As the nightmare continues, it may be too much to ask that we have sympathy for innocent Palestinians in Gaza. But I do.

David Lehrer OCT 15, 2023

On Saturday morning, my wife Barbara got out of bed around 6:30 and turned on the television because of something she saw on her smartphone. I went out to the living room and asked her what was going on. She said that there was a terrorist attack in the Gaza envelope along the border. For the next 18 hours, we sat horrified in front of the TV as Channel 12 Anchorman Danny Kushmaro and others reported on the pogrom being inflicted on innocent Israelis in the Gaza Envelope.

At the same time, we called our daughter who lives in Ramat Gan, which was under rocket fire attack, to find out how she, our son-in-law and our two grandchildren were doing. Our 4-year-old granddaughter is old enough to understand the concept of missiles falling from the sky and was terrified.

Throughout the live broadcast over Israeli TV on Saturday, Kushmaro spoke with Israeli men, women and children who were under attack and were begging for help, whispering so that the terrorists who were right outside the doors of their reinforced rooms would not hear them. Kushmaro himself was having a hard time holding it together while trying to offer some words of comfort. Words of comfort were all that could be offered as no help came for many hours and by the time it came, for many, it was too late.

We watched helplessly as videos and live feed was broadcast of the ISIS-like massacre of young people who had come to celebrate the holiday at a music festival in nature. We saw videos of young people, mothers and children being kidnapped and dragged away to Gaza. By 12:30 pm when I finally turned off the TV to try to get some sleep my heart felt like an empty shell and my stomach churned. The next day my son-in-law was called up and I planned with my daughter to bring her and the kids down to the kibbutz. She was worried about me driving on the road during the rocket fire but in the end, I drove up to Tel Aviv and brought my family back to Ketura where we are out of rocket fire range.

Unbelievably, it was not until Sunday night that the IDF was able to announce that they had retaken the Gaza Envelope, even though there were still a few places where terrorists were battling security forces and even 9 days later, as I write this, terrorists roam the Gaza Envelope. As difficult as October 7th was, every day following that catastrophic Shabbat revealed new levels of depravity inflicted on innocent Israelis, mothers, fathers, children, babies, and grandparents. Each day, each victim’s story, each witness’s testimony, left me feeling nauseous and enraged.

One of the first to fall in the attack was Ofir Libstein, Chairman of the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council and member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. As head of a regional council that bordered Gaza, Ofir believed that in the end, the well-being of the Gaza Envelope ultimately depended on the well-being of the people in Gaza. To that end, Ofir and his regional council had been working on the development of an industrial zone on the border with Gaza to provide employment and economic opportunities. The Arava Institute was also a partner in this endeavor.

Ofir was killed on Shabbat morning defending his community. In addition to Ofir, hundreds of Israelis were slaughtered in their homes, in their cars and in the fields of the music festival. Many soldiers, policemen, security guards and first responders died during the attack by Hamas militants. Meanwhile, thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza at villages, towns and cities in Israel including the Gaza Envelope and the center of Israel. Israel’s famed Iron Dome system destroyed most but not all rockets before they hit their intended targets.

During the fighting, many Israeli soldiers and civilians were kidnapped including women, children, and the elderly. One of the kidnapped, now being held hostage in Gaza is an old friend and colleague, Vivian Silver from Kibbutz Beeri. Vivian is a champion of peaceful coexistence in the Gaza Envelope working for Palestinian Israeli dialogue to end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank. On Thursday, at neighboring Kibbutz Samar, my daughter attended the funeral of a classmate who died at the music festival, one of the 260 young souls snuffed out by madmen. She is still waiting to hear the fate of another friend who was at the music festival, whose girlfriend’s body has already been identified.

I have dedicated the last 22 years of my life to work for peace in this region, to end the occupation and to build trust between Palestinians and Israelis. As a result of these efforts to build bridges between ourselves, and our neighbors, in parallel to the anguish and heartbreak I feel for my countrymen and women, for my friends and colleagues in Israel, I also feel pain and anguish for my friends and colleagues in Gaza.

For most Israelis, the Palestinians in Gaza are nameless members of an impoverished population ruled by a vicious terrorist organization. For me, the people in Gaza are my friends, Basil, Mariam, Bahaa, Fathi, Eyad, Emad, Majd, Mahmood, and Ahmed. People whom I have known for years, with whom I have worked for years, broke bread, laughed and now cry. For the past week, in parallel to the messages and conversations with my family, and friends here in Israel and abroad, I am in constant communication with multiple Palestinians in Gaza. They are terrified.

One of my friends lost 40 members of her extended family in the bombing. Another told me he has had to flee four times in the past week to find a safe place to hide. My friends reported to me that there is no electricity because Israel has cut off the supply and there is no fuel to run the Gaza power plant. The water supply is 30% below normal, which was already in short supply. All wastewater treatment plants have ceased working, and raw sewage is flowing into the Mediterranean Sea and into the lakes near Beit Lahia. Solid waste piles up in the streets with no one to remove it.

More than 500,000 people have become internal refugees. Without fuel and electricity, the overflowing hospitals in Gaza will soon lack the ability to take care of the thousands of wounded and critically ill patients. Dialysis machines and refrigerators with critical drugs will stop working. The current humanitarian crisis will overwhelm the ill-equipped first responders, medical institutions, and aid organizations in Gaza. This morning, I spoke to a friend in Ramallah who was broken. His family in Beith Lahia had moved south as instructed by the IDF to get out of the conflict zone, but the house they were staying in Deir Al Balah was bombed and 10 members of his family were killed.

For Israel, this past week has been a nightmare, which has yet to end. We have had our hearts ripped out of our chests. It may be too much to ask that Israelis have sympathy for the plight of innocent Palestinians in Gaza while our friends and loved ones are fighting for their lives and are held captive by cruel monsters. As we in Israel stand strong and encourage our troops to defeat the heinous Hamas and its terrorist partners, I hope that we still have enough humanity left in us to acknowledge the suffering of the innocent Palestinians our military actions cause. Our traditions teach us that the value of one life is like the value of a whole world. How many worlds have we lost, and how many more will we lose?