Bearing Witness in Israel 100 Days After Oct. 7

Mitch Gold
Mitch Gold (Courtesy of Mitch Gold)

By Mitch Gold

We came to bear witness and to provide support. Both objectives were accomplished.

Dread, apprehension, fear. These words describe an outsider’s view of Israel 100 days after the massacre on Oct. 7. But we had to go. Too much personal history, too many connections, too many friends, too much concern.

Given my long-term relationship with the organization, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was perfect for me to go on a mission to Israel with. Leslee, my better half, went with the Jewish National Fund. Both missions were short, three days, and intense, with 15-hour days.

While the FIDF mission included tours of the navy’s most advanced missile boat and elsewhere we were privileged to stand adjacent to the runway as two F-16s took to the sky, most heartwrenching and meaningful were walking the charred grounds of the Nahal Oz military base and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, both an easy stroll across an open field to the border with Gaza.

Nahal Oz is where Hamas butchers threw a firebomb into a small operations center filled with TV monitors, computers, communications equipment and more than 20 young female soldiers. The interior, walls, ceiling and floor are now charred black. A half-dozen steps away was the base synagogue. An Arab Israel Defense Forces soldier died there defending the women soldiers.

The scene in Kfar Aza, a typical lush green kibbutz that was once filled with peaceniks, progressive Israelis interested in making peace with the Gazans, was similar. Their modest single-story residences facing one another with a common courtyard, were scarred by scorched walls, broken windows and doors, shrapnel scars and bullet holes. Five stray dogs ran in a pack, fearful of the humans now in their territory. Looking through one door, I could see the sky; the roof had been blown off.

Returning to Tel Aviv, we detoured off Route 25, the usual route, because military equipment damaged it beyond usage. We stopped at a nearby gas station/convenience store. Nearly all the patrons were of military age, some with long hair, beards, tattoos, some in uniform, most not, drinking coffee or eating lunch and most packing machine guns. I felt safe.

The mission included some very special speakers. One was an articulate tech entrepreneur and former government minister with four sons. His youngest son, an IDF sergeant, was killed on Oct. 7 defending a kibbutz and saving hundreds of lives. Another was an American-born psychologist who worked with returning hostages and is optimistic that many more hostages will return safely.

We also heard from an IDF officer who notifies the families of fallen soldiers. They call it “the three knocks” at the front door, door knocks that no parent, wife, husband, child, family member or friend wants to hear. They always travel in teams with one member out of uniform, to make sure that they are at the right residence. What a tough job, I had to hug her.

On the final day we went to the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Office to view the Oct. 7 video shown to foreign government officials and journalists. The compilation included video from home monitors, dash cams, GoPros and cell phones. I had heard about this video and swore to myself that I would never watch it. But there I was and succumbed to my better instincts.

It was a heartbreaking 45 minutes. I kept glancing at the digital clock on the wall nearby to check how much time remained.

In one segment, a father and two boys, around 10 and 12, shoe-less, dressed only in shorts, run about the kitchen trying to figure out where to hide. They run to the doorless bomb shelter. Moments later a terrorist throws a hand grenade into the shelter. The father falls forward, mortally wounded, and the two boys run back to their house past several terrorists. Later we see the boys back in the kitchen, blood on their hands, faces and legs crying out for their mother. Miraculously, both boys survived, although the younger one lost an eye.

Another segment included scenes inside Gaza with hundreds of young men acting like paparazzis, cell phones in hand, videoing others beat and kick a poor soul in the back of a pick-up truck. Or a bunch of terrorists using a shovel to decapitate a dead soldier. Or the scene of a friendly looking dog being shot dead for no reason.

Of course, we had to stop at Hostage Square in front of the Tel Aviv art museum. The long dinner table with empty chairs, the mock Hamas tunnel, the digital clock displaying 100 days of captivity as the seconds multiply, a lone piano player, lots of posters and many people in disbelief.

The Israelis are a resilient group. Traffic jams are back on the Ayalon highway, Tel Aviv’s main artery. The restaurants on Dizengoff are open. An IDF officer told me that getting life back to normal is an important objective.

Yet, many of the small shops are hurting for customers, hotels are empty and the Tel Aviv promenade was quiet. As one would expect, tourism is way down and the tech sector, with so many in the army, is feeling the pain. Agriculture is desperate for workers, and building construction has slowed considerably.

Israelis are especially appreciative of non-Israelis coming to the land since Oct. 7. When the world hates you, friends are especially welcomed. After conversing with a cabbie in my very broken Hebrew, he kissed my forehead when he dropped me at my destination, thanking me for just being there.

We met a major from the Nahal brigade serving on the Lebanese border in the hotel lobby, in uniform, machine gun slung over his shoulder. A father of three, he stayed at our home a couple nights about 10 years ago during his mission to reach out to America on behalf of FIDF. It was great to see him. Was he working hard? I could tell by his fingernails. They were caked full of mud. He looked tired but determined. Whatever it takes.

Leaving after a very abbreviated trip, one could not help but notice that the usually teeming departure check-in hall at Ben Gurion Airport was empty, a stark reminder of the most current “situation.”

Israel’s enemies deny the massacre of Oct. 7 while at the same time glorifying the atrocities. In that horrid video, a terrorist, on a phone call to his family, gleefully extolls that he “killed 10 Jews with his bare hands.” His mother praises her son as a hero.

Against this we must bear witness and provide support.

Mitch Gold is a founding member of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Baltimore and a member of the FIDF National Board.

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