Has it started? It’s 9 p.m. when the cell phones of journalists in Tel Aviv begin ringing, and everyone wonders if the Israeli armed forces have started the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. “Our enemies have only just begun to pay the price,” declared Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday after ordering residents of the northern part of the Strip to move south, towards the border with Egypt.
At 10 p.m., the city trembles; rockets explode near the center. “And how many of the hostages do you think are still alive?” we ask Shoshanna, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) press officer. “I cannot comment further,” she replies.
In her previous message, she had written that the IDF currently believes there are 120 people in Hamas bunkers, “some from foreign countries, as confirmed by the governments involved.” Most analysts agree that they are still alive, and Hamas intends to use them as bargaining chips. Still, no one can know for sure.
In Israel, apart from Shoshanna and the political and military leaders, everyone seems convinced that these hostages are already dead. Or at least, that any military action won’t affect their lives.
Many people in Tel Aviv walk the streets with signs saying “Bring them back home,” “We want to know where they are,” “Act now!” At some intersections in the city center, sit-ins are organized. Israeli flags are everywhere: on the bicycles of delivery riders, on cars stopped at traffic lights, on the backs of pedestrians, projected onto buildings or bridges.
“This time we have to end it,” says Oren, one of the spokespersons for the “Brothers and Sisters in Arms” association. The group was formed some time ago, but following Netanyahu’s judicial reform, it changed its focus and aligned itself with the protesters. “Netanyahu has ruined this country; he tried to turn it into an ’empty democracy’ and, in the meantime, let everything go adrift.”
In the Beit Kama camp, not far from the Strip, there are hundreds of “volunteers” working diligently. “We are all former soldiers, although technically everyone in Israel has done military service, so it’s not a great distinction. However, I am a professional, a lieutenant colonel in the special forces. Anyway, at first, there were seven of us exchanging messages on a chat. We thought what Netanyahu was doing was wrong, and it needed to be stopped, so we organized a demonstration. We didn’t expect it, but that time, 300 people participated. Two weeks later, there were 5,000 of us, and we kept growing. Now, there are 70,000 people in the WhatsApp group.”
What keeps them together? “The desire for Israel not to become what Netanyahu wants, not to turn into Hungary or Russia, but to remain a welcoming country.” These are words you wouldn’t expect to hear from a man with a machine gun over his shoulder.
A young man passes by with a shirt similar to his and the words “Brothers in Arms” inscribed in a rainbow-colored heart; we ask him what it represents. “At first, we discussed it: the LGBTQ+ community was among the targets of Netanyahu’s repressive policies, who wants to take away rights from everyone, so we decided to welcome them among us; now they are part of our fight.”
So do you consider yourselves a leftist movement? “More liberal, I would say, even though we don’t do politics.”
What about what happened on Saturday; is it also a consequence of Netanyahu’s policies, the attacks by Hamas? “Certainly, he did nothing to defend us; how is it possible that we were not prepared?”
The world is asking the same question. And now? “Now we have to go into Gaza and take them all down.” The calmness with which he utters the last sentence, as if he were still talking about tolerance, is startling.
“But what about the Palestinians?” we ask David, a member of the same association, as we drive towards Re’im, where Hamas militants launched the first attack against the young people who were there for a rave. “I’m sure that 95% of Palestinians are good people, but Hamas is ISIS; it must be stopped.”
This view is already historicized in Israel. If Hamas is like ISIS, it should be treated as the West treated the jihadists. Hence: destroyed. “Besides, the Americans did it, didn’t they?” We point out that it didn’t end well. David reflects and then adds, “We can’t let it happen again.”
In the front seat, Nihr, a Chilean in Israel for eight years, says in Spanish, “Everything is rotten. With Netanyahu, everything is rotten here. We cannot be sure of anything. But it’s not just him; even the leaders of the army and the intelligence, what were they doing? Do you realize that a group of 1,000, 2,000 people…”
“Four hundred,” interrupts David. “They say 400.”
“Fine, 400, occupied a part of our country?”
But perhaps Netanyahu found it convenient; maybe he wanted Hamas to take all this power when he hindered Al Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. So what do the Palestinians have to do with it?
“Where do you think Hamas comes from? They elected it, and they cover it. Anyway, there will be time to figure out what to do with Gaza later, but now we have to win the war.”
You all know it will be a civilian massacre, we insist.
“The massacre has already happened, last Saturday; now they have to pay for it.”
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