A day that changed the world for Israelis forever
By Larry Butchins
Saturday morning, October 7, dawned quietly, with cooling breezes and the dawn chorus of birdsong greeting the new day. Then, within minutes, the phones started ringing, text messages started coming in and our world was turned completely upside-down. Saturday morning, Shabbat, Simchat Torah, became a hell-hole for communities in proximity to the Gaza Strip, and a violent, shocking, sickening wake-up for the rest of the country: 50 years and a day since the last time we were caught completely off-guard, completely complacent and despite our highly advanced security and surveillance equipment, weapons and defensive systems, literally in the dark.
Nothing was the same, nor ever would be again: nothing made sense anymore – not the social tension within Israel, which disappeared in a nanosecond and became national unity; not the political upheaval of the past 10 months, not the right or left or in-between, not peace efforts, not ridiculous mouthings by out-of-touch rabbis and far right-wing activists, or the hundreds of thousands of concerned Israelis demonstrating for nine months, for democracy. Nothing makes sense.
The numbers keep rolling in, first 100 dead, then 250, then 500 then 700 (update 11/10/23 – more than 1200) and still climbing. Then came the horrific discovery by ZAKA of more than 260 bodies of people fleeing from the desert festival…
Over the years, we were lulled into a sense of false security: “Hamas is managing to keep a lid on terrorism; at least Hamas has taken responsibility for the Gazans; Hamas doesn’t want a war right now….” More platitudes and inaccurate analyses flowing from sources that should have known better. But now is not the time for pointing fingers and demanding answers. That time will come…that time will come…
It is believed that more than 1,500 terrorists – a vile pus erupting from the Gaza carbuncle – oozing into Israel, created the most horrific scenario of death, destruction, torture and abductions unseen since the Holocaust. Wrap your head around that for a minute – THE MOST HORRIFIC BRUTAL AND BESTIAL ACTS OF MURDER, CARNAGE AND DESTRUCTION perpetrated AGAINST JEWS in their homes and towns, in their gardens, in their beds.
If this was a movie, critics would have slammed it for being “over-the-top”. Yet it was real: families slaughtered in their homes in a way that would make Nazis proud; young adults, men, women, children, at a peaceful “rave” festival in the desert, gunned down as they dashed for safety.
More than 150 Israeli civilians, foreign nationals, soldiers, children, elderly, dragged into Gaza as hostages against the time when Hamas decides to sue for peace offering these captives in return for the release of thousands of security prisoners in Israel’s jails.
We are collectively, as a nation, going through the early stages of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I very much doubt whether we will get beyond number two any time soon.
As I write this, I get a lump in my throat. My thoughts go immediately to the families of those killed, to those who are missing. It seems that large numbers of dead and wounded are almost impossible to process – but the story of a single family, a recounting of horror by one person, is totally resonant and shocking. The yearning of families and friends for any information, waiting for a phone call, waiting for someone to identify a body, begging for knowledge of their loved ones – resonates with our family from our experience of the Dizengoff Center suicide bombing of Purim 1996. We lost two beloved members of the family in that attack; Marlyn’s mother and sister, Sylvia and Gail, among the 13 killed. The waiting, the hope, the expectation of the front door opening and them dragging themselves in, tired, frightened, but alive…It never happened like that; it resolved into a bizarre scene at the Abu Kabir mortuary.
We can’t be unrealistic. As impersonal and harsh as it sounds, it is destined to end this way for hundreds of families, for parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, children, friends…We will be reeling from this for years to come.
The response is expected to be of Biblical proportions. In Gaza, hundreds, if not thousands, will die and be injured. This will be tragic for the people of Gaza, but we cannot concern ourselves now with enemy citizens, because that is what they are. For all our humanitarian instincts, for all our caring, for all our altruism, for all our yearning for peace, let us not forget that Hamas has brought this on its own citizens, on people whom it, as a so-called “responsible” governing authority, has thrust into the pit of fire and destruction. Hamas, which set up its command centers in the basements of hospitals, mosques, schools, residential buildings, cynically hoping for maximum destruction and death of its citizens, which it can use to squeeze sympathy and money from soft-hearted Western and European states.
Does that sound callous? Probably, but I’m in no mood to be conciliatory right now. I’m mad; I am feeling sick to my stomach, I want response; fast, hard, furious and downright painful.
The reverberations throughout the region will be enormous. We cannot predict the outcome, except we can certainly expect world condemnation of Israel for responding “disproportionately”; for having fewer dead than the Gazans, macabre scoreboard; for being the “sophisticated power” against literally the “sticks and stones” of an oppressed people. When that comes, we’ll deal with it. We have enough evidence, provided by Hamas themselves through their hubris of filming and documenting their “victory” – as did the Nazis in WWII – to hold them totally accountable for the destruction they caused.
What do we learn from this? That there HAS to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They MUST come to the table; WE must come to the table: with ideas, initiatives, plans, opportunities, benefits. There MUST be a halt to antisemitic propaganda in Palestinian schools; there MUST be a halt to the rhetoric and hatred spewed by our right-wing religious fanatics. We must find an equilibrium, a level playing field on which neither side will be totally satisfied, but with which we both can live.
I’d like to end by paraphrasing the opening lines of “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells published in 1898:
“No one would have believed in the early autumn of 2023 that this country was being watched keenly and closely by an evil entity; that as Israel busied itself about its various concerns, we were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency we went to and fro about our little affairs, serene in the assurance of our country’s security…”
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About the writer:
Larry Butchins – I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and started my journalistic career as a cub reporter on Durban’s morning newspaper, The Natal Mercury, covering fires, accidents, shipping and beach news. I then moved to the Sunday Tribune’s Johannesburg branch office, covering everything from visiting celebrities to political scandals and student anti-apartheid riots. At a protest at Wits University, I was arrested along with student protesters and spent the weekend in a cell in Johannesburg’s notorious John Vorster Square.
Eventually lured into Public Relations, I opened my own PR firm in Durban. On moving to Israel with my family in 1987, I branched from classical PR into Marketing Communication, running a small English-language agency promoting Israeli products abroad, working with Israeli hi-tech enterprises. Five years ago, I self-published my novel Train in the Distance based on my actual experiences as a journalist working under (and often against) apartheid’s rules and regulations.
In addition to professional writing, I write articles and stories, travel blogs – The Offbeat Traveller – and children’s books, two of which have been published in the US and South Africa. I am now entering my third career as a screenwriter and producer for an international TV series based on my novel.
My wife, Marlyn, and I live in Tzur Yitzhak , north of Kfar Saba; have three grown children and four grandchildren who all live in Mitzpe Ramon.
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