beside you in the good days to come. And they will come.”
Will they? From Biden’s mouth to God’s ear.
We know this war will take time and involve still more terrible loss — on both sides, in a Gaza where citizens cannot easily escape the war, and in many cases, we are told, are being prevented by Hamas from evacuating.
How do you destroy a vast, barbaric terrorist army, cynically using civilians as human shields, from its home ground? Two weeks after 2,500 Hamas killers burst across the border, we’re still not sure we’ve got them all out of Israel. Now the IDF is seeking to eliminate them, in their tens of thousands, from Gaza.
All this while Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, seeks to draw the IDF into war on a second front, the West Bank is boiling, Iran is waiting, and the international community is proving largely incapable of echoing Biden’s moral clarity and can be expected to clamor ever more loudly against us.
We know that our soldiers are brave and fine and motivated. We see them encouraging each other at the “staging areas” around Gaza. We hope they are properly equipped. We know that the IDF commando units and Air Force are peerless. Morale is high.
They know that the country is behind them. They are the country. The fate of Israel is in their hands, and in the hands of the commanders who, we can only hope, have rediscovered their competence.
We hold our breath.
We all know that the mission must succeed. Because we have to be able to live in security in our small patch of land, and, as of October 7, we’re not sure that we can do that.
And because, as Biden also noted, we know what happens to Jews everywhere without an Israel. Indeed, we can see it starting to happen again.
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