November 1, 2023

Israel at War

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

Yesterday our Jewish Federation sent a letter to the superintendents of Essex, Morris, Sussex, Union and Somerset County schools demanding a stronger response to action of antisemitism by students or faculty. You can see the letter here. Please share this letter with parents, students, and other community members who believe in the urgent need to respond to online and real-world hate.

I’m at Ben Gurion airport now, waiting for our flight back home with Greater MetroWest clergy. It’s been a long and hard day. We saw a lot of pain and a lot of beauty. We held hands with evacuees from Sderot, injured soldiers and civilians from the atrocities of October 7th, and met with the mother and brother of Ron Sherman, kidnapped on October 7th. We promised them that we wouldn’t forget him, would continue to make our voices heard on the plight of the hostages, and would continue to demand Red Cross access and hostage release.

What we heard clearly from everyone with whom we spoke that a ceasefire now would only allow Hamas to regroup, rearm, and  massacre again. It’s an absolute disgrace that while people-who-should-know-better are pushing for a ceasefire, there are still over 240 hostages held by the terrorists, including thirty children. And once again, as we sat with partners and friends we learned about the shameful and unforgivable role that Gaza civilians took in the looting, kidnapping, and massacres.

There is much for us to do. More than three weeks into Israel’s War with Hamas, 13 Israeli soldiers were confirmed killed in heavy fighting in Gaza.

Israel Defence Forces Operations
The ground operation into Gaza appears to have expanded considerably, with heavy clashes against Hamas reported. Thirteen Israeli soldiers have been confirmed dead. Commenting on the heavy losses, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We are in a difficult war. It will be a long war. We have important achievements in it, but also painful losses. We know that each of our soldiers is a whole world. The entire nation of Israel embraces you, the families, from the bottom of our hearts. We are all with you in your time of great sorrow. Our soldiers fell in an unjust war—the war for our home. I promise you, citizens of Israel: We will complete the job. We will continue until victory.”

Among the IDF soldiers killed in Gaza yesterday, eight from the Givati Infantry Brigade were in a single APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). One of them, Second Lieutenant Pedayah Marc, lost his father in a terror attack on their family car seven years ago. Pedayah, 13 years old at the time, was injured along with his mother. His uncle was among those murdered in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7. See photos and details of some of the fallen here.

Overnight, ground forces directed the Air Force to strike a building in Jabaliya where a number of Hamas operatives were gathered. The IDF says the multi-story building was “located near a school, medical center, and government offices.”

Another operation involved airstrikes and ground forces taking control of a compound that the IDF said was used by Hamas’s Central Jabaliya Battalion (see graphic here). Several buildings in the area were destroyed, and the IDF said they were brought down when Hamas terror tunnels beneath them collapsed following airstrikes targeting the head of the battalion and terror infrastructure. Some 50 terrorists were reported killed during the mission. See video here and photos here. And watch the IDF Chief of Staff Hertzl Halevi at a command center here.

Among those Hamas members killed was the terrorist Ibrahim Biari. Since the entry of IDF soldiers into the Gaza Strip, Biari has been in charge of all fighting in the northern Gaza Strip. He was also involved in sending terrorists to the attack at the Ashdod port in 2004, in which 13 Israelis were murdered, and was responsible for directing rocket fire at Israel for two decades.

According to the IDF, since the beginning of the war, some 11,000 sites belonging to Hamas and other terror groups have been hit.

Read this piece for background on Israel’s ground invasion, and listen here to the radio message by the Head of IDF Southern Command to soldiers about to enter Gaza.

The IDF has significantly bolstered the Red Sea area with Navy missile boats, following several missile and drone attacks by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. See photos here and video here. The military says it has several layers of air defenses in the area to protect against Houthi attacks. The US military is also deployed in the Red Sea region and intercepted a number of missiles and drones heading for Israel from Yemen two weeks ago.

The Houthi strikes from Yemen, located more than 1,000 miles from Israel, included an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), two cruise missiles, and a ballistic surface-to-surface missile. The cruise missiles, flying more or less at the speed of a jet plane, are relatively easy to intercept given the lengthy flight time. The UAV, slower than a cruise missile, is similarly easy to detect and stop. However, the ballistic missiles supplied to the Houthis by Iran are a far more significant challenge. Yesterday, the ballistic missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow, a long-range missile designed to intercept ballistic missiles when their trajectory takes them outside the earth’s atmosphere. It is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles and detonate them far enough from the earth so as not to cause any damage should they be carrying chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads. It is not known whether the Arrow intercepted the Houthi missile inside or outside the atmosphere. This was the first operational use of the Arrow, which was jointly developed by Israel and the United States. Read more about the Houthi threat here.

Israel’s National Security Advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi, clarified Israel’s goals in the war yesterday. In his remarks, he said, “The operational goal that was defined for the IDF is unequivocal: to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad so that there will no longer be a threat to the citizens of Israel from the Gaza Strip… All of the terms of the past are gone and have dissipated. There are no more ’rounds’, ‘operations’, or other amorphous terms such as’strengthening deterrence’, ‘exacting a price’, or ‘etching in their consciousness’. The massacre of October 7th dissolved the illusion that we are facing an enemy that would not dare to risk its own absolute destruction.”

The Home Front
The government has released more information about the tragic aftermath of the October 7 massacres. It was announced that:

  • 20 children (aged less than 18) lost both of their parents.
  • A further 18 young people aged 18–25 lost both parents.
  • 96 children lost one parent.
  • Kibbutz Nir-Oz was one of the communities that were devastated on October 7. Of the 400 residents, 25 were killed and 75 were taken hostage. All but six houses in the Kibbutz were burned down or demolished by the terrorists. Despite the devastation, the Kibbutz treasurer sent a letter yesterday to all the suppliers the Kibbutz had worked with, apologizing that the Kibbutz’ computers burned down and all their files were gone, and asking suppliers to send him copies of the invoices they had sent over the last two months so that the Kibbutz can ensure that suppliers are paid as soon as possible.

