November 16, 2023

45 Minutes

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

Warning: extremely difficult text to read below.

Last night I surrendered my phone and signed a waiver. And then I sat with a small group and an Israeli military attaché and we watched the 45 minute compilation of Hamas videos from October 7th. It’s the same compilation that was shown yesterday in the US senate, and two days ago to Congressmembers. It won’t be shown widely, out of respect for the dignity of the murdered and their families. But I was asked to share my impressions and I’ll try to live up to that obligation in the days and weeks ahead.

Truthfully, I did not want to be asked to come. But I also knew that if I were asked, I would have to go. To bear witness. We saw the killings of 138 innocent civilians. That’s about a tenth of the total of killings, as well as the rapes, injuries, and looting. The Hamas terrorists deliberately used GoPros and mobile phones. They wanted their crimes recorded, to continue to terrorize.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. The joy, the gleeful laughter, the depraved happiness over killing Jews. The exclamations of celebration over death and pain. The callousness, inhuman pleasure and amusement over slaughtering innocent lives. The shameless brutality. These are monsters. They can never be reclaimed. They can never be forgiven.
  2. The systemized, organized, methodical approach to killing. Go back and shoot this person in the head. Make sure those girls are dead. The organization of mass killing. We’ve seen this before: organized chains of command, strong communications, uniforms.
  3. The Gazan ‘innocent civilians’ who came over the border in the third wave that morning, to loot, rape, kill, and capture bodies, live and dead, for Hamas rewards. And the joy of the ‘innocent civilians’ who rejoiced in the streets as hostages and bodies were paraded in the streets. The cheering. The spitting and kicking and beating. The hate. The cruelty. The social acceptance of kidnapping and killing Jews in Palestinian society.

I’m trying to keep busy today. I’ll meet with a therapist shortly. I’m still trying to process everything that I saw. It’s not something that you can analyze easily. There are images seared into my brain that haunt me now.
The two boys seeing their father killed, watching as a terrorist takes a bottle of coke out of their fridge.
The tortured and raped young girl with her underwear around her ankles, joints bent backwards.
The girls screaming. The terror.
The burned bodies, wrists tied behind their backs. Mutilated corpses.
The first responder trying to find live bodies and realizing that everyone, everyone around him was killed.

As I walked out of the screening room there were Israelis in the corridor, just hugging people who were walking out crying.

So here we are. As the ground war continues, Israeli forces reportedly dropped leaflets warning Palestinians to leave parts of southern Gaza, signaling a possible expansion of operations. 51 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began, and 371 soldiers since October 7. See a list of all soldiers who have fallen (with details, in Hebrew) in this war, here. A checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem was attacked by terrorists this morning. Three armed Palestinian gunmen stopped their car at the checkpoint, jumped out, and started firing at Israelis, wounding six including one who is in critical condition. The three terrorists, presumably headed into Jerusalem to carry out a major attack, were shot and killed. In their car, IDF soldiers found ammunition as well as axes.

Israel Defense Forces Operations
As the ground operation progressed, Israeli forces reportedly dropped leaflets warning Palestinians to leave parts of southern Gaza, signaling a possible expansion of operations. The leaflets were dropped near the city of Khan Yunis, and warned civilians to evacuate the area, saying anyone in the vicinity of terrorists or their positions “is putting their life in danger.” Similar leaflets were dropped over northern Gaza for weeks ahead of the ground invasion there. Watch a statement by the head of the IDF’s Southern Command here. Meanwhile, Israel struck the home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh — who lives in Qatar — in Gaza overnight. The IDF says the home was “used as terror infrastructure and, among other things, as a meeting place for the senior officials of the organization.” (See video of the strike here). Hamas has previously said the IDF hit two homes belonging to Haniyeh and his family, but this is the first strike confirmed by the military. Watch the video of IDF battles with Hamas yesterday, here, and see photos here. See photos of captured weapons here.

Also yesterday, Israeli forces successfully captured Gaza’s port. See footage of the operation and photos here.

Watch an IDF video of the MRI department at Gaza’s recently captured Shifa Hospital here where large quantities of weapons were stored by Hamas, in the hospital facilities themselves. The IDF is still operating underneath the hospital and other hospitals in Gaza where terror tunnels are used to store weapons and house command and control centers and refuges for terrorists. The IDF says that some of the tunnels under the hospitals may also hold hostages. Watch a report on this from inside Gaza. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters during a briefing “We have information that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”

The Home Front
The country continues to mourn the victims of the massacre of October 7 and soldiers who have fallen in the fighting; and to demand the return of the hostages: Israel is said to be considering a deal that would involve the release of some 50 hostages – all women and children – in exchange for the release of imprisoned Hamas terrorists (all women and minors), and a three-day ceasefire. Read here about Staff Sgt. Aner Elyakim Shapiro who was killed at the Rave is being hailed as a hero for saving the lives of up to seven others. (Graphic content warning).

