How do they feel today, after 7 months of war with so many dead and no hostages back?
of Victor Is. Eliezer
The runways at Ben Gurion Airport prepare you for the atmosphere that prevails in Israel. The photographs of the hostages welcome you to a place of anxiety and anticipation... Returning travelers bend over and write on the photographs of the hostages... I chose to travel by train from the airport to Jerusalem, just to begin listening to the pulse of the world. Quiet has replaced the usual commotion caused by Israelis wherever they are. Faces more sullen, with difficulty sharing a smile...
I arrive at the train station in Jerusalem and hail an elderly taxi driver, probably from Morocco or Iraq, to ​​take me to the hotel: “I fought in the Six Day War in 1967, I fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1972, I also fought in the first Lebanon war in 1980, what happened on October 7 I had never seen before. I never imagined that the state of Israel could suffer such a disaster."
Along the way, to the left and right of the streets of Jerusalem, Israeli flags are placed on the floor and next to each flag dominates a photograph of a hostage or a dead person of October 7. "How do you feel today, after 7 months of war with so many dead and no hostages back?" I ask the taxi driver.
"The war in Gaza is not easy, we could have flattened it in a few days. My grandson is there fighting, it's a war within a city, neighborhood to neighborhood, building to building, door to door, and we don't have an organized army against us. You never know where terrorists will spring from. I am not at all optimistic about the hostages, our government is also responsible," he tells me. "And the next day?" I ask him. "Deadlock, my brother, no one knows" he answers me naturally, as if he is used to the "deadlock".
In the evening, dinner at a central hotel overlooking the walls of Jerusalem. Despite the war, Jerusalem radiates light, the light of harmony, the light of history, the light of hope that the time will come when the relationship with the land will not divide but unite... It sounds romantic, but as sang by Michal Greenglick, who lost her brother in the war in Gaza, "Without imagination there is no life."
“I lost my brother, 26 years old, six months ago, he was killed in Gaza, and in my family we decided to sing to cheer up our people. With music and words to keep our strength and our hope,” Michal tells me over a drink on the hotel terrace. "I liked to sing, I am involved in music and with my music I try to inspire hope for life...". "How can you sing under such unpleasant conditions" I ask her. "You know, it's easier for me to sing than to talk...singing moves me and makes me happy at the same time, it connects me with pain but it also offers me a harmony, it gives me strength!" Michal replies, and the conversation continues.
- And at home, in your family, how do you deal with the loss?
Difficult, very difficult... There is a void in the atmosphere. Nothing is the same as before. The house is different, the music is different, the family is different... we try to balance and adapt to the new reality. It's not easy. Sully fell defending his country, that's what he chose to do, he fell fighting heroically in a war for the safety of our people, for our existence, and I'm telling you this from here, from the walls of Jerusalem. What they did to us on October 7th was a crime, Sully fought for our own safety.
- Yes, but the international community blames Israel. Among them, many artists blame Israel for this war.
These are usually people who are not aware of the situation. And we artists must have a positive effect. They need to look at the facts – all the facts, and not be swayed by propaganda that conveys negative messages. If they buy into this propaganda, they are in trouble as artists.
- And what about the next day?
I want us to continue to be a united and strong people. To remember to be united, not only in difficult times, but also in our everyday life.
- And will you be able to get along with your neighbors?
I don't know... What I do know is that music can bridge differences and unite people.
- I heard before that you pray. Why do you really pray?
I pray for the healing of the wounded, I pray for the return of the hostages, I pray for the war to end in such a way that we are not in danger of reliving October 7th, I pray for the unity of the Jewish people and for our peace of mind.
It's no secret that I'm gay. I am really impressed by the support of LGTB organizations towards Hamas
I arrive at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, for meetings with politicians. Speaker of the House Amir Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party, a former foreign minister in Netanyahu governments and a former Israeli intelligence official.
"On October 6 the children of Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza were sleeping peacefully in their beds. On October 7, Hamas committed crimes by slaughtering Israeli children. It did so by launching its attack through the rooms of the Palestinian children," Amir Ohana pointed out in his foreword, and emphasizing the goal of freeing the Israeli hostages, he emphasized that Israel is not going to abandon its children. The Israeli Speaker of the House did not hesitate to distance himself from government ministers who have taken extreme positions and put the State of Israel in a difficult position.
Responding to a question about the pressure the US is exerting on Israel, Mr Amir Ohana recounted a conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Eud Olmert and President George Bush Junior in 2008, when the Israeli air force was bombing terrorist bases in the Gaza Strip after hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel: "Why are you bombing Gaza?" asks the American president in a telephone conversation with the Israeli prime minister. "We are protecting Israeli citizens, Mr. President, hundreds of rockets are fired at us every day from Gaza.
