November 29, 2023

Day 54 of the War

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

I’ve spent much of the past couple of days giving briefings, updating community groups about what’s happening in the Israel-Hamas war and about our response. Several people have asked me about what the next phase will look like, after the current ceasefire and what Israel’s next steps are likely to include. I’ll write more about this in the coming days. I’m also focused on the massive mental health burden that’s just increasing week after week. On a call with our partner the Jewish Agency last night, we talked about the 7150 families who have already received funds through our Federation-supported Victims of Terror fund, as well as massive relief to 8 regional councils, emergency grants to small businesses, and a huge operation to support vulnerable populations, volunteers, and relief work.

One area that I’m focused on right now is the safety and security of Diaspora Jewish communities (including our own). In France, for example, we’ve seen a 492% increase in safety warnings for the Jewish community since October 7th. Our partners on the ground are supporting the Jewish community there, and I’m proud of our response so far. But this is an area of great concern.

It’s the 29th of November. I was watching Israeli tv this morning and several commentators noted the date – כ”ט בנובמבר – as the anniversary of the 1947 United Nations General Assembly vote in favor of the Palestine Partition Plan. The violent and deadly attacks on Jewish populations in Arab countries as a result of the UN vote led to a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, who were brought to Israel by, among others, the Jewish Agency and JDC, Jewish Federation partners then and now.

So, here we are. Since October 7th 1,225 Israelis have been killed, including 395 soldiers. 88 hostages have been freed, but 155 remain in captivity. 10,500 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilian targets. 9,038 Israelis have been injured. The Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry says that over 13,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, as a result of the war.

As part of the hostage-release deal, 88 hostages have been freed from Hamas captivity in five groups over the last five days and reunited with their families in Israel. An additional 10 Israelis will be released in the next few hours. Additionally, two hostages with Russian citizenship, and possibly Israeli citizenship, will be released in a gesture to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The hostages set free so far have mainly been young children, their mothers, elderly women, and foreign workers (mainly from Thailand). In exchange for those let out, Israel has released some 210 terrorists from prison and granted a six-day ceasefire. Terrorists released as part of the deal were all women, and under-18 minors, most serving sentences for attempted murder, stabbings, and other terror attacks.

There are still 155 hostages in Gaza, including 9 children. One of the children is Kfir Bibas, now nine months old. Kfir has spent a fifth of his life in captivity. He was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with his 4-year-old brother Ariel and parents Yarden, 34, and Shiri, 32. The White House has confirmed that nine American citizens remain in captivity. After the initial exchange of 50 hostages for 150 terrorists and a four-day ceasefire, the agreement has been extended by two days and may be further prolonged by four days. According to the terms, releasing more hostages prompts the release of three terrorists per hostage, and every ten hostages released result in an extra day of ceasefire from Israel. While most hostages were returned in reasonably good health, many are suffering from malnutrition, and have spoken of harsh conditions and the psychological warfare waged against them.  Reports emerge that most hostages were kept in the darkness causing them to lose track of day and night without seeing daylight for almost two months. One hostage, 12-year-old Eytan Yahalomi, witnessed his father being killed on October 7 before he was kidnapped alone. During captivity, Hamas terrorists beat Yahalomi and forced him at gunpoint to watch footage taken by them as they were massacring Israelis in his kibbutz. One 9-year-old girl lost all track of time and upon release was certain that she had been held for a year. A number of the children released from captivity, including 9-year-old Irish-Israeli Emily Hand, are only speaking in whispers and have not yet acclimated to being able to speak in a normal voice. Hostages are reporting that any time children spoke loudly, Hamas terrorists aimed rifles at them. Most adults lost 30-40 pounds due to lack of food. Nonetheless, Hamas attempts a positive image by releasing hostages on camera, featuring gentle treatment and instructing children to wave. One hostage was forced to thank Hamas. Elma Avraham, 84, who was returned to Israel in critical condition on Sunday night after her release, has now been taken off a ventilator and her health is continuing to improve.

Israel Defense Forces Operations

  • As part of the hostage deal, Israel has paused operations in Gaza. The deal also includes six hours per day when Israel suspends drone movement over Gaza.
  • Nonetheless, several soldiers were lightly wounded on Tuesday in a Hamas attack which appeared to be the first serious violation of the temporary pause in fighting. Three explosive devices were detonated near forces at two separate locations in the northern Gaza Strip. The army said that in one of the incidents, gunfire was also directed at troops, who returned fire.
  • The IDF says that it will continue its war on Hamas, to eliminate the terror organization, as soon as the ceasefire expires.
  • The IDF announced the deaths of three soldiers from the Hamas attack of October 7 and said that their bodies are being held by the terror group in Gaza. The three soldiers were initially believed to have been kidnapped and were classified as such by the IDF. However, after examining new evidence, the military determined that they had been killed on the day of the attack, making them “fallen soldiers held hostage by a terror group.”

International Response

  • The US military has also paused its flights of surveillance drones over Gaza during the truce. The Pentagon announced that, “In compliance with the agreement reached between Israel and Hamas, we are not currently conducting (drone) flights. And so those have been paused for now.”
  • For the second time in a week, an official Qatari plane landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning. Israel and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations but have held close meetings in recent weeks, with the Gulf state playing a crucial role in the Israel-Hamas ceasefire and the deal to release hostages.
  • Following weeks of criticism over its silence about evidence of sexual violence during the attack, the women’s rights group UN Women issued a statement condemning the terror group on Friday. Shockingly, the group deleted the post shortly afterward. “We condemn the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7 and continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” read the initial statement, posted on UN Women’s Instagram page. It was soon replaced with a statement that dropped the condemnation of Hamas and only called for the release of the hostages.
  • A ship dispatched by France has docked off the coast of El Arish in Egypt’s northern Sinai and will serve as a floating hospital for Palestinian civilians wounded in the Israel-Hamas war in adjacent Gaza. The Dixmude contains 40 hospital beds and is also equipped with a helicopter landing pad to allow for the speedy transfer of patients from Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza, onto the ship.

Stories of Heartbreak, Heroism And Hope

  • powerful interview on CNN with a woman whose father was murdered on October 7, and now has seen six family members freed.
  • Eritrean national, and foreign worker, Mulugeta Tsagi received permanent residency status in Israel on Sunday in appreciation for saving the life of an Israeli soldier on Oct. 7. Tsagi administered life-saving first aid to an IDF officer shot by Hamas terrorists in Sderot, and then stayed with the officer for several hours until he finally reached a hospital.
  • Role Reversal: The evacuated residents of Sa’ad, on the Gaza border, have been living at the Nevo Hotel these past seven weeks. The evacuees have been so taken by the service, warmth, and love shown to them by the hotel’s employees that they organized to swap roles and prepare a special meal for the employees. The evacuees prepared and cooked the meal, decorated the hall, served the food, and applauded the workers.
  • Diaspora Jewry has raised $750 million to aid Israel’s post-war recovery efforts, according to a joint Knesset meeting on Monday by the Economy and Aliyah, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs committees in the Knesset. $659 million has been raised by our Jewish Federations.

More interesting stuff:

With prayers for peace and healing,

Chief Executive Officer