October 7, 2023
That moment when you realize how naïve you’ve been, that it won’t make a difference–your political convictions or your desire for co-existence; your weekly (sometimes twice weekly) protests against an untrustworthy government for nine straight months; or, at university, your work with Druze, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish students, who show you what listening and caring across difference looks like and means.
To Hamas you’re just a Jew, just an Israeli, and so they just want you dead.
And to the American academics, who are posting, surely without realizing it, Hamas propaganda on social media, you are a “Zionist colonizer.” And to others, Israel is bombing Hamas, not despite the 218 hostages, and the more than 1,300 civilians murdered, but for “revenge” because Israel is “traumatized by the memory of the Holocaust.”
This Holocaust trope conveniently implies that Israel is inhabited by European Jews, and disregards that the majority of Israelis were born on this land or in Islamic countries and were expelled from those countries after 1948.
Though it is true that murdering 1,300 people, mainly Jews, in one day is the largest slaughter of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.
October 8, 2023
I think one of the most difficult things about this war is that our current government is not trustworthy. And also, the past has got us into a situation with no solution. Gaza is not Hamas. But Hamas is Gaza, meaning that there is no real way out, and I’m noticing that international media coverage—even Al Jazeera—is calling this a war between Israel and Hamas, which is accurate, and how we see it here. Iran is funding so much of this, and they won’t rest until Israel is eradicated (I think we’re going to see more of Hezbollah attacking from Lebanon soon, as well).
But Gaza is full of human beings, too. And Hamas is embedded in schools, in hospitals, in residential buildings. How is it possible to eradicate Hamas and not Gaza? This is the impossible situation. And it is weighing on everyone. It’s awful.
And our government, which we’ve been protesting since it formed nine months ago, (after 5 elections in 3 years) includes two far right extremists. I honestly don’t see a way out. And this is terrifying. Ben Gvir, our minister of national security, was not allowed to serve in the army because of his extremism, and our Finance Minister, Smotrich, who is also in the Defense Ministry, had, in May, called for wiping out the Palestinian village of Hawara in West Bank; he also denies there is such a thing as “Jewish terrorism.” And Netanyahu has always put his personal well-being ahead of that of his country.
We are so angry. We understand the attack is happening now in part because our country has been so profoundly divided against itself for the past nine months.
And also because the first official Israeli government delegation has just traveled to Saudia Arabia for an international conference that was supposed to start the day after the attacks. The conference was a move toward normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab world, and it would have improved the quality of life for Gazans, as well, by restoring aid from the Arab Gulf States to Palestine, and by contributing diplomatic aid to a two-state solution. Without external help, achieving such a solution has proved extremely challenging.
Speaking only for myself, I believe the people of Gaza are in an impossible situation, and they’re amazing. All the art and culture and goodness they’ve cultivated with 4 hours of electricity a day, to say the least. Egypt won’t allow them to evacuate to safety. For ideological reasons, but probably for pragmatic ones? I don’t even know.
And for that matter, so many people are displaced—Jews from neighboring Arab states, and Syrians. Jordan has taken in Palestinians forced from their homeland in 1948, but why, 75 years later, are they still living in “camps”? And Israel has snatched defeat out of the jaws of agreements for the last 30 years at least. We are also in an impossible situation.
I wish to God all of the politicians would just step down and let their mothers be in charge.
Everyone (except, apparently, the terrorists who are controlling Gaza, and the far-right fringes in the Israeli government that we have been protesting) wants to live a peaceful, meaningful life.
Seriously, I’ve failed my Israeli driving test four times in the last four months, and I’m a good driver who has been driving for 35 years all over the world. But any idiot can be a politician.
I wish my driving teacher were in charge (he is called into the army now, so my next test is cancelled, but so is my friend’s brain surgeon, and my friend needs urgent attention). Apparently, high school has been cancelled for the foreseeable future (elementary school is on zoom), so I’m making my daughter and her friends come with me tomorrow to donate medicine and food and diapers for children and their families who lost parents in Saturday’s slaughter. At least she is staying with a friend with a bomb shelter–I don’t have one. They can be normal once in a while in this time of missiles and no school in sight. They crochet and do yoga.
I went to the garden and the earth was like a trampoline–constant vibrations from rockets. I didn’t sleep for the planes last night, and in the middle of a nap more rocket sirens so no nap. No school for my daughter in the foreseeable future, not even on zoom. And I’m in Ramat-Gan. Hamas has just said the residents of Ashkelon (52 kilometers, or 32 miles away from us here) must leave or they will start murdering those they have kidnapped. I didn’t follow up.
Counting the desert, Israel is the size of New Jersey.
I shouldn’t have started watching and reading reports from Saturday, but I did, and it is horrific.
