‘Be Strong, Be Strong and Be Resolute’: An intimate perspective on the war in Israel and a call for resilience

Members of the ZAKA  voluntary emergency services retrieve a body from a street in Nir Am, Israel after partygoers fled a music festival at Kibbutz Re’im on Saturday, Oct. 7. (Photo Contributed to The Chronicle)
Members of the ZAKA voluntary emergency services retrieve a body from a street in Nir Am, Israel after partygoers fled a music festival at Kibbutz Re’im on Saturday, Oct. 7. (Photo Contributed to The Chronicle)

Content warning: Descriptions of extreme violence 

“One of my best friends is probably dead,” my brother Or told me on Sunday night.

On Saturday morning, Americans woke up to news of another conflict unfolding in the Middle East. Hamas fired thousands of missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Hamas terrorists also entered Israel by land, sea and air with fighters seen paragliding into southern Israel.

Hamas is the largest of many terrorist organizations based in the Gaza Strip and has fought multiple wars with Israel. It is also the self-claimed governing body of Gaza. To say that Hamas is simply a resistance group fighting for their right to a nation is wrong — It has sworn to destroy the State of Israel.

Over 700 Israelis were killed Saturday, leading experts to characterize this event as Israel’s 9/11. Adjusted for population, the 700 killed in Israel is equivalent to approximately 25,000 Americans.

More Jews were killed on Saturday than any other single day since the Holocaust.

You may not have a personal connection to this conflict, but every citizen of this country and the world should be paying attention to what is happening at this moment. 

My first thought when I woke up to the news was if Or was okay. 

In 2019, Or was a Shinshin — Israeli emissary to defer military service one year — to my hometown of Denver, where he lived with my family for six months. Though we were only his host family, we became as close as we could without being blood siblings.

I texted Or to ask how he was doing after I heard the news, to which he responded by saying: “So far so bad … one of my best friends she’s gone missing near the border.”

Partiers flee the scene of a music festival near Re’im, Israel after Hamas terrorists began shooting at them on Saturday, October 6. (Video contributed to The Chronicle)

Or’s friend was at a dance party near Kibbutz Re’im, about five miles east of the Gaza Strip, the morning Hamas sent its first barrage of missiles. Terrorists then entered the party, shooting anyone in their way. In a later update, Or said that his friend’s phone was located in Gaza. Horrific images surfaced of bodies lying in a tent at the party where there are now reports of at least 260 people killed.

Like many Israelis, Or said that he is going back to the Israel Defense Forces after completing his mandatory service in the intelligence branch earlier this year.

In Israel, every citizen must serve at least three years in the IDF once they turn 18. There are a few ways to defer that service — like the Shinshin program — but at one point or another, all citizens will serve their country, with many staying in the IDF for longer than their mandatory three years.

As U.S. President Joe Biden said this weekend, Israel has the right to defend itself and seek retaliation against Hamas and other terror organizations for their aggressions.

It is important to understand that not all those living in Gaza are supporters of Hamas, and no civilian casualties — on either side — should be condoned. We also cannot condone terrorists using human shields and storing arms in apartment buildings.

Many anti-Israel activists tend to criticize Israel for bombing civilian buildings and hospitals in Gaza even if there are only a handful of terrorists inside. While, yes, those civilians do not deserve to be caught in the crossfire, the real criticism should be on Hamas and any other organization involved in terrorist actions.

It’s far too simple for people to say that violence isn’t the answer and that Israel doesn’t have to retaliate in the same way. How can you expect Israelis to sit back while hostages are being taken, parties are being hit with grenades and families are left wondering whether or not their children are alive?

This war is also a good reminder that antisemitism is still prolific. This weekend, the Anti-Defamation League reported that antisemitism has spiked on social media. Even Elon Musk, the CEO of X, formerly Twitter, elevated an account known to make questionable statements about Jews as a reliable source for updates.

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You can be anti-Israel without being antisemitic. There are plenty of Jews out there who don’t support the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank, and may even consider the Israeli occupation of Palestine an apartheid — institutionalized racial segregation, like the policy implemented in South Africa during the 20th century. But yet, there are Zionists who believe in the need for a Jewish state.

It is impossible to look at this centuries-old conflict only through the lens of Israel versus Palestine. There are places for conversations to be had about who the land belongs to, but we have to be able to separate the Palestinians who advocate for their rights from the terrorists who seek to destroy Israel. We have to understand that Hamas threatens the many ways of life of Palestinians too, and many Muslims do not support the terroristic organization. 

The living conditions inside the Gaza Strip are terrible. It is one of the most densely populated 140 square miles in the world, with 2.2 million people, half of those being children. Hamas is the group in control of the region, leading to a blockade by both Israel and Egypt in 2007. Gaza is a safe harbor for terrorism and leaves the Israeli government with no other option than to fully cut off Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s capabilities.

While civilian deaths are unacceptable, Gazan citizens are victims of the terroristic Hamas regime. What Gaza will look like after this war is far from being known, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Gazans who live in areas that Hamas operates to leave, and the defense secretary, Yoav Gallant, ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip. Gallant also said that Israel will cut off electricity, food, water and fuel to Gaza to fight the “human animals” accordingly.

This is not just another small incursion from the Gaza Strip. This is a full-on war instigated by Hamas and Israel has no other option than to completely neutralize them. 

To call Hamas anything other than brutal terrorists is irresponsible.

Every time I send a text to Or, I worry about whether or not I will get a response from him.

— Jack Spiegel, staff writer

Saturday was the bloodiest day in Israeli history, and, unfortunately, the death toll is only going to rise in the coming days. This war came on the 50-year anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which is no coincidence.

Many worshippers — including some of my friends — spent the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and the Sabbath in bomb shelters this weekend. Nobody of any faith should be forced to spend the holiest of days fearing for their lives.

I asked Or if there was one thing he would want Americans to know about the conflict. He said, “I cannot explain how many efforts are being set in place to prevent damaging innocent people in every small attack Israel does.”

Every time I send a text to Or, I worry about whether or not I will get a response from him.

My rabbi back home shared a message to our congregation: “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik.” In English, this means, “Be Strong, Be Strong and Be Resolute” — and I cannot echo that enough to my brothers and sisters who are fighting for their lives and the lives of those around them in Israel.

Correction 10/12: An earlier report of this article stated that Hamas was killing babies and raping women. There is not enough evidence to confirm the validity of this statement, per the Israeli government. 

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    rileyOct 18, 2023 at 11:39 am

    While I have sympathy with the writers situation and the horror so many innocent people are facing, I found this piece reductive and problematic. It is precisely this horror that calls on all of us to support the people of Palestine as they are needlessly killed at the hands of an apartheid state. It’s important to understand the situation that’s happening now in the context of the entire history, to remember who historically has been the aggressor. This article describes actual war crimes committed by Israel against a population already largely at their will, collective punishment all under the guise of “anti-terrorism.” To reduce the Israeli government’s role in this conflict to a response to Hamas is abhorrent. The bombs dropped on Gaza this last week are not the first to fall in the area, these innocent lives are not the first to be taken, they are just the latest in a century long attempt at ethnic cleansing. I encourage all who read this to do their own research before blindly agreeing with the global wests leading narrative.