The level of rocket fire from Gaza remains low compared to the early days of the war, but there has been a barrage against Tel Aviv and the center every day. Many have noted that, for reasons unknown, many rockets are fired “on the hour.”

In the north, Hezbollah continues to attack along the Lebanese border area, including mortar shells toward Rosh Hanikra, rockets near Moshav Elkosh, and three anti-tank missiles fired towards Biranit. No injuries were reported. Late in the afternoon, there were shots fired at army positions on the border, and two mortars launched from Lebanon landed in open areas near Tel-Hai College. The IDF is continuously retaliating.

International Response
International ResponseFor the first time since October 7, Egypt is allowing some people to leave Gaza. Those holding foreign passports, as well as a number of severely wounded, are being granted permission to cross the Gaza border into Egypt starting today.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Jack Lew to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, despite opposition to President Joe Biden’s nominee by Republican senators over Lew’s defense of the Obama-era Iran nuclear agreement. Lew served as Treasury Secretary under President Obama. The United States has been without a confirmed ambassador for Israel since the summer, when Thomas Nides departed the role. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he will return to Israel this Friday, his second visit since fighting began.

According to The New York TimesU.S. commandos are in Israel to help with efforts to locate hostages held in Gaza. The report quotes Assistant Secretary of Defense Christopher P. Maier, telling a Washington conference: “We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things.” He says the main task is to assist in the work to “identify hostages, including American hostages. It’s really our responsibility to do so.” The Times claims that several dozen US Special Operations forces have been sent, in addition to a team that was already in Israel for training. The report also says that several Western countries have secretly moved special forces closer to Israel to help with the potential rescue of hostages or for large-scale evacuations from Israel or Lebanon if the fighting widens.

Nearly 2,500 Holocaust survivors and their descendants sent President Joe Biden a letter thanking him for supporting Israel following the terrorist massacre Hamas carried out on October 7th. Read more.

Despite many in the Muslim world taking an anti-Israel stance in the current war, Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs Committee of the United Arab Emirates Federal National Council, said that the Abraham Accords, which brought normalization of relations between Israel and his country, were not at risk. “This is the third war in Gaza. Whenever there is something happening in Gaza, people come to us and ask, ‘What do you think of the Abraham Accords. Are you going to change?’ (But) the Accords are our future. It is not an agreement between two governments, but a platform that we believe should transform the region, where everyone will enjoy security, stability, and prosperity.” And see this post.

The Israel Foreign Affairs Ministry presented extremely graphic video footage of the atrocities done by Hamas on October 7 to approximately 70 ambassadors on Tuesday. The images have not been shared publicly but have been screened for journalists and others.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu held a series of conversations with world leaders yesterday, including Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Prime Minister Netanyahu updated the leaders on the war and thanked them for their unreserved support for the State of Israel. The Prime Minister said that “Israel’s war against Hamas-ISIS is also the war of the entire enlightened world.”

Read here some background on European views of the Gaza War.

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 what these volunteers have accomplished.

See this video of one rabbi’s initiative to help soldiers with their laundry. The rabbi built a truck with multiple washing machines and dryers connected to water and a generator. He is able to turn up to the fields at the front and give the reservists the chance to wash their uniforms and more. much-needed, and appreciated service for the troops.

In a seemingly illogical twist, many Israeli news broadcasts are advising people to take a break from watching them, in order to help with their mental health. Watch here.

Read this article on how Israelis are being uncharacteristically polite and kind.

Watch this video compilation of fighting women soldiers, featuring some who have undertaken heroic missions in the past few weeks.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

  • 10,500 students in 65 vocational schools are benefitting from JDC’s online portal for vocational schools. The portal offers teachers educational guidelines for emergency situations and lesson plans and activities to strengthen the teachers’ and students’ emotional health. The materials are designed for both remote and in-person engagement and are available in Hebrew and Arabic.
  • JDC is developing a network of community caseworkers in 47 local authorities in the north (11) and south (36) of Israel – home to 150,000 needy elderly and vulnerable people with disabilities. The community caseworkers work closely with local social service departments to locate the elderly and people with disabilities without a support network, provide immediate emotional support, and connect them to community-based services and assistance. The first 15 community caseworkers were recently deployed in 13 local authorities in the south of Israel.
  • JDC is working with municipal professionals in the southern cities of Ashkelon, Ofakim and Rahat to assist in the rehabilitation of those cities’ infrastructure and services, promoting both immediate and long-term responses to the crisis. The combined population of the three cities is 260,000 – a high percentage of whom are vulnerable and poor citizens, with most residents not evacuated from their homes and enduring daily rocket attacks and ongoing trauma.
  • The city of Eilat received the highest number of evacuees – its population doubling from 60,000 to 120,000 within days. Eilat has faced significant challenges related to well-being, education, and youth services for its existing and new populations. JDC is working with local authorities to identify areas where it can facilitate government support and provide assistance to strengthen its welfare and social services.
  • JDC is working with nine Bedouin communities in the south, home to 120,000 Bedouin, to help them access emergency related government and public funding. Many Arab municipalities are unfamiliar with, and inexperienced in, the process of applying for public funding, and rely on JDC to help them navigate the bureaucracy and access the funding allocated to their region and population in a timely manner.

Jewish Federations
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. From home.

Chief Executive Officer