We’ve been told to have supplies of water, batteries, food, medicine, to
last 3 days.
The streets are empty.
I’m sleeping fully clothed.
October something, who remembers
I just got out of the stairwell for our third rocket barrage in 12 hours. This time we had four dogs, the 84-year-old Madeline, who lives on the roof apartment (this time we were so crowded there was no space for a chair, so she held on to my arm the entire time, explaining she’d *just* finished wrapping her wrists and legs with cabbage to reduce inflammation for her arthritis). Madeline was airlifted from Iraq in 1950 when she was a child.
The stairwell was crowded because there were two random pedestrians for whom our apartment building was the closest, and a pizza delivery guy.
The second siren happened when I’d just returned from bringing supplies I’d bought earlier in the week to a donation center. That time there was a bomb shelter, and it felt much more secure than the stairwell. These days all apartment buildings leave their doors open, if the apartment buildings have front doors. (Most in this neighborhood don’t have front doors, and anyone can enter the building.) The doors of bomb shelters are left open so that anyone in the area can come in if there is a siren.
On Shabbat we ran to a friend’s place in the neighborhood for dinner. They have a safe room. When the siren sounded, we simply walked to the safe room, which was the son’s bedroom, and slid the metal plate over the window–what luxury! And I realized that for the past two years I’d had a safe room as well. It was the library, which became my bedroom when we took in a Ukrainian war refugee mother and her 2-year-old daughter. I joked that it had been such a waste of rent to have had a library safe room and never needed it. We only have war when I live in unrenovated houses with no safe room and no bomb shelter.
My Muslim, Christian, and Druze students often describe their daily experience in Israel—the minute they leave their families and immediate communities–as invisible, surreal. To their brethren in Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, Gaza, they are “Israelis” (and sometimes traitors). To one of the recent racist Israeli governments, they are suspect, and thus the 2018 “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” law, which defines Hebrew as “the State’s language” and Arabic as a language with “a special status in the State.” And it is true that I hardly hear mention of the 70 Arab-Israeli victims among the 1,300 civilians that were massacred Saturday.
They are starting to identify the bodies and starting to release names of the massacred, and a U.S.-based colleague in the scholarly community posts that he’s just seen “a disturbing image—Zionist colonizers turning on and off light switches to make fun of Palestinians who do not have electricity.”
I am shocked at his inability to acknowledge the Israeli bodies–1,300 babies, elderly, children who were executed, and whose executioners took selfies with the corpses. Instead, he finds some way to be offended by Israelis and Jews—as if they are incapable of being murdered, or feeling pain, of being a victims of any kind.
I am asking myself, who would hear about Hamas’s ISIS-style massacres, tortures, which were so brutal even news venues do not describe them, and then say to themselves—yes, I’m with them!
My friend asks me if I understand what people are saying at the current pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian rallies when they sing, “Between the river and the sea, Palestine will be free.” Do they know what lies between “the river” and “the sea”? I never thought about it, so he tells me that what lies between the river and the sea is Israel. How did I not realize it? For my own sanity during a war, I’ve not been following these rallies.
Because no matter what, I will survive this war with Hamas, even if Hezbollah steps in. I may survive it in the reinforced underground of the Tel Aviv bus station, but I will make it out. If Hamas is not stopped, your friends in Gaza and mine will not make it out alive.
I am thinking about 9/11 compared to October 7. It feels a bit crass to do this, but the percentage of the Israeli population that 1,300 (now 1,400) people represents, compared with the percentage of the population that died in 9/11 in the States, would translate to nearly 43,000 people if it were to happen in the U.S. And instead of being hit by a plane, imagine them executed, beheaded, burned to death, tied together with wire, all the while videotaped by perpetrators, who took selfies at the scene.
I went to a nursery and purchased about 100 seedlings–the price of fruit and vegetables has already doubled here. I planted them as dark fell and on the way home, got caught in rocket fire in a small and rare neighborhood of houses, so there was no way to find safety. Apartment buildings leave doors open for people on the street, but houses don’t–no one is leaving houses unlocked after Saturday’s massacre. But one had left open a gate, so I slipped into the garden and pressed my back against the wall in my stupid bike helmet.
During 9/11, I’d just returned to America from Venezuela, and I remember feeling physically sick to hear Venezuelan friends–good people–write me after the towers fell saying, “now you know what it feels like” and “you deserved it.”
So this time, so much worse–unlike America, Israel is surrounded on all sides either by Iranian proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, or else by countries who will not lift a finger to accept a single refugee from Gaza Egypt categorically refuses to let any Gazan into even the Sinai desert–and they were asked before Israel had begun aerial strikes on Hamas headquarters, and before any ground campaign.
