Naama Rotenberg, a social worker, has been living in Saad, a religious kibbutz just 4 km from Gaza and adjacent to another larger kibbutz, Kfar Aza, since 2009. On Wednesday, she was telling journalists about Saturday, October 7, a day she will never forget.
“We were awakened by the sound of explosions and red alert sirens. My husband and I went into the shelter with our four children and another friend.” At that moment, she didn’t know that hundreds of armed Palestinians were pouring into Israel from Gaza by land, sea, and air. And thousands of missiles were racing in the sky towards the south. “At some point, we realized that something really big was happening; security personnel told us to stay in the shelter. We stayed there all day.”
Then, young people who had survived the death at the Reim music festival began to arrive. They said an indiscriminate automatic gunfire broke out from men who arrived on motorcycles. “We welcomed [the survivors]; they were shocked, terrified.” There were 260 casualties in Reim.
Militants at the same time were responsible for other indiscriminate killings in Kfar Aza. An Israeli army general, Itai Veruv, described the “massacre” of “children, mothers, and fathers… in their bedrooms” committed by Hamas men. However, they did not decapitate “some children” as reported by some media outlets. A journalist who participated in the tour said that, in response to a specific question, the kibbutz officials said they “could not confirm the news.” Even reporters from The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Reuters did not report about children whose heads were cut off. CNN, however, spoke of decapitations of people.
The tension is palpable in Jerusalem. The Jewish neighborhoods have most of the shops closed, few people on the streets, and little traffic. And East Jerusalem, Palestinian, is a bit livelier, with many border guard jeeps and police cars roaming the streets. The rift between the two Jerusalems has never been as wide as in these days. The poisoned atmosphere recalls that of the beginning of the second Intifada in the fall of 2000.
Nissim manages a 24-hour shop in Baqa. “Now military force against Hamas is needed; we must strike those people (the Palestinians). Have you seen what they did to so many people; they even kidnapped an 80-year-old woman. And you Europeans are always ready to defend and give money to the Palestinians,” he tells us.
For Farid, who lives in a-Thuri, “the times when we just suffered are over. I didn’t like those killings (by Hamas), but hasn’t Israel been doing the same to us forever? Look at what is happening in Gaza, the Israelis are killing women and children.” He also seizes the opportunity to reproach Westerners because they are “ready to support Israel even when it bombs and kills innocents.”
This is the war of words. The real war is in the south. In Gaza, it is now a bloodbath; Israeli aerial bombardments do not stop, giving no respite to Palestinian civilians. The images coming from the Strip are dramatic. Explosions caused by bombs and missiles pulverize multi-story buildings in seconds. Entire neighborhoods are piles of rubble, reminiscent of a lunar landscape of debris and rubble that in the summer of 2006 took the place of Hart Harek, the neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Beirut bombed for days by the Israeli Air Force during the war with Hezbollah.
“We don’t know where to run, where to find shelter from the bombs,” said Safwat, a reporter. “We don’t have shelters. In the past, when the Israelis bombed us, we knew which areas to feel safe. Not now. The bombs fall everywhere, even in Rimal on the waterfront, sparing no one, adults, and children. They hit us everywhere, mercilessly.”
The price of obtaining information is high. Since Saturday at least eight journalists have been killed. The latest one is Salam Mima, killed by a bomb along with her husband and her three young children Hadi, Ali, and Sham. The death toll among Palestinians, mostly civilians, keeps rising incessantly, according to sources in Gaza. By Wednesday, it was at 849, near 900, the number of Israelis killed on Saturday by Hamas’ attack. Displaced people are also increasing. There are nearly 200,000. They are hosted partly in UN schools. Many families know they have lost their homes and belongings, like they have so many times because of Israeli military offensives.
Former Israeli artillery colonel, Kobi Faigembaum, explained to a European radio station that the strategy of the total blockade of Gaza is shared among political and military leaders and will remain the basis for future decisions to press Hamas to release the 130 Israelis it holds hostage in Gaza.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” the military asserted, predicting that military command will choose not to launch the ground offensive against Gaza that has been discussed for four days.
Faigembaum’s words found partial confirmation in the aerial bombardment near the Egyptian border crossing of Rafah, the only gateway for Gaza Palestinians to the Arab world. Israel has also warned Egyptian authorities not to send further humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. WHO, on its part, wants the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor to assist civilians and ensure the supply of medicines to healthcare facilities.
The territory around Gaza has reportedly returned under complete control of Israeli forces. But if Hamas no longer has its men inside Israel, it wants to show that it still has the ability to strike deep. Wednesday at 5 p.m., as they had announced, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamist movement, launched a barrage of rockets on the city of Ashkelon in what they called the “Displacement after displacement,” that is, the displacement of the Ashkelon population in response to that of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Abu Obaida, the Hamas spokesperson, warned that the Al-Qassam Brigades are capable of causing the displacement of many Israeli cities. Rockets rained on numerous towns adjacent to Gaza and all the way to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. A Hamas official, Ali Baraka, told the AP news agency that only a small number of leaders in Gaza were aware of the October 7 attack and denied that Iranian officials had given the green light for its implementation in a meeting last week in Beirut. He also spoke of 2,000 fighters entering Israel last Saturday. Israel claims to have killed about 1,500 of them.
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