January 16, 2024

Fighting Hate and Lifting Up

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

We hosted more law enforcement professionals, community leaders, and legislators in our offices on Friday for another screening of the Hamas “GoPro” video. I think this is important, especially in a week where a vile and patently absurd trial of Israel at the Hague was proceeding. At the end of the screening and discussion with an Israeli military attache, one of our local police chiefs held my arm and said, “now I understand. We’re with you. And we stand together.” I suspect that we will run another screening in a few weeks’ time for that reason too.

I was also busy this weekend with the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district, which was originally planning to have a vile anti-Israel book as part of a teacher training program. Thanks to a coalition of allies, and a superintendent with goodwill, we succeeded in explaining that this was an awful idea. You can read about it here.

Jewish Federations’ Israel Emergency Campaign has now raised a total of $768 million system-wide; and has allocated nearly $283 million to a wide range of humanitarian organizations in Israel. See a detailed update on allocations here. The largest allocations (you can see in the spreadsheet) are for lifeline services, economic relief and recovery, mental health and trauma relief, and community resilience and rebuilding. I’m deeply proud of this incredible effort, and I hope that you are too.

So. Here we are. As fighting continues, additional IDF soldiers have been killed, bringing the total to 190 since the ground invasion began, and 524 since October 7. See details of all the fallen soldiers here. A terror attack was carried out by two Palestinians in Ra’anana yesterday. A 72-year-old Israeli woman was stabbed to death and 17 others were wounded, several of whom remain in serious condition. The two terrorists, cousins from Hebron, were both apprehended. During the attack, victims were stabbed, their cars stolen, and the vehicles were then used to run down multiple pedestrians. Israel’s Finance Ministry has estimated that the war is costing the Israeli economy around $270 million per week. Between October – December, 46,000 workers were either fired or put on leave in Israel. About 760,000 workers (18% of the workforce) were unable to work due to: military reserve duty, displacement from their homes, or because they are single parents.

100 Days Of War: Where Are We Now?

Most commentators have referred to three main stages of the war:

  • October 7: This happened before the first stage even began. The pre-war stage saw the terrible massacres and continued for several days as the IDF battled the terrorists inside Israeli towns and communities.
  • Stage 1: The first part of the actual war, which saw weeks of targeted bombing by the IDF aimed at destroying some of Hamas’ infrastructure, weapons, and tunnels.
  • Stage 2: The ground war, in which Israeli troops entered Gaza in late October to systematically find and destroy Hamas’ fighting capabilities.
    • In the first part of Stage 2, troops entered the northern half of the Strip, including Gaza City itself. This mission has largely been completed, and it is estimated that more than half of IDF troops in the area have now left the north of the Strip.
    • In the second part of Stage 2, troops are currently focusing on fighting in the central and southern parts of the Strip, especially in the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.
  • More than 22,000 Hamas sites have been hit in the first two stages. 9,000 Hamas fighters have been killed including two of Hamas’s five brigade-level commanders; and 19 battalion-level commanders (out of a total of 24 battalions).
  • Despite those successes, Hamas’s top leadership in Gaza remains at large.
  • While fighting continues in some parts, including significant battles, from all reports, the intense battles of Stage 2 are drawing to a close and will likely be completed by the end of January.
  • Stage 3: The third stage of the war, which could well last throughout 2024, is starting to take shape. It will likely involve:
    • Lower-intensity fighting (this is already happening in the north of Gaza)
    • The release of significant numbers of Israeli reservists (this is already well underway)
    • Significant anti-insurgency efforts
    • Efforts to find Hamas’ top leaders
    • Attempts to secure the remaining hostages
    • The return of Israeli evacuees in the south to their communities, including rebuilding. (This too, is already happening).
  • More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed since October 7, including 522 IDF soldiers. More than 11,000 have been injured.

What’s Next for Gaza?

We know that intense efforts are underway to lock in a new deal. Mediation is being led by Qatar, Egypt, and the US. Many factors could go into a new deal, including:

  • The return of the hostages
  • The return of bodies, from both sides
  • The release of Hamas prisoners
  • An extended cease-fire
  • Increased aid and other shipments into Gaza
  • The negotiated exile of top Hamas leaders
  • Permission by the IDF for Gazans to return to the northern half of the Strip


Hamas rocket attacks on Israel have been reduced to a few per day as the fighting has severely restricted Hamas activities. Rockets and launchers have been found and destroyed. Nonetheless, an unusually large barrage of 50 rockets was fired at Israel’s south earlier today; the volley caused damage, but no injuries as the cities were they fell had mostly been evacuated. In the north, Hezbollah has been slowly increasing its level of rocket and other fire against Israeli targets. Fourteen Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah attacks, and 42 communities remain evacuated. The US and others continue to search for a solution that will avoid an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah. Such an agreement could see Hezbollah forces moved away from the border region with Israel, to north of Lebanon’s Litani River. In the Red Sea, the United States and the United Kingdom’s militaries continue to shoot down missiles and UAVs fired at Israel and commercial shipping vessels by Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen. They are also attacking Houthi bases in Yemen itself.


