Yesterday the Jewish community of Perth were celebrating our Sabbath and the culmination of our annual festivities. Then, in a fleeting moment our joy was interrupted by news that Israel had been attacked and that war had been declared by Israel’s Prime Minister against Hamas.
Suddenly our emotions were shattered. On the one hand, the desire to celebrate so as to defy those who wish to destroy the Jewish nation. On the other hand, across the community we all have family and friends in Israel sheltering in fear, or even worse, surrounded by terrorists.
News was communicated that Israeli towns were infiltrated by terrorists, indiscriminately murdering families amidst their holiday celebrations, taking captives and surrounding entire homes and communities. Thousands of missiles were reigning down.
All this on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war. Reading all those accounts of how Israel was caught unprepared, and had to leave their Synagogues for the battlefield suddenly went from being surreal to being real. So much uncertainty. Not quite sure what is happening and for Diaspora Jewish communities feeling helpless and apprehensive. Was this what it was like in 1973? And what will happen over the next couple of weeks?
After the holiday (because our electronic communications are turned off), we emerged to the sobering, and as I write, still emerging account of activity over the past two days. We read that Ofir Leibstein, the mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev Council was killed in a gun battle defending his town. Not so long ago he visited our Perth community with the JNF. One of my Rabbinic friends is now by the bedside of his son who was shot in his leg, lucky to have survived. Many of my Perth friends have children and family members sitting in bomb shelters at this very moment.
The social media posts are difficult to digest. I will share one, from the page of well known and respected Perth based doctor Linda Friedland:
A frantic 8 year old boy Micha’el, hiding in a cupboard, calls his uncle and aunt, “Imma (Mother) is dead. Abba (Father) is dead. They shot them. Help me!! I don’t know where the baby is”. The phone goes dead.
This is not a news story!! This is my own niece, Ella who received the call from her little nephew yesterday 6am from the kibbutz where her husband grew up and all the family live. And then his phone went dead.
She called me early yesterday morning absolutely frantic. It sounded ridiculously untrue. No news had broken anywhere.
Through 13 long hours, this young child and his younger 6 yr-old sister sat still in a cupboard awaiting a rescuer. No food. No toilet. Petrified. Their parents and baby sister lay slaughtered a few metres away. Ella stayed connected with me on phone and texts for 24 hours- not knowing what had happened to the whole family and no word from little Micha’el, while the depraved horrors unfolded and news began to break.
This attack on thousands of innocent Israelis was more than a declaration of war – it was and is a genocide, a massacre.
Hundreds of families of innocent men, women and children were butchered in cold blood yesterday. Some still in their beds. Door to door. House to house. Barbaric terrorists brutalising and murdering and capturing.
Many young children. And many captured as hostages.
“Grandmothers were pulled out of wheelchairs to waiting vehicles ready to carry them as hostages into Gaza. Young women hostages brutally pulled and paraded. Then came the mothers carrying babies. Brutal killings circulated on social media, and all of it was broadcast by Hamas to the world in joyful pride, sparking celebrations in Tehran, Ramallah and no small part of the online pro-Palestinian activist world” ( Times of Israel) .
These two deeply traumatised orphans, who possibly now move to live with my niece, are two amongst thousands of brutalised, severely injured and bereaved and shattered families. A colossal genocide. May we find strength in these dark days.
The extent of the massacres now being reported is unfathomable. The cruelty against helpless civilians is unforgiveable. Hamas are pure evil.
Now is not the time for geopolitical analysis, or even political discourse. Simply to thank the Prime Minister of Australia for his clear condemnation of terrorism. It is a time for unity, and a time to thank all those organisations in our community who provide protection and solidarity during this period of pain.
It is however time to draw a line on the relentless media bias and dishonest reporting that plagues our media. On this score the Perth Sunday Times needs to be called out for its disgraceful inclusion today. Using the words “Brutal retort” in its headline, the article commenced by focussing on Israel’s retaliation. It calls Hamas a “militant group” unable to label terrorism for what it is. As Rabbi Dee has pointed out today the definition of a Terrorist is “A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians.”
Then the article started to rehash inaccurate rhetoric about Israel’s domestic issues. It scandalously said that “Israeli settler violence has displaced hundreds of Palestinians” in the “occupied West Bank”. Whilst some of the population (both Israeli and Palestinian) have been inconvenienced due to sadly necessary security measures, Palestinian communities have not been displaced.
The article also mentioned Hamas naming the attack “Operation Al-Asqa Storm”. Missing context is needed here. A false narrative has been promoted by the Palestinian leadership that Israel is attempting to destroy the Al-Asqa mosque to rebuild the Jewish Temple on its holiest site. Jewish theology clearly articulates that its Temple is universal (as the festival we have just celebrated attests), and will only be built as a beacon of peace with the willing consent of the religions of the world.
Whilst the Sunday Times may draw its content from syndicated news agencies (today’s item was not attributed), it still holds accountability for what it publishes. The lack of moral clarity and the implied moral equivalence of this evil depravity through the use of terminology such as “retort” and “retaliation” is offensive and obscene. The Sunday Times owes its readers and the Jewish community a retraction and an apology for attempting to equate genocide with self-defence. It also needs to reconsider where it draws its content for reporting.
No doubt the days and weeks ahead will be difficult for Israel, its Diaspora and supporters. Whilst there is even one hostage in captivity, Israel will leave no opportunity unrealised to save and preserve life. Because Jewish people sanctify life. We do not callously murder civilians and parade their bloodstained bodies on social media. If you are a journalist that cannot draw such a basic moral distinction, then you also have blood on your hands.
Hamas and its supporters are celebrating the murder of innocents. It is not the first time, but the early sentiment from Israel is that after today this regime can no longer be constrained, it requires elimination. I sincerely hope this occurs without the needless loss of life, and that eventually a new leadership can bring the coexistence to which the majority of Israel aspires. Israel can then return to providing the world with life-saving medical research and technology, food, water and agricultural innovation, and products for the betterment of humanity. But not amidst the relentless fear of having seconds to reach a bomb shelter, or the existential fear of terrorism that is both overtly and tacitly justified by syndicated media agencies.
We pray for the peace of Israel.