If rockets were launched from Mexico against American citizens, after 24 hours there would be no Mexico," replied Ehud Olmert. And the following dialogue followed: "What are you saying, Mr. Prime Minister? Are you kidding me?' - "What do you mean, Mr. President?" - "That Mexico would have disappeared in much less than 24 hours," replied the American president.
Then Amir Ohana, commenting on the reactions of international organizations that accuse Israel of violating human rights, dismissed the accusations as unfounded and called the reactions "hypocritical" pointing out: "It is not a secret that I am gay. I am really impressed by the support of LGTB organizations towards Hamas. A tyrannical regime that, not only does not allow freedom of speech, but executes all those who have a different sexual education."
The meeting with Meirav Cohen, a member of parliament from the main opposition centrist Yesh Atid party, was extremely helpful in making the convergences and divergences between the Netanyahu government and the opposition fully apparent. "October 7 put an end to a division of Israeli society caused by the far-right and theocratic Netanyahu government with the attempted judicial coup. Society, however, united again against a common enemy that endangered our very existence," points out Meirav Cohen, activist and former Minister of Social Welfare in the Bennett-Lapid government.
"However, the question today is, what follows" emphasizes the Israeli MP and highlights three key parameters of the following day.
"The hostages must be returned and quickly. There is no military way to bring them back. Their gradual release is extremely difficult because there is no trust between the two sides. The only way is to simultaneously release the hostages and declare the end of the war. Netanyahu won't, because that means elections. His far-right partners in government won't let him do it. The second parameter is the front with Hezbollah. There we must be clear – either you leave our borders, or we have total war – so that the inhabitants of the towns and villages of Northern Israel can also return to their homes. And the third issue is the next day in Gaza, which is of strategic importance for Israel's security. There must be a financial strangulation of Hamas and the international community must impose sanctions on its financiers. At the same time, an alternative body of authority should be created with the participation of Palestinian and Arab states for the administration of Gaza and its reconstruction.
Concluding our discussion, h Meirav Cohen returns to Israel's interior: "We will win this war. The question is in which state do we want to live. We need to redefine our values. We must constitutionally enshrine that the State of Israel will be a Jewish and democratic state with equality for all, equal rights and equal obligations for all, so that no temporary majority can endanger either the Jewish or the democratic character of the state."
In less than an hour from Jerusalem, we arrive at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, 1.500 meters from the border with the Gaza Strip. I meet Shai Hermesh there, I first met him in my student years as an active citizen, a reserve officer of the Israeli army who had taken part in the Six Day War, on the front for the liberation of Jerusalem. A historical figure, an activist for peace with the Palestinians, a former member of parliament and later a member of the executive bureau of the World Jewish Congress. I had met him again in Athens and Thessaloniki but he had never told me that his home is in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. I saw him sulking, we re-introduced ourselves and just hugged…
"This was my home," and he shows me the ruins of a half-demolished house. “This is one of the dozens of houses that were destroyed in our Kibbutz that morning on October 7th. We were the largest Kibbutz in the greater Negev region, with 950 residents, with almost 250 children up to 18 years old. Most of the time we lived quietly and peacefully with our neighbors, and we had come to terms with the rockets being launched.
We knew what to do, and we felt safe. My son Omer, 40 years old, had his house down here. My daughter had come three days ago from the maternity ward and they were preparing for the circumcision on Monday 9th October. When the invasion took place, she took the baby and they were locked in the bunker for 22 hours, without water or food, and all around were gunshots and shouts of "Ala Akbar". Hamas terrorists entered the house to fend off Israeli soldiers, and my daughter and baby were miraculously saved. Unfortunately, my son was not spared. For 10 days he was missing, and was identified only after a DNA test. They brought us what was left of him, and we buried him in Kibbutz Shefaim, near Tel Aviv, where we are staying temporarily.
I ask him if he and the rescued residents will return to the Kibbutz to rebuild it. "I don't know, it's still early. The government and the army must ensure that we don't go through this nightmare again," he answers me with sadness and despair painted on his face.
We walk together, he shows me the demolished houses, we enter one of those that have been left standing, bearing the marks of the brutality that prevailed on that black Saturday of October 7th. Bullet holes in walls and ceilings, overturned sofas, broken beds, underwear, clothes and shoes scattered inside and outside the houses... In some of them there are ribbons... "The relatives of the victims do not want to reveal the torture and rape they suffered their children in their own homes," Shai explains to me.
“That night, Friday October 6th, the dawn of October 7th, there was a big party here, one of the guys was celebrating his 29th birthday. So all the Kibbutz youth were here that night. Many of them were killed, others were raped and killed, and others were taken hostage."
Outside the ruins of each house, a small sign with the names of its occupants. Absolute silence, only the crackle of gunfire from Gaza can be heard. We walk on a pedestrian street, "through this pedestrian street they passed with the vans and the motorbikes", we approach the southern gate of the Kibbutz, "through this gate they invaded".
