Photo: An Israeli prepares to be evacuated form Kiryat Shmona because of the attacks from Lebanon. Oct. 22, 2023. Photo courtesy of Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
BY JUDY LASH BALINT (JNS)
Over the five weeks since Oct.7, Israel has become a transformed nation. From a confident, optimistic, dynamic and expansive country, innovative in every way and convinced of the ability of the IDF to guarantee security, many now see a nation that has shrunk physically and emotionally but grown in resilience.
The unimaginable has occurred: Dozens of communities along the southern and northern borders have been emptied of their civilian residents and are populated only by the security forces doing battle with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Even the Red Sea resort city of Eilat continues to be a target for ballistic missiles lobbed over from Yemen. Tel Aviv, the former capital of carefree nightlife, culture and endless beaches, is still the target of regular missile attacks.
More and more of us are being squeezed into a smaller area and many of us are questioning when it will be possible to return and rebuild.
Some 200,000 Israelis have been living out of hotel rooms and in SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) field schools in Eilat, the Dead Sea and scattered through the central part of the country. Their practical and emotional needs are being addressed by an army of dedicated volunteers, and over the past week, government offices have begun to address the extraordinarily complicated task of providing economic aid and compensation.
It’s not only the evacuees who need economic assistance. Anyone working in the tourism industry or related services anywhere in the country is looking for a new job.
Families from several of the southern kibbutzim hardest hit by the massacre are determined to stay together and are looking to move into temporary housing with the outdoor space they feel they need for their families to begin to heal.
Some evacuated residents of Kiryat Shmona, a city on the northern border that had experienced an economic and social turnaround in recent years, took to the airwaves recently to insist that there would be no return to their homes in the absence of a buffer zone along the border with Lebanon.
The scenic hills of the Western Galilee are filled with wineries, artisanal cheese factories and boutique hotels struggling to stay afloat as roads are closed and no one wants to stray into areas that Hezbollah has in its sights.
In Jerusalem, groups of boisterous teenagers, temporary residents of hotels that housed tourists until a month ago, roam the streets, exploring their new surroundings rather than being stuck in a hotel lobby.
Cultural institutions advertise free screenings, concerts and lectures for the evacuees and the seats are generally filled within a few minutes.
But everything takes place against the backdrop of a constant flow of funerals and shivah calls. As expected, the assault on the terror tunnels in Gaza is exacting a high price. Earlier this week, four reservists from an elite IDF unit were killed in one operation.
The funeral of one of them, Maj. (res.) Moshe Yedidyah Leiter, lasted for two hours of heartfelt eulogies for the American-Israeli father of six. It’s hard to describe the apprehension of every parent and relative of those serving in combat units.
Calls go out over WhatsApp groups with names like Comforting the Mourners that have hundreds of subscribers for people to attend the funerals and pay shivah calls on the bereaved families.
Like everyone else fortunate enough to be sitting out the war in their own homes, my phone is filled with messages from a dozen groups that publish daily lists of local volunteer opportunities. There are listings of farms and kibbutzim desperate for help with harvesting, packing and sowing to fill in for the foreign workers who fled the country.
A few days ago, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Population Registry announced that they had started urgent efforts to bring in hundreds of workers from Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, it’s hard to find any retired person who is not volunteering in some regular capacity.
Many are turning out for the increasingly urgent demonstrations demanding the immediate release of the hostages. Recently, everyone shuddered as two women and a 12-year-old girl who were thought to be captured by Hamas were found dead. The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum released graphic details of the abuse of women captured by Hamas, with accusations against international women’s groups for their inaction and their silence.
The Diplomatic Front
On the diplomatic front, the latest Peace Index Project, conducted in late October, reports that support for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority is at an all-time low, with 66% of Jewish Israelis opposed. Only 8% believe such negotiations will lead to peace.
Sixty-two percent of Israeli Jews likewise oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.
Sleepless In Israel
All these elements add to the stress and compound the trauma of a grieving nation that sees little hope of a change in the goals of our neighbors. A new report by UN Watch illustrates the extent to which UNRWA teachers indoctrinate kids in Gaza with hatred and glorify terror.
Public service announcements plead with the public not to overuse sleep meds as a way to deal with the situation, recommending counseling, exercise and distraction instead.
If we, the citizens, are losing sleep—and there’s no one who reports anything different—then how are our leaders who are conducting the war getting any sleep?
The citizens of Israel are resilient, but our sadness and anger are deep. We await the day when we can transform those feelings and get back to building and fulfilling our national mission.