TEL AVIV—The rocket that hit the next street Saturday morning made a sound like nothing else. It seeped into the body from the feet, up the spine, and finally into the head, as I heard my daughter’s quiet, fearful whimpers.
It was a sound that drowned out the incessant Israeli-Palestinian chatter flooding the global media; drowned out the condemnations by Western celebrities; drowned out the struggle of the West on how to place us, Israeli Jews: whether we are descended from white colonialists or beige victims of persecution. For a moment, this sound even drowned out the desperate, horrific posts by Palestinian Facebook friends from the Gaza Strip, which will soon become a lot worse.
Hundreds of Gazan insurgents have broken through the Israeli perimeter fence and have taken over kibbutzim, towns and settlements murdering more than 200 civilians and kidnapping dozens more. A relative was snatched away from his fallen kibbutz. The husband of a member of my native kibbutz has been hiding in his home since morning, contact with him has been lost. There is street fighting in the town of Sderot, and soldiers are deliberating plans of attack on their own conquered bases.
This is the worst attack ever within Israeli borders. The IDF will resolve this war in the coming days or weeks using unprecedented, unimaginable power, but they responded slowly. Hours passed before the army got to the besieged villages and towns near the Gaza border. “I’m in the middle of a warzone with my 2-year-old daughter and my 6-month-old son,” one resident posted. “Houses are burning with the tenants still inside. A 70-billion-shekel army which is barely here. A strong, fully right-wing government which barely says anything. And here we are, locked inside the safety room with a bread knife we found in the kitchen.” On social media, which precedes Israeli media by a matter of hours, we see elderly women, some of them suffering from dementia, being taken into the Gaza Strip.
We don’t know yet exactly how this could have happened. The perimeter fence is equipped with a sensor and camera array. Any passing tractor getting too near puts the army on high alert. What happened to the sensors? Moreover, civilians near the border have been complaining for more than a month of large-scale Hamas drills taking place very near the fence. Did nobody else see it? Many Israelis, who over the tumultuous last year lost faith in their state institutions, are starting to spread conspiracy theories. Is this a ploy to boot the extremist factions out of the coalition and open the way for an alliance with the centrist opposition parties? Is this a way to get rid of Bibi Netanyahu? Or is the national emergency a cover for an authoritarian takeover? And what role do Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. play in this story?
Official Israel still isn’t discussing this massive humiliation, but the deep social divide tearing Israelis apart since the current, extremist coalition’s rise to power continues to rage on social media.
The group Brothers in Arms, which protests against Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reforms—labeled a coup by some critics—announced on Saturday morning that all members are going to war. “I was called up for reserve service,” one of them wrote in a post. “I’m going, knowing that there is no one in the leadership of this country I can trust. I’m going, despite being a ‘traitorous leftie’. Even though my mother will be dying of worry.”
At the same time, many anti-judicial reform protesters are calling to overthrow the coalition and put its members—many of whom did not serve in the army at all—on trial, blaming them for prioritizing the safety of West Bank settlers over the civilians in the south: only yesterday, a number of battalions were dispatched to protect a sukkah, a ritual hut, constructed by messianic members of Netanyahu’s coalition in the main street of the Palestinian village of Huwara.
According to the anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence, “as of September, 22 battalions were stationed in the West Bank, along with other units. 600-800 are routinely protecting about 800 settlers… if you were wondering where the Gaza Division was, reports indicate that parts of it were transferred to Huwara.” Leading journalist Ben Caspit reported that “as evidence mounts, it becomes clear that the Gaza Division was moved to the West Bank” and “The Strip was almost entirely abandoned.”
The IDF will storm Gaza with terrible force, but the ravages of the political crisis are already apparent.