The place full of pictures of smiling young people... If you didn't know what had happened there, you'd think it was a huge group of people getting ready for a big concert... and yet it's the pictures of dead and hostages who happened that fateful night to be dancing in a wild party of joy, singing and enjoying life together with hundreds of their other friends who arrived there from all over Israel.
And today; Today I came across parents lighting candles in memory of the children they lost. Silent and alone.
I meet her Mazal Tazazo, a 32-year-old girl originally from Ethiopia, a graduate of the School of Architecture, who was at that party with her partner and a friend.
"Friday night was great... At dawn on Saturday, the music stops and we hear the sound of the rockets. I wasn't worried, I live in this area and I'm used to these alarms. We got into the car but got stuck in traffic… and then we saw the terrorists shooting… they were coming out from everywhere… We got out of the car and tried to hide among the stopped cars… shouts and gunshots from everywhere… I lay down on my face with my hands around my neck …
» They hit me on the fingers with the barrel of the gun... I held my breath... they pulled me off my feet, I had decided not to react to anything they did to me... They thought I was dead and left... As soon as they left I called Daniel, he didn't answer me, he they had killed… and so had my friend. The pollutions continued, I could hear them very close to me.. I was covered in blood, my fingers were broken and my legs were bleeding. When they left I saw a hell… corpses, bloody bodies, since then my life has changed. And the worst thing is that we will have to prove to the world that this massacre took place."
"Make the deal now," is the anguished cry of Gilad and Niza, his father and mother Tal Soham, that on October 7, Hamas terrorists took him hostage from Kibbutz Beeri. "About 350 terrorists, armed, invaded the Kibbutz and killed entire families inside their houses, burned houses along with the people. My son, 38 years old, had locked the door of the house and stayed inside for three hours until... we no longer had any communication. I asked a friend to go to the Kibbutz to see what was going on. He sent me a video from the house, they had grabbed my son, his wife and my grandchildren. In the first agreement, my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren were released...
"My son remains a hostage for 235 days. We don't know if he's alive or not. The Red Cross does not inform us of their fate... Fourteen Israeli girls aged 16-19 have been held, tortured and raped by Hamas terrorists for 230 days. No one in the world cares. Where is the international community? In a short time they may give birth to children of Hama. Somewhere along with them they are holding our son Tal as a hostage. We don't know if they are still alive. Let them keep our son for one more month, but let these girls be released immediately... We must fight for our children. Israel cannot abandon its children. The government must immediately agree that victory in the war begins with the release of the hostages."
I ask him if any relatives of hostages have met with Turkish President Erdogan to broker their release, given his close ties to Hamas. "We asked many times to meet him and he always refused. He never wanted to meet or hear us. On the contrary, the president of Austria calls me every week and tries to help in every possible way," Gilad Shoham answers me.
"On June 9, the citizens of Europe vote for the election of a new European Parliament and the far-right parties, which support the Israeli government, appear in the opinion polls strengthened", I point out in the discussion that was developing beyond the issue of hostages. "I come from Austria, in the heart of Europe. If the far-right forces prevail, Muslims will board the first trains. In the second the Jews will be loaded!", Gilad Shoham answers without any hesitation, to whom I wished that he would soon welcome his son strong and strong.
After a three-day trip to Israel during the crisis and the war, and after talking to people who are either directly or indirectly involved in the social development of the country, you can come to some conclusions.
• This war is neither Netanyahu's war nor his far-right government's. It is a war waged by a people for its survival. I have not met a single Israeli who does not anticipate the destruction of the Hamas war machine.
• There is a gap between the Netanyahu government and the opposition and this concerns the priorities of the war. For the opposition and the largest part of Israeli society, the first priority is the release of the hostages, while for the government the first priority is "total victory". And as long as the elections in Israel are delayed, unfortunately the Israeli society will experience the consequences of a stalemate.
 • The ceasefire is part of the negotiation for the release of the hostages. It is not a prerequisite for negotiations to begin. The release of the hostages will mark the end of the war and the end of the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. Because these people are double victims. Victims of Israel trying to exterminate Hamas and victims of Hamas itself using them to increase international pressure on Israel to buy time to rebuild its forces.
• The end of a war is not only marked by victory on the battlefields but also by the achievement of political goals. And indeed, Israel has not achieved, for now at least, any of the goals it had set. That is, the military and political extermination of Hamas, the release of the hostages and the prevention of any risk of a repeat of October 7. For this very reason, Netanyahu himself and his government are criticized in Israel. On the other hand, we should not forget that the political "victory" of Hamas rests on a huge propaganda machine and the close memory of many shapers of public opinion mainly on the Internet.
 • Many people ask me, that is, there should not be a Palestinian state. I answer, of course, but let's define the borders. Because when they go to the demonstrations and call for the liberation of Palestine "from the river to the sea", they call for the destruction of Israel and align themselves with the Hamas constitution.