October 19, 2023

From the Field

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

I’m at Ben-Gurion (Tel Aviv) airport getting ready to leave.

I’ve been in Israel for 36 hours and now, reluctantly, I have to leave home (Israel) to go home (New Jersey).

My heart is heavy.

I sat with Abbey, a wonderful amazing woman who hosted me for her thanksgiving dinner last year, now missing five of her family members kidnapped. As we left the meeting with families of the kidnapped, we learned that two of the bodies found last night were of Abbey’s family members – Karmela Dan, her 80 year old aunt, and her granddaughter Noya, 12 years old. They were murdered and not taken hostage, but three family members are still kidnapped and missing. My heart hurts from her pain, and from that of over 200 other families whose loved ones are hostages.

There are still many bodies not yet identifiable.

Part of my day today was meetings – I was with a small group that met with the President, then the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Strategic Affairs Minister, and others. I also helped pack food packages for the elderly at our partner Jewish Agency housing programs, along with young Jewish leaders from around the world (that, and they, were really inspiring), and met with evacuated families from the fighting. There are over 60,000 Israeli evacuees now. They can’t get to their homes and are existing on borrowed and donated clothes and food and all supplies. We’re helping with our funds as much as we can.

I also sat with Itai, a handsome young infantry soldier who was shot and wounded in the October 7th attack and, with his 9-soldier unit mostly wounded too, continued fighting and repelling terrorists for hours until they were finally relieved and medivac’d to hospital. He endured three surgeries and skin grafts but is strong and amazing and I left inspired and grateful for his bravery, heroism, and service. He reminded me of the best of Israel – the “beautiful Israel,” we say in Hebrew. And I left our meeting saddened by the losses of so many of his fellow soldiers, and deeply aware of the price of having a Jewish State.

I have a lot of takeaways from today. But I think my main one is this: in an apocryphal story I heard today from a government minister, the day after Pearl Harbor, as Japanese commanders celebrated the surprise attack on the United States, Admiral Yamamoto wrote that he feared that Japan had awoken “a sleeping giant.”

Now that sleeping giant is Israel, which proportionally suffered twenty 9/11’s (!!) last week, with the equivalent of the US having over 8000 hostages taken from their homes.

Every single terrorist responsible for the mass rapes, tortures, murders, and kidnappings should know that Israel won’t forgive and won’t forget.

They’ll all be found and brought to justice.

Key Points

  • On day 13 of Israel’s War with Hamas, US President Joe Biden has concluded his visit and his strong show of solidarity. This morning, the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak landed in Israel on his own mission of support. We were actually waiting to meet PM Netanyahu in the next room as he met with PM Sunak.
  • As a result of an agreement brokered between Israel, Egypt and the United States, a “sustainable” passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza will likely open tomorrow.

The Home Front

According to Israel’s Ministry of Health, 309 people injured in the October 7 attacks are still hospitalized. Of these, 80 are in serious condition, 159 are in moderate condition, and 70 are in good condition. A total of 4,629 injured individuals have been treated at hospitals around the country from the terror strikes.

The IDF has also updated its figures and now says that 203 people were kidnapped into Gaza, and 306 soldiers have been confirmed killed.
Funerals continue for many of the 1400 Israelis killed by Hamas:

Yesterday, a bittersweet wedding took place for Yonatan Perez, the son of the head of the World Mizrachi Movement, Rabbi Doron Perez. Yonatan’s brother Daniel, a tank commander, has been missing since taking part in the battles of October 7. The groom, Yonatan, was also involved in the fighting. Heeding the call of his commander, he hurried to the south where he is being hailed as a hero for taking part in the rescue of some 20 women soldiers. During the four-hour battle when he was shot in the leg, Yonatan also killed numerous terrorists. See more here.

Read here and watch an interview with the parents of a 19-year old woman missing since the fighting began, when she served as a soldier on a base in the south.

In a heartbreaking report, the Israeli milk bank has been active in providing breast milk to babies who were orphaned by the massacre, whose mothers were kidnapped or injured as well as mothers deployed by the IDF.

See here the difficult story of nine relatives living in Kibbutz Be’eri who were all kidnapped by Hamas during the attacks.

In this story from TIME Magazine, read about how the family and friends of Vivian Silver (currently being held hostage by Hamas), hold on to the memory of her work for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Once again, there was no rocket fire from Gaza overnight, and overall sirens have decreased significantly. Despite this, among other barrages, there have been rocket attacks on Tel Aviv every evening for four straight days. Yesterday, Hamas held its fire for the duration of the Biden trip. As soon as the Presidential visit was over, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at Israel’s center including Tel Aviv and the coastal region.

There are still some terrorists believed to be hiding out or moving around Israel, probably in the south. One terrorist was apprehended today trying to make his way back into the Gaza Strip.
For infographics with the latest numbers from the conflict, see here.

There has been a gradual return to in-person schooling, with additional schools resuming in safer areas in Israel today. Areas around the Gaza Strip and also near the Lebanese border remain closed military zones, to which entry by civilians is prohibited.

In the North, Hezbollah continues to hit Israel, in sporadic attacks. The IDF struck Hezbollah military targets in response, including an observation post near the coast where anti-tank missiles were launched toward Rosh Hanikra on Wednesday (see footage here). Hezbollah said that it conducted seven attacks directed at Israeli territory yesterday, including anti-tank missile attacks and shooting at soldiers and surveillance equipment. It also confirmed that three of its members were killed in those incidents.

Israeli Response

The IDF says it destroyed hundreds of Hamas sites in the last 24 hours, including anti-tank missile launch sites, tunnel shafts, intelligence infrastructure, terror leaders, and various command centers. See video images of the strikes here.