In what Israel describes as “cruel, psychological warfare,” on Sunday, Hamas released a video depicting three hostages who call on Israel to halt its war in Gaza. The three are Noa Argamani, 26, who was seen in a video on October 7 being carried off on a motorcycle, Itay Svirsky, 38, who was kidnapped on October 7 as his parents were murdered, and Yossi Sharabi, 53. At the end of the video, a caption reads: “Tomorrow you will know which of them is alive and who is dead.” As always, Israeli media did not air the footage, but did describe the video. Yesterday, Hamas released a follow-up video where Noa Argamani announces that Itay Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi have been killed–presumably executed by Hamas. There is no independent confirmation of the killings.

It is believed that 132 hostages remain in Gaza. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 25 of them, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza and elsewhere. Hamas has also been holding the remains of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

International Response

The hearing at the International Court of Justice continues. Some background on the issues:

Urban warfare expert Major John Spencer has explained that combat in urban terrain is the “most complex and difficult type of warfare a military can be directed to conduct because of the unique interaction of challenges – the dense physical terrain, the presence of noncombatants, restraints on the use of force required by laws of war, and the ubiquitous and real-time global attention on the conduct of a battle.” He added that this is the first war in history in which a military has faced an “underground world like this,” referring to the 300-mile-long tunnel system Hamas built for terror purposes under civilian infrastructure. He stated,  “There’s no military in the world that has faced the challenge Israel is facing right now in the war against Hamas.”

Due to the operational challenges urban warfare poses and the intricate tunnel system, fighting in these conditions can require four times as much ammunition, or even more, than in other combat environments. Hamas prevents civilian evacuations, often through gunfire. Coalition fighters faced similar challenges when fighting ISIS in the Battle of Mosul. In that battle, it is estimated that 10,000 civilians were killed. Israel is facing at least six times as many Hamas operatives as ISIS fighters.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan under the British army, explained that the fight against Hamas is likely even more challenging, due to Hamas’s tactics over the past three decades turning a small strip of territory into a terror base. Throughout the war, the IDF has applied tactics to minimize civilian casualty in urban warfare settings, which include dropping 6 million leaflets and issuing 14 million pre-recorded phone calls urging civilians to evacuate ahead of attacks, setting up safe corridors, and involving legal advisors in tactical decisions. Former Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force and international law expert Michael Schmitt explained that “The IDF has provided unprecedented warnings throughout the conflict,” which have “exceeded what the law required.” On Thursday, State Department spokesman Matt Miller said, “Israel is operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza, an urban battlespace where Hamas intentionally embeds itself with and hides behind civilians.” He added “Allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded. It is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”

Further Reading

I love this: as the Israel-Hamas war continues to cause intense emotional distress for so many, 3,000 Israelis each week are turning to the Nafshi (Hebrew for “my soul”) website for professional mental health and psychological support. Launched in October by Federation partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Nafshi.info uses a simple search filter to help users find resources in Hebrew and English for their needs. From bereaved families looking for counseling to young adults seeking treatment for trauma, parents wanting assistance in explaining the war to their children and Ethiopian-Israelis needing help in Amharic — and much more — Nafshi directs people to a wide array of community-based options. This includes individual and group therapists, spiritual care, art and music therapy, as well as social interventions, peer support platforms and digital resources.

Here’s something else really important. Since October 7, more than 700 North Americans have immigrated to Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh, a recipient of our Jewish Federations Israel Emergency Fund that facilitates Aliyah from the US and Canada, received 4,175 applications in the last quarter of 2023, up from 1,985 during the same period the year before — a nearly 50 percent increase. In France, the upsurge is even more notable. According to The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, which organized an Aliyah fair in Paris in December, there has been an increase of 430 percent (!) in the number of Aliyah files opened. “The significant number of new immigrants to Israel during Operation Iron Swords … [is] an important demonstration of Zionism and a beautiful expression of solidarity,” said Minister of Aliyah and Integration Ofir Sofer. Federation partners continue to offer acculturation assistance to new olim (immigrants) in the form of housing, job placement and language studies.

Let’s help as many as we can, wherever we can, however we can.