JERUSALEM (AP) — Normal life in Israel stopped when Hamas attacked on Oct. 7. Now, the country is fiercely focused on three goals: mourning the dead, fighting the Gaza-based militants and rescuing scores of hostages.
Schools across the country are closed. Major streets are nearly empty of traffic. Many shops and businesses are shuttered, with workers called up for reserve duty.
The attack, in which more than 1,400 Israelis lost their lives in a single day, left Israel unmoored, shattering faith about the state’s commitment to its citizens’ defense and the superiority of the country’s army.
High-tech fortifications crumbled within minutes in the face of a force Israelis previously viewed as a ragtag band of terrorists. For the first time since the 1948 war over Israel’s creation, enemies seized Israeli territory — and they dragged at least 199 civilian hostages into Gaza.
With terrified citizens in the south barricading themselves in their homes, the military took hours to respond. Feelings of vulnerability and abandonment were only deepened as desperate families of missing and captive Israelis found no government officials to talk to for days.
“I can’t help but think how my entire generation will permanently have collective post-traumatic stress disorder,” said 23-year-old Iddo Tamir, whose friend was killed in the Hamas attack.
In a tight-knit country of just over 9 million people, nearly everyone knows someone who was killed, is missing or is held hostage.
“Israel’s a small country,” said Sahar Dayan, a 25-year-old from a kibbutz north of Tel Aviv. “If it’s not my friend, it’s my friend’s friend.”
Dayan spent Sunday at funerals for her two best friends, Noam Shallom and Bar Tomer. They were at an outdoor music festival when Hamas militants burst into the open field and gunned down party-goers. Militants rampaged through a string of towns and villages, as well as several army bases, in their early-morning surprise attacks.
In response, Israel has hit Gaza with airstrikes; prevented food, water, fuel, electricity and medicine from entering the territory; and called up some 360,000 military reserves for an expected ground invasion aimed at destroying Hamas. More than 2,700 people have been killed on the Palestinian side.
Tamar Ashkenazi, author of a book on coping with loss, is consumed by tremendous fear for her 22-year-old son, Yonatan. She has avoided TV since he headed off to the war as a paratrooper.
“I don’t like to hear the people talking about a ground invasion. I don’t trust this government to take care of my son,” she said.
For the last week, TV stations have set up special broadcasts with slogans like “Together we will win” and “Strong together.” Their reports, tuned to music in turns somber and uplifting, focus on the aftermath of the Hamas attack — stories of grief, heroism and national unity. They make scant mention of the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and broadcasters refer to Hamas militants as “Nazis” or “bastards.”
People donate food to soldiers and medical workers, offer their homes to residents displaced from the southern border with Gaza, and gather in small groups at intersections to hold posters with victory slogans.
Storiesaboutthehostages held by Hamas in Gaza dominate the national conversation. Families whose relatives are missing or confirmed hostages have formed organizations and work with press teams to circulate their stories.
“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t think of anything else,” said Yoni Asher, describing how his wife, two young daughters, and mother-in-law were taken captive. “I know that the diplomacy world, the political world, is a cold and cynical world. Please, please, I’m begging you. Don’t hurt them, time is critical. Each day that goes by, the chances they will suffer gets much bigger.”
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters thronged outside the defense ministry in Tel Aviv to call for the hostages’ safe return. They shouted “shame” in Hebrew and taped signs with photos of the hostages to the front of the ministry. Signs in Hebrew read, “Bibi, blood is on your hands,” referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
And as they grieve the dead and pray for the missing, Israelis face continual rocket fire out of Gaza and remain united behind the military offensive.
Even those opposed to Israel’s far-right government and activists against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank have joined the fold, although some have mixed feelings.
During the 2014 Gaza war, some Israelis opted to go to jail rather than serve in the military — progressive activists say that spirit is not present now as reservists eagerly report for duty.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who is refusing to go now for ideological reasons,” said Benzion Sanders, who opposes Israel’s decades-old, open-ended military control over Palestinians in the West Bank but now has volunteered for reserve duty.
Reservists who declared in droves earlier this year that they would refuse to serve until Netanyahu walked back his government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary have paused their protest. They say they must rally to save Israel.
“We’re not serving Netanyahu. We’re serving the country,” said Josh Drill, a leader of the protest movement and former combat soldier. Drill, who cannot serve for medical reasons, said three members of his old unit were killed in the initial battle. He predicted that the protest movement’s rhetoric will have to shift, straddling the line between criticizing Netanyahu and supporting the war effort.
A frightened Israel has entered what many now see as a war for the country’s survival. Hundreds of Israelis have cut short overseas stays to join the military campaign. Civil society has entered the breach the government left, with ad hoc groups organizing relief efforts for evacuees, and helping to identify victims and hostages.
Three of the four children of Joshua Greenberg, a 54-year old neuroscience professor, are serving in the army. One, 24-year-old Michael, is likely to serve on the front lines. Like many parents, Greenberg worries for his children. But he’s confident they each made their own decision to serve — and he stands behind them.
“Because of the scale of this calamity, there has to be a reckoning. Israel must respond,” Greenberg said. “Our children are going to serve in combat units and getting into harm’s way to protect everybody else. It’s clear that this is the right response. We can’t stand silent.”