Among those terrorists killed was Jamila al-Shanti, the widow of Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi and the first woman elected to the terror group’s political bureau. (Rantisi was killed in 2004 by an Israeli airstrike during the Second Intifada). In 2021, Al-Shanti became the first woman elected to the Hamas political bureau, its highest decision-making body.

In separate strikes, the IDF also killed the head of the military wing of Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees terror group, Rafat Abu Hilal, as well as more than ten members of Hamas’s “Nukhba Commando Forces,” who led the October 7 massacres.

See here for a video message, in English, by the IDF Chief of Staff Hertzi Halevi.

Egypt announced the creation of a “sustainable” passage of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, as hundreds of aid trucks wait at the border. This is apparently as a result of an agreement brokered between Israel, Egypt and the United States. US President Biden praised the Egyptian and Israeli governments for “stepping up” and reaching a deal. Aid is likely to begin to flow tomorrow.

Despite Israel producing concrete proof (see here) that it was an Islamic Jihad misfired rocket that hit close to a Palestinian hospital on Tuesday night, many around the world continue to question this narrative, pointing a finger of blame at an Israeli air strike. See more here. See also this video message on this issue from the IDF Spokesperson.

IDF tanks assembling at the border with Gaza ahead of a potential ground invasion have been equipped with anti-drone “cages,” similar to those used in the Russia-Ukraine War, according to a report in The Washington Post. The Post published images showing Israeli vehicles with modified coverings whose purpose is to protect soldiers inside from any explosives dropped from drones, presumably a lesson learned by Israel from observing developments during the war in Ukraine.

The beginnings of discussions are starting to take place about long-term scenarios for the Gaza Strip. One of the options being contemplated is for Israel to dismantle Hamas and its infrastructure and then to establish a temporary civilian-international governing structure for Gaza for 5-10 years before the area can be turned over to local leadership or the Palestinian Authority. See more on this issue here.

International Response

UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel today on a solidarity mission. He told Prime Minister Netanyahu that “we absolutely support Israel to defend itself in line with international law, to go after Hamas, to take back hostages, to deter further incursions, and to strengthen your security for the long term.”

Sunak added, “I know you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians, in direct contrast to the terrorists of Hamas, which seek to put civilians in harm’s way. We also recognize that the Palestinian people are victims of Hamas too I am proud to stand here with you in Israel’s darkest hour as your friend. We will stand with you in solidarity, we will stand with your people, and we also want you to win.”

Following US President Biden’s visit to Israel yesterday, and his strong show of solidarity and support for the Jewish state, the White House announced today that the President will make a special address from the Oval Office to discuss Israel and Ukraine. This unusual move follows Biden’s groundbreaking trip – the first ever visit of a sitting US President to Israel during wartime. During his trip, the President pledged to give Israel “whatever it needed” in its battle against Hamas and warned the country’s enemies against regionalizing the war.

In addition to the two US carrier groups, Ford and Eisenhower off Israel’s shores, the US Navy has announced that it is sending the USS Mount Whitney, a command ship which is also the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet. The UK has also sent a carrier group.

Evidence has come to light that the Hamas terrorists used some North Korean weapons during their October 7 invasion. North Korea has repeatedly denied that it sells weapons to Hamas. See more here.
A CNN poll, conducted October 12-13, found that over two-thirds of American respondents believe the Israeli military response in Gaza was either “fully justified” (50%) or “partially justified” (20%). Nearly three out of four respondents (71%) feel “a lot of sympathy” with Israelis, while 41% say the same about the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, some 76% of respondents in a new Quinnipiac poll think supporting Israel is in the national interest of the United States — including 84% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats and 74% of independents. Only 20% of Americans said that America was “too supportive” of Israel — with the greatest degree of opposition (30%) centered among the youngest voters aged 18-34.

JTA has produced the following updates about how the war is affecting Jewish communities outside of North America:

Efforts On The Ground

Israelis of all stripes have come together to support soldiers and bolster morale in the country, many sharing inspiring tales. See this video of a reserve soldier and his message of “just do good.”

See this photo of a Druze woman who closed her Dalyat-el-Carmel restaurant (called “Nora’s Kitchen”) to volunteer to cook and serve food to reserve soldiers called up to serve on the front.

This wedding was scheduled for today but was postponed after the groom was drafted. His friends decided to surprise him and made arrangements for the bride to come to their camp near Gaza.

Jewish Federations

Jewish Federations of North America have raised an astonishing $388 million to support Israel in her hour of need, surpassing two thirds of the $500 million campaign announced just last week. Already, Jewish Federations have allocated over $50 million to 20 organizations providing emergency relief and support in Israel, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, World ORT, Israel Trauma Coalition, United Hatzalah, Magen David Adom, ZAKA, Barzilai Medical Center, and the Soroka Medical Center. These funds are being put to a slew of immediate and urgent needs, such as medical care, emergency services, evacuation, transport, housing, supporting victims of terror, trauma relief and psychological support, as well as preparing for medium- and long-term needs.

The announcement follows a gathering of major philanthropists and community leaders in Washington, DC, who also participated in the “Unity in Crisis” event Federations co-hosted alongside the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, AIPAC, AJC, the ADL, among others. See more here.

The Community Mobilization Center is monitoring major developments in Israel and North America related to Israel’s war to defend herself against Hamas, and will rapidly disseminate resources to help mobilize and support our local communities as they work to build and sustain civic and political support for Israel in this conflict. Read the latest communication from the Community Mobilization Center here.

On my way home. Hope to see many of you in the days ahead as we continue to rally for supporting Israel and to show love for its people.

Chief Executive Officer