Several weeks ago, I was sent the 45-minute video that Israel created showing the atrocities of October 7 (based on footage from the terrorists). It is the one that has been written about and shown to members of Congress. Israel feels the world should see the brutality of Hamas. To date, I have not viewed the video. After seeing what I saw and hearing the stories firsthand, I never need to watch.
As part of our very short visit, we had the opportunity to hear from:
- Osnat Sharabi Matalon-- the sister of Yossi and Eli Sharabi who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri to Gaza on October 7.
- Idan Roll -- Minister of Knesset from the Yesh Atid party and former deputy foreign minister.
- Saul Singer -- Co-author with Dan Senor (who will be doing a webinar for our community on January 10) of the New York Times bestsellers, The Genius of Israel and Start Up Nation.
- Col. (Ret.) Kobi Merom – provided an on the ground security analysis at the Gaza border.
- Ambassador Joel Lyon – Israel Ambassador to Armenia and Moldova currently recalled to Israel during the war to assist with diplomatic matters.
- Gil Hoffman – founder and editor of HonestReporting.com (monitors the media for bias against Israel) and former political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post. Gil has spoken in Portland in the past.
- Maj. Libby Weiss – Portland native and Portland Jewish Academy graduate who made aliyah in 2011 and is a decorated IDF spokesperson.
These speakers all had one common message – for as much as the rest of the world has moved on, for most Israelis “it is still October 8.” Everyone, 60 days later, is still trying to process what happened on October 7.
At the same time, the entire country is in agreement about two things: Hamas must be destroyed and the hostages must come home. (There are signs for them everywhere.)
At our farewell dinner, one of the participants asked each person to provide a one-word summary of what we learned while in Israel. My answer was “resolute.” Despite world and media pressure, Israel will not stop until it achieves its two goals. It must for its citizens to feel safe and secure.
With that in mind, our speakers took umbrage to those calling for a ceasefire. They raised questions. Outsiders condemn Israel for how it is managing the war with the (Hamas counted) number of civilian deaths. Notice there is no distinction between civilians and terrorists? There are false charges of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” If Israel wanted to do that then why would they drop 1.5 million leaflets and make five million calls and texts to warn people and encourage them to evacuate from certain areas of Gaza? Israel has created and is protecting “safety corridors” and multiple “safe zones” to minimize the number of casualties. But Hamas is forcing people to remain in harm's way and just yesterday they were shooting rockets from those "safe" areas.
Israeli officials are very clear – Hamas is solely to blame for this war and its impact on the Palestinians living in Gaza. Where is the world today in condemning Hamas (just look at the UN's inability to call out the rapes and mutilation that took place) and calling for them to end the rocket fire that continues every day and to release all the hostages? It is always calls for Israel to "stop this or to do that." Hamas is the sovereign elected ruler of Gaza and thus it is their responsibility to protect its citizens -- not Israel's. Do you ever hear Hamas call for a two-state solution? No, because their mission is to destroy the State of Israel. As pointed out several times, if the world wants this war to end immediately, then Hamas must surrender and return all the hostages.
People can have their own strong (and different) opinions about the above assessments, especially as we look through our American lens, but this is where Israel is today.
To conclude our visit, on Wednesday (12/6) we met with many of our leading social service partners on the ground. People were immensely grateful for the Jewish Federation’s immediate mobilization and significant financial support. We visited Hadassah Hospital to understand the challenges hospitals faced on October 7 and beyond with the increase of patients needing major care. We met with leadership from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and United Hatzalah (Portland was the first Jewish Federation to send them funds at the start of the war). In total, these three organizations alone received close to $1.6 million from our Israel Emergency Fund. Each shared the incredible impact they are making on Israeli society – and the work is only beginning -- because the number one issue today and for the long-term is emotional trauma care.
At the conclusion of our solidarity trip, our group visited the Kotel, the Western Wall. I must say, it was eerie seeing so few people at the Wall. Each of us, however, had the opportunity to take a breath, say our own personal prayers, and be in that holy space.