Israelis feel anger towards their own government and army but not to Palestinian people

todayNovember 9, 2023 4

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I recently returned from a visit to Israel to see the work being done by UJIA, Britain’s leading charity supporting vulnerable communities in Israel, that I am proud to chair. After the horrific Hamas attack that decimated Israeli communities on Oct 7, UJIA’s emergency work has focused on providing trauma support to survivors.

I wanted to hear firsthand the stories of people who witnessed and survived the massacres. I wanted to get a clearer picture of the work needed and how Jews in the UK who support us can best help the citizens of a country we love through a collective trauma. And I wanted to hug my friends and colleagues. 

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and heard.

More than 200,000 people are now displaced in Israel. Whole communities, whose homes are in ruins, have been evacuated to safer locations, mostly in the centre and deep south of the country. I heard so many stories of survival, of heroism and of families where no one remains to tell the story for themselves; there are many hundreds more stories I did not hear.

What struck me was that so many that I met had been peace-loving Kibbutzniks, building bridges and extending the hand of friendship to their Palestinian neighbours in Gaza. They lived in these communities because they wanted a peaceful life, all the while working with hope in their hearts for a better future for all.

Peace activist

I met Moira who is Scottish, 70 years old, and not Jewish. Moira moved to Israel to become a peace activist and she and her husband regularly met Palestinian children from Gaza at the border, accompanying them to Israeli hospitals for treatment for serious illnesses like cancer. As Moira and her husband sat in their shelter, she distinctly heard 23 members of her community being murdered in unspeakable ways that she could not bring herself to tell me.

I met Shani, a wonderful mother of two, who survived because she decided to lie in bed a little later than usual rather than go on her regular bike ride; her friends who went were all slaughtered, meeting the terrorists head on as they broke through the border. 

I met Yael, who saw her neighbours die as she sat in her safe room with her young children. Her husband handed her a gun with seven bullets. She had never handled an automatic weapon before, but she knew she had no choice, and it saved her life. 

‘Busy looking the other way’

The stories went on and all had one thing in common: a sense of deep anger. They all feel let down by the people, systems and institutions who were meant to look after them and their families. I heard time and time again that they felt a social contract they had relied on had been broken; “we lived in these border towns and the government and army was meant to look after us – what happened?”

All trust has gone. I heard real anger towards the Israeli government – “They were too busy looking the other way, they forgot about us”. There is a sense of deep betrayal and once the war with Hamas is over those responsible will be held accountable as the country rebuilds and recovers.

I met two mothers who had lost their two beautiful sons at the Nova music festival; I know they were beautiful because they showed me pictures. Their sons died protecting their girlfriends who survived.

I met people whose family members were taken hostage. What do you say to a mother whose daughter is being held in Gaza? Or to a family who were burying three family members that week and have two held hostage? There are no words; well, none that I could find, to bring them comfort. I just listened and hugged.

Returning to the UK, I want people here to understand that those in Israel still suffering do not want more Palestinian deaths. They do, however, want to return home to their communities and to be able to sleep in their beds, and for this to happen they all feel strongly that Israel needs to destroy Hamas, or this will happen again, and again, just as Hamas’s own spokespeople have said it would. 

The death toll in Gaza mounts, but the Israelis I met felt no vengeance towards innocent Palestinians but anger towards Hamas, which uses civilians as human shields. No one I spoke to or know wants to see the deaths of innocents.

Anti-Semitism in UK

Israelis I met were also upset and disturbed by the rise in anti-Semitism they see in the UK. They invariably concluded our conversations by asking me about what is happening in London. They see the UK as another front in this war and it scares them in a different way to the rockets that continue to bombard Israel from Gaza. They tell me to be strong but to be careful. It feels strange hearing that from survivors of one the biggest terrorist atrocities in history. 

But these survivors of Oct 7 understand better than anyone the dangers and brutality of unchecked extremism. They are certain that If Hamas is not defeated, radical terrorism will spread to the UK and Europe and that Israel is fighting on behalf of all democracies; they don’t understand why so many people in Europe and the US fail to see that.

Since arriving home, I have kept in contact with many I met. They continue to feel frustrated that Israel’s actions are not better understood abroad and that this is fuelling a rise in anti-Semitism. I explain that Britain has always been a democratic, fair and hospitable country and I have never had cause to think otherwise; that I have trust in our government and institutions to make sure Jews are safe during this difficult time. But as one survivor said to me last week, “so did we, and look what happened to us”.

Louise Jacobs is chairman of UJIA

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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