While Israelis all over the country are praying for the hostages’ release, mourning the dead and burying the victims of the savage Hamas assault on the Negev kibbutzim, the army is amassing its forces in the south in preparation of a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of tanks and truckloads of ammunitions can be seen in the agricultural fields between Ashkalon and Erez and further south close to the border of the besieged Palestinian enclave where more than two million people are awaiting their fate without supplies of food, water, fuel and electricity, blocked by Israel since the October 7th Hamas attack. Day and night we hear the constant sound of explosions as warplanes drop their cargo of death. Casualties are soaring by the hour, as missiles hit schools, shelters, hospitals and refugees fleeing to the southern part of the Strip: they are considered “collateral damage”.
The mood in the country is somber. Humiliated by the huge failure of the intelligence and security services, stunned by the collapse of the multimillion cyber defense system most Israelis blame prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far right government for the current catastrophic crisis. Some seek a bloody revenge, others see the risks of a regional war. Everyone wonders: how could this happen?
The war cabinet has de facto suspended the rule of law. Arab Israeli citizens are told to stay away from their jobs. Hundreds of workers from Gaza have been rounded up, detained and deported to the West Bank where thousands of Palestinians – among them artists and academics – have been arrested by the Israeli police, some just for expressing their views on an Instagram post. Armed settlers attack Palestinian villages, kill with impunity and even prevent or disrupt the victims’ funerals. Right-wing fanatics are attacking Israeli human right activists: anyone who shows empathy for the dead children in Gaza (at least a third of the 4,000 casualties-through October 19) is labeled a traitor: the Israeli journalist Ismael Fry, who dared to mention the unspeakable suffering of the civilians in Gaza, is hiding with his children in an undisclosed location after receiving death threats.
Meanwhile pro-Hamas demonstrations are filling the streets in Ramallah, Hebron, Jenin and elsewhere in the occupied territories, where the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is struggling to retain the hold of his Fatah movement on the autonomous areas spared by the relentless encroaching of illegal settlements and Israeli military bases.
*Forgive this personal note. As a young reporter I came here first in April 1982. At that time – because of my age and foolish optimism – I believed in the peace process and thought there could still be a hope to see the birth of a Palestinian state during my lifetime. No more.