At a funeral outside Jerusalem, hundreds of Israelis were listening to a eulogy when air raid sirens began to shrill. Rockets launched from Gaza exploded in the sky as they were intercepted by Israel’s defenses, others crashed into nearby communities. The mourners dropped to the ground and lay in silence, placing their hands over their heads to protect themselves from falling debris.
(Bloomberg) — At a funeral outside Jerusalem, hundreds of Israelis were listening to a eulogy when air raid sirens began to shrill. Rockets launched from Gaza exploded in the sky as they were intercepted by Israel’s defenses, others crashed into nearby communities. The mourners dropped to the ground and lay in silence, placing their hands over their heads to protect themselves from falling debris.
“It was completely surreal,” said Kelly Meyers, a 54-year-old mother of two mobilized soldiers. “This was just another level of cruelty.”
The 20-year-old soldier being buried in the rural town of Nes Harim, 2nd Lt Yanai Kaminka, was killed on Saturday as he battled Palestinian militants from Gaza who had poured into southern Israel by land, sea and air in a dawn raid after infiltrating a heavily fortified border. Rampaging through communities, military bases and a rave in the desert, the Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. They took dozens of others hostage, and dragged them back to Gaza.
The Nes Harim funeral is a scene being replayed across Israel, a country of close to 10 million people coming to terms with the most lethal attack it has suffered on a single day in its 75-year history. No one has been immune to the horror, shock and grief as more and more stories of families murdered in their beds and gunned down on the streets circulate on social media with graphic photos.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a crushing campaign against Hamas, which rules Gaza and is committed to Israel’s destruction. Israelis are now preparing for a protracted war that risks a wider conflagration with repercussions beyond the Middle East.
“We focus on destroying the “ISIS” of Gaza, and defending our citizens,’’ Defense Minister Yoav Gallant posted on X. Israel will “exact a price that will be remembered by them (Hamas) and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come,” Netanyahu said. Rhetoric has escalated from Hamas, too. It put out a statement saying it would “win this war or die trying.”
The implications are not lost on the civilians of Gaza, home to about 2 million people crushed into an impoverished narrow seaside strip of 365 square kilometers. With troops massing on the border, 300,000 Israelis called up to fight, and the army building a base near the border, they fear a ground offensive is imminent.
Already, missiles have rained down day and night since Saturday. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed as of Wednesday morning, according to health officials in Gaza, who didn’t say how many of them were civilians. And about 10% of the population is on the move, but with nowhere to go — border crossings are closed.
“You’d hear the sound in the distance, and then you’d feel it shaking the house,” said Aisha Abu Daqqa in the Gaza Strip, of the airstrikes. “For now, all we can do is wait and pray.”
Carrying a few clothes, identification papers and some cash, Abu Daqqa, her parents and six siblings left their home in Abassan, southeastern Gaza on Sunday, some traveling by car, others on foot or motorbike. They hadn’t planned to flee. But after 18 relatives were killed when their apartment building was struck by a missile and Israel warned civilians to evacuate, they traveled to Khan Younis, a city just a few miles west. There they made their way through rubble strewn streets to a friend’s house.
“Nowhere is safe,” Abu Daqqa said Tuesday, after a sleepless night. “The airstrikes and bombardments are horrifying. Is this the safe place Israel advised us to seek shelter in?”
Gazan hospitals are working beyond capacity to care for thousands of wounded people as the sole power plant runs out of diesel, usually supplied by Israel and paid for by Qatar. Medicines and medical supplies are on the verge of running out, according to the ministry of health. Israel cut water, electricity, fuel and supplies to the area with power available only 3-4 hours a day. Canned food quickly disappeared from stores as people rushed to stockpile supplies. The only beef slaughterhouse in the territory is closed. Vegetables, grown near the border, are in short supply.
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On the other side of the border, in Israel, civilians are also rushing to gather provisions, and supplies are running low. “We’re running out of everything,” said Roni Maman, 24, who’s been helping her father in his grocery store in Tsur Hadassah, outside Jerusalem. “People are simply grabbing food, especially that which is easy to make like macaroni and cheese. They are buying up insane amounts of water,” she said. “We feel the panic of people who aren’t ready.’’
Schools in Israel have been shut since Hamas launched its attack, on the Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Parents are afraid to report to the office. Gatherings of over 50 people have been banned in southern and central Israel but are not enforced at funerals. Entertainment and cultural venues are largely shut. Cafes are crowded with volunteers packing basic needs for soldiers on the front, and needy citizens.
The fear in Israel is for the hostages. Parents of young people who are missing after attending the rave are crowding on social media with pleas to get their children back. The family of Noa Argamani has shared footage of her being driven off on the back of a motorcycle, screaming ‘don’t kill me.’ The mother of Shani Louk, a German-Israeli tattoo artist, has begged Germany to help bring her home.
There are also concerns another front will open in the north, with the Iranian-backed and heavily-armed Hezbollah joining the fray. So far, there have only been a few incidents on the northern border, but enough for officials to evacuate some communities amid daily exchanges of fire and to keep national nerves on edge. Lebanese living in south Lebanon, the volatile region bordering Israel, also fled their homes as tensions ran high. Video footage showed hundreds of vehicles in heavy traffic along the narrow roads of border villages.
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A day after the solider was buried in Mata, a 21-year-old man who was killed at the rave party was laid to rest in the same cemetery.
Amalia Kav, 15, and her friends have been cleaning out bomb shelters in the area while men who previously served in combat units volunteer to carry arms and patrol the community’s outskirts.
“I feel the pressure growing among the adults,’’ Kav said, with her mother beside her. ‘’Most of us have siblings in the army and some of our parents are in the reserves. Some of us are alone at home taking care of younger brothers and sisters. I have never experienced anything like this.’’
From the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon to the 2014 war with Hamas that left 2,000 people dead, major conflagrations have been ignited by the killing or capture of small numbers of Israelis. This is the first time, however, that Israel has declared a full-scale war on the Gaza Strip, where Hamas government institutions as well as some military sites are located in populated areas in the densely-packed sliver of land.
More than 260,000 people are displaced across the territory as of Tuesday, and the numbers are increasing as Israeli airstrikes continue. Majda Muhareb, a 37-year-old mother of two in the central Gaza Strip said entire neighborhoods obliterated. Echoing Abu Daqqa, she added, “there is no safe place.’’
–With assistance from Dana Khraiche and Fadwa Hodali.
(Updates hostages in 15th paragraph. A previous version corrected the spelling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name.)
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