Tel Aviv (17/10/2023) It is difficult for the Israeli population to understand that Hamas and other Palestinian militias could cause such a massacre on Israeli territory on October 7. On trams and buses, people watch gruesome images on their phones of terrorists kidnapping young women, torturing Asian migrant workers or shooting pets in the head. On social media they share videos of bloody sheets in children's beds. “Destroy Gaza,” reads stickers on lampposts in Tel Aviv, between the photos of more than two hundred kidnapped Israelis in Gaza. (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)
From the hills of Sderot you can see the bombs falling on Gaza. During the previous war in 2014, residents of the Israeli border town came to watch the spectacle in the evening. They dragged up their old couches, lawn chairs and wine boxes and cheered at every explosion. Someone made their own swing between the trees, with an excellent view of the inferno in the distance. A reporter from The Guardian saw the residents having aperitifs with chips, beers and hookahs. “What a beauty,” someone shouted as a plume of coal-black smoke rose in the distance.
How different it is today. The hills of Sderot are closed by the army. From the only vantage point still open, photographers and film crews report about hell on the horizon. Below, the streets are deserted, as if someone has magically disappeared everyone with the snap of a finger. The construction sites are at a standstill. The flowers on the windowsills are withering. In the distance there are the dull booms of bombs. (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)
Nabi Saleh (22/10/2023)
Muhammad Tamimi (2) was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on June 1. His father Haitham Tamimi (42) had just put him in a chair in the back seat of the car. When Haitham turned on the engine, the car was shot at from the road for the first time. Terrified, he tried to turn and quickly get out of the soldier's reach, but it was too late. The car was hit three more times. “I got two bullets in my back and my shoulder,” Haitham said. “When I looked back I saw my son lying in the back seat, he had fallen over and was bleeding from his head.”
Bystanders heard screams from the father and raced Haitham and Muhammad to the Israeli checkpoint in the village. There was a long line of cars and when they tried to drive past them, they were threatened by soldiers who pointed their weapons at the car. “Someone had to hold my seriously injured son out of the window before they let us pass.” Haitham said, “You shot him, now you have to save him.” First the soldiers wanted to send him to a hospital in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. but that was a long journey that the toddler might not survive. After fifteen minutes, a helicopter took Muhammad to Tel Aviv. Because his father did not have special permission to go to Israel, he was not allowed to come. He was treated in Ramallah.
Haitham and his wife Marwah Tamimi (32) are sitting on the couch in their home in the village of Nabi Saleh. Their son weakened every day and died after four days in Tel Aviv hospital. Haitham bursts into tears while he is talking and Marwah sometimes unexpectedly gasps for breath. His photo of the blonde toddler is everywhere: on the walls, on chains and cut out, leaning against a teddy bear on the dining room table. In Muhammad's bedroom the bed is made and his clothes are still in the closet. A lamp he has broken will not be repaired. (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)
“Welcome, welcome,” says Bilal Tamimi. He leads us past the fence at his front door, which is covered in shell casings from tear gas canisters. 'They all landed around here. My collection used to be much bigger, but sometimes we clean it up,' he says laughing. Over the past fifteen years, Bilal has put Nabi Saleh on the map worldwide as a resistance village by filming everything he sees. He filmed how teenagers were arrested, he films how the soldiers invaded the village and shouted through the microphones: “We will get you again”. He films the young people throwing stones. And when his son was hit in the arm by a bullet that almost killed him, Bilal kept filming. “the camera is my weapon,” he said to an Israeli soldier in a video that went around the world. (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)
Tel Aviv (17/10/2023)
The parental home of Lula Liam (56) in Tel Aviv seems like the setting of a grim theater play. A rocket from Gaza destroyed all the walls on the street side last week. Passersby can see the family rummaging through the rubble with flashlights flashing. At Liam's instruction, her cousin Asaf Amoyal (25) carries undamaged furniture outside. On his back he has a military machine gun. He says confidently: 'The terrorists don't stand a chance against Israel. Fuck Hamas'. Liam looks around, shaking his head. This was her parents' house, which she rented out. It was renovated and painted only six months ago. The bed, lonely among the rubble, seems worthless. The fridge? It might get a second life.
Suddenly the air raid siren goes off again. Hamas has fired a barrage of rockets every day since the attacks. These are almost always intercepted by the 'Iron Dome', the Israeli missile shield, but everyone flees in from the terraces in the neighborhood. Liam and her family take shelter in the hallway of an apartment building across the street. When the air raid siren stops she starts talking. “This is a terrible time, but it also unites Israel,” she says. Before the Hamas attacks two weeks ago, she stood on the barricades every weekend to demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies, which are dismantling the rule of law. 'Our society was torn into supporters and opponents, democracy was in danger. But now we are united against the Palestinians who want to destroy us. For the first time I have the feeling: it's them or us. And we have to win.’ (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)
Sderot, Be'eri, Dead Sea. (25/10/2023)
Hamas fighters and other terrorists killed at least 1,300 Israelis on October 7, including many hundreds of civilians. They also took at least 229 hostages back to the Gaza Strip. It was the largest pogrom against Jews since World War II. For the survivors, there is no prospect of a return to some form of normality after three weeks. Take the kibbutz Be'eri. 130 people of all ages were murdered, more than ten percent of the population. Countless houses were burned down. The village is now a military area. The survivors cannot go home and do not know what they will find there. They are now staying in a luxury hotel on the Dead Sea. To do this, they had to cross the Judean Desert to the deepest point on earth, 430 meters below water level.
For Shlevet Ademola (49), who stayed in Sederot with her two children, her husband and her dog Cookie, leaving was not an option. 'Where should I go? Now I especially want peace, I remember the time before the wall around Gaza. We could go to the market to buy fruit, but now they would kill me because I am a Jew. I hope that Hamas will soon release the hostages and the bodies of the dead so that their souls can rest. First bring our people back, only then can the bombs stop.”
Lotan (15) and Eitan (15) are playing football in the hall. Eitan has crutches and a foot in plaster. “He had to jump out of the window during the attack,” says Lotan. “I'm having a bit of a blackout,” Eitan says with a nervous smile. He is a pale, scrawny boy with the first downy hairs on his upper lip. 'First the air raid siren came, so we went into the safe room. Then we heard in the kibbutz's WhatsApp group that there were terrorists in the village and had to stay inside.' They stayed inside for six hours, while shooting, killing and looting took place outside. 'Around 1 p.m. the terrorists set fire to the ground floor of our apartment building. I live on the second floor and the fire and smoke were rising. In the end we could barely breathe.”
Eitan was with his father, his two sisters and his mother. They decided to jump out of the window. 'When we saw no more terrorists, we jumped. My father caught my sisters and my mother, but I broke my foot in the fall. The neighbors had seen us and called us to take shelter. My father then carried me on his back and we waited there until the army came to free us. That was only at seven in the evening.” (Kasper Goethals, De Standaard, 21/10/2023)