I have lived in Israel since 1971. I was in a bomb shelter in 1973 when, during the break between the morning and afternoon prayers on Yom Kippur, a sound truck made the rounds of my haredi neighborhood announcing that we needed to enter the bomb shelter. I had a two-month-old son and a two-year-old daughter.
Was I frightened? Honestly, I don’t remember. The only thing that sticks in my mind was the fear that my baby would wake up and I’d forgotten to bring a bottle. As it was, he slept through it.
During the Yom Kippur War, there was never any immediate threat to Israeli civilians. Our army and our government—caught by surprise—still made a lightning-quick roundup of reservists to the front before the country could be overrun by the enemy. It was a war fought by soldiers against soldiers.
The October 7 atrocities were the opposite. Not a war fought by soldiers, but by terrorist scum and the civilian population of Gaza against unsuspecting Israeli civilians. Joyfully charging across a border created when Israel with great good will and total naivete completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005, they brought their machine guns, RPG’s and GoPro cameras to record every atrocity, their intent to murder Jews mercilessly, and indiscriminately, raping Jewish women and girls, murdering babies, pillaging and kidnapping hundreds of hostages; committing acts of such unimaginable barbarism it shocked the entire world.
We were completely unprepared. Completely. Not only for the invasion but for the aftermath. Families waited in vain for hours for the IDF to rescue them. Children hid in closets, terrified, or lying in the blood of their murdered mothers. Nurses waited in clinics, bandaging the injured, until they were shot. The terrorists and their helpers had nothing at all standing in their way to take their murder spree straight to the high rises of Tel Aviv. They had the manpower and, looking at the weaponry left behind, enough supplies to kill 10,000 people.
This is the first lesson this Jew learned: What stopped the enemy was not a $3 billion high-tech border fence, or our vaunted intelligence service, or our well-trained army. It was heroic individuals—off-duty IDF soldiers, police officers and civilians who, after being informed by phone calls from relatives or by the radio of what was happening in the South, took the initiative, strapped on their guns, got into their cars and, despite the dangers, set out to save the lives of their fellow Israelis. These heroes include the makeshift, poorly equipped home guard units that faced down hordes of terrorists, often preventing a single one from entering, as in Kibbutz Alumim. It includes the Bedouin who picked up festivalgoers in his truck under fire. The grandfather who shot his way to his son and grandchildren.
Lesson number two is this: You can’t make peace with someone who wants to kill you. Ignoring what Palestinians were telling us and showing us, thinking once again, as Jews thought about Mein Kampf, that the Hamas Charter was the delusions of madmen, hyperbolic rhetoric rather than a policy statement. That cost us 1,400 precious lives, and—almost—our country.
Lesson number three is this: A house divided against itself cannot stand. The divisiveness and bitter public discourse and years-long demonstrations were a cancer eating away at Israeli society from within. People had come to the point of screaming at each other in the street, hating each other on sight because of superficial signs in their appearance that linked them to one camp or another. We forgot where we came from, the lands of the pogroms and the expulsions; we forgot how to build our society shoulder to shoulder, wanting to exclude the “other” who did not agree with our lifestyle, our religious observances, our political perspectives. We forgot we were family.
We have been reminded of all these things in the most horrible and heartbreaking way possible. October 7 was the most difficult and poisonous chemotherapy, but it has removed the cancer that was destroying us from within.
Lesson number four is this: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. The people who hate Israel and want her destroyed have shown their cards all over the world in their demonstrations in support of the terror organization Hamas. We saw their swastikas, their signs saying “Hitler didn’t kill enough Jews,” “Gas the Jews.” This is the uprising of Nazism in a new form. And if anyone in the world doubts that Jews everywhere are in the line of fire of those who would destroy Israel, I sincerely hope this has taught them otherwise.
And finally, this, the last and perhaps most important lesson of all: The land of Israel, rebuilt, cherished and repopulated by Jews from all over the world fleeing persecution, expulsions from Arab lands, and seeking to live their most authentic lives in the land of their forefathers, is very, very fragile. And yet, it will never be destroyed.
Because we are not like other nations. While every one of our soldiers who fall in battle is a dagger to our hearts, we are willing to join the battle, to send our sons, our husbands, our fathers, our daughters, our mothers, brothers and sisters, grandsons and granddaughters to the front to fight a well-armed, bloodthirsty enemy because they threaten our lives and our homeland. Despite our differences, we share a love for the same things, things we love so deeply we are willing to sacrifice our very lives for them: our families, our fellow Israelis, our country, our God and the Jewish people.
We are surrounded by enemies, but also by friends. Many Israeli Arabs, like Yoseph Hadad, have been at the forefront of Israel’s media war, spreading the truth against Hamas disinformation. The civilized world—America, Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany—has come together to support us with arms, with influence, with words. They stand with us today in the breach between good and evil, barbarism and civilization. While the scourge of antisemitism has once again shown its ugly face, unlike in the past the idea of Never Again has found a secure footing in nations like Germany still awash with shame from their all-too-recent history. Germany has outlawed Hamas and taken a strong hand with its citizens who demonstrate their support for its genocidal philosophy.
As for the future, we will win this war and destroy our enemies. Of this I have no doubt. I and all of us in Israel look forward to a future where real, not fake, peace finally reigns, a peace without rocket barrages, terrorist attacks and hateful speech. But we understand now that agreements, concessions and the best of intentions are not always the way toward peace. The deep racial hatred of enemies like Hamas and its puppetmaster Iran have exploited Israel’s longing for peace, seeing every concession, every peace overture as a sign of weakness and an invitation to begin the next and final Holocaust.
Against such enemies, we must show unrelenting strength and military might. But to those Arab states who have shown us they share our values, and our view of the world as a place where civilized people can live side by side to prosper and raise their children, we must find a way to live together.
Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Zichron Yaakov, Israel.
Featured image: a charred building in Kibbutz Be’eri after the massacre. Photo credit: Tom Persico via Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA-3.0).