In its empty kibbutz’s dining hall, Nir Oz survivors set places for the 38 killed, and 75 hostages from among its members. Read more. It is now confirmed that a pregnant Israeli woman, kidnapped by Hamas during their October 7 attack, has given birth in Gaza. See more here.

Reports continue to suggest that a deal between Israel and Hamas that would see the release of 50 – 100 women and children being held in Gaza could be announced within days. Under the emerging outline, the hostages would be released in groups, in exchange for Palestinian women and young people being held by Israel. According to the reports, Israel would also agree to a temporary ceasefire of three days, to allow safe passage for the hostages and an influx of aid for Gazan civilians.

The level of rocket fire from Gaza remains low, presumably due to Hamas’ diminished capabilities.

In the north, rocket and other fire by Hezbollah continues at a slow, but steady pace.

Read here about how Federations are supporting grieving Israelis who have lost loved ones during the war through collective Israel emergency dollars.

International Response
U.S. President Biden said that Israel’s operation in Gaza, “will end when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder, abuse, and do horrific things to the Israelis.” Biden said that Israel’s military has “an obligation to use as much caution as they can in going after their targets. Hamas said they plan to attack Israelis again and this is a terrible dilemma.”

Germany’s interior minister announced raids in seven of the country’s regions on an Islamist association suspected of links to Hezbollah. She stated, “At a time when numerous Jews feel particularly threatened,” Germany will “tolerate neither Islamist propaganda nor antisemitic incitement hostile to Israel.” The police raids targeted the Hamburg Islamic Center and five affiliated groups.

French President Emmanuel Macron says his country is making real efforts to help secure the release of the hostages. In separate tweets in French, English, and Hebrew, Macron says France is “putting all our efforts, all our strength, into freeing the hostages held by Hamas and allowing their families to be reunited with their loved ones.”

Yesterday, the UN Security Council approved a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip” after four failed attempts to respond to the war. The vote was 12-0 with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia abstaining. The final draft watered down language from a “demand” to a “call” for humanitarian pauses. It also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups.”

Israelis of all stripes have come together to support soldiers and bolster morale in the country, many sharing inspiring tales.

  • “Hamas’ evil unleashed a fierce love in Israel.” Read more.
  • 130 Gaza border area kids traveled to Hungary to watch the Israeli soccer team compete. See here.
  • Read here about one branch of Israel’s famous Aroma Coffee chain that has closed its cash registers and turned the entire successful café into a hub for volunteers to make thousands of sandwiches a day, to feed IDF troops.

Additional Background Reading

Federation partner The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

  • 20 Bedouins with disabilities are benefitting from an online support group opened by JDC and partners.  Through weekly meetings, participants gather in a safe space for socialization and support, where they can share their unique challenges and receive professional guidance. Also, 500 kits with toys and craft materials are being distributed to Bedouin families with small children and toddlers. These families live in unrecognized villages with no sheltered spaces, face the ongoing threat of rocket fire, and need help keeping their young children who are still not in school engaged.
  • The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute is developing a comprehensive dashboard to monitor the status of Arab society in Israel during the war. The dashboard was commissioned by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry for Social Equality and will measure progress in key areas including employment, education, welfare, and social resilience. Dashboard indications will help decision-makers address the needs of Arab Society and mitigate disparities during this time of crisis.
  • JDC procured first aid supplies including 6,288 burn treatment kits, 3,000 IV kits, 300 first aid kits, and 200 basic life support kits for Jewish and Israeli-Arab local municipalities in areas under threat, and which lack basic medical equipment. JDC continues to source critically needed supplies for local emergency response units in towns close to Israel’s borders.
  • 400 youth counselors doing National Service are receiving JDC training to provide educational activities for evacuated children residing in hotels. Some 20 training courses are currently taking place across Israel, empowering the trainees with tools for informed trauma intervention and to help build resilience.
  • JDC released 7 informational videos and leaflets containing guidelines and tips for effective communication with people with disabilities during emergencies. These resources are being circulated by government ministries and are available to all volunteers and professionals who work with people with disabilities. Watch a sample video (in Hebrew) here.

May we see better times,

Chief Executive Officer