From where we stand it looks like Hamas is physically preventing people from leaving Gaza City because they want lots of dead babies for social media and the news. It makes us all frantic.
I think we must find a real and livable reality for Gaza, but this war is not about that. Hamas is not about that, either.
Right now I feel like I’m a toddler, or after my near-fatal accident, when all I have to do is walk a little, speak, and everyone is reaching out and saying, you’re doing great!
The war is like a newborn—sometimes the baby sleeps, and sometimes the baby keeps you awake all night with its alarms and sirens.
I love the earth. I love the people in it.
I don’t have any war updates today. I can only say that it appears to me that no one knows everything (though obviously a lot of people know more than I do, but)—it’s all guesswork, truly. But that also means nothing is inevitable. The most important thing, in my opinion, is the survival of the human spirit. The body can be killed, but not the spirit. And the humans on this earth are incredible. If you are reading this now, you are on the earth, and you are incredible. Thank you for being the light to those around you that you are. We are all connected, and we all matter. I am realizing that the rest is distraction.
What kind of person are you when you wake up to news that a rocket exploded in a Gazan hospital and 500 may have been killed, and your first thought is–omg, I hope it wasn’t our rocket?
And your second thought was–this was the day Biden arrived and we were supposed to have a regional summit with Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel, and now they’ve all pulled out.
And only your third thought was, my God, 500 people killed!
And your fourth was—it doesn’t matter to the bereaved how their beloveds died. It doesn’t matter to them if it was your rocket or theirs, the fact is they are dead.
Despite congratulating yourself on finally reaching this last noble sentiment you are glued to the news all day and you examine every burn mark, every lack of missile crater, all the footage of the rocket fire. You are struck by the timing of that particular barrage of rocket fire from Gaza which launched the failed missile that hit near the hospital because it was the batch from 18:59. And your daughter was supposed to go to a friend at seven, and you prayed she was early, not late. And you noted how loud. How the earth shook.
My sister in Houston tells me things are even heating up down there. I read reports of rage in all the international papers, and it tells us all that it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t Israel’s missile that hit the hospital parking lot. Not that particular one. This explosion, this missile, is simply the physical shape the anger takes.
And yet, it probably does matter, too. Had it not seemed unlikely that it was an Israeli missile, I am quite certain things would be different this morning in Israel.
I’d forgotten already, with the chaos, about why Biden was flying to Tel Aviv.
Every time a group wants to unite and work together for the good of everyone—and I mean a real beginning, an uncomfortable, awkward, real beginning that has a chance to make something change—something like this happens. I could rephrase: Hamas does something.
To me it feels as if we—the citizens of Gaza and those of Israel—are being thrown into an arena to fight to the death for the benefit of Hamas. (I imagine Hamas is betting on Israel, because if Israel were to lose and be wiped from the face of the earth, Iran and the Arab states would have to get along. And they don’t. Also, the Arab states would have to get along with each other).
(Also, Iran still has Hezbollah for the second act).
When the Pentagon assessed that it was not an Israeli rocket, and the French Millitary Intellegence Director determined that it seemed most likely that it was a Palestinian bomb with a charge of about 5 kilos, and the casualty numbers these agencies released were between 10 and 50 (European) or 100-300 (American) it was the first time I could honestly feel the space to mourn for them, those killed in the parking lot outside of the hospital in Gaza. It was the first time I could feel honest grief. It is so hard to feel empathy under pressure, and completely impossible to do so when you are being gaslit, lectured to by people who do not live here and do not understand and who treat us like children to be scolded. As least for me.
My student, Iman Jaml Arbasy wrote this poem called “Kanafeh” two years ago. I checked with her now, and she says she still holds by it. Here is how it ends.
On the right side, kanaf in Hebrew –forms a wing
and on the left side, I see kanf in Arabic– meaning care;
It also manifests a wing, so I decide to
fly with my thoughts for a while.
The two wings take me to another land,
where Arabs and Jews are sitting around a table;
they share their mixed food together, including their different
alphabets, which fly on the kanaf of their souls as guards—watching over their
The phone rings and I wake up from my silent dream;
I come back to reality and its layers—the pile of conflicts.
I stare at the layers of the Kanafeh,
and I see a thin conflict lies here within the pastry.
It has been molded for years, preventing two friends—
a Jew and an Arab—from being gathered, here, in such a place,
where a Kanafeh offers them two wings to travel away.
I ask the waiter to knaf (wrap up) the Kanafeh to take away—
The excerpt from the poem “Kanafeh” by Iman Jaml Arbasy is used with permission.
Marcela Sulak is the author of four poetry collections, most recently, City of Sky Papers, finalist for the National Jewish Book award. Sulak directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.
Image by: Marcela Sulak