Destruction and terror after the October 7 Hamas attack

Last week I returned from a three day trip to Israel with Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Foreign affairs are not the purview of state lawmakers, but it was an opportunity to bear witness to the horrors of the October 7 Hamas terror attack and to try to make sense of the subsequent invasion of Gaza that killed thousands, half of them children.

Much of what we have seen defies rational explanation. On Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the border with Gaza, the Israeli government led residents to believe they were safe. Hamas was free to run its own affairs in Gaza with little disruption, and thousands of Palestinians were granted work permits in Israel.

Friendship cultivated across borders. A woman from a town near Gaza, Netiv Ha’Asarshe described how she and her husband regularly accompanied a young Palestinian boy for cancer treatment in Tel Aviv (he has no access to therapy, he has since died).

In the months leading up to the attack, kibbutz members grew suspicious of growing military activity across the border. Hamas openly engaged in exercises that Israelis could observe only hundreds of feet from their homes. Shootings and explosions became more common, but local police dismissed their concerns. But what was Hamas training for if not to attack?

We were told that these Israelis were used to incoming rockets from Gaza because they usually had time to take cover in their safe rooms. Additionally, the sophisticated Iron Dome anti-missile system protected them from threats from the sky with an astounding 90% success rate. The great tragedy is that no one anticipated a ground invasion.

Soldiers at a nearby base were still sleeping when Hamas struck. Security gates were easily breached, exposing entire communities to terrorists who were allegedly provided with maps to help guide their murderous intentions. The safe rooms for the most part did not have locks or secure windows, allowing the terrorists to indiscriminately slaughter their Jewish victims with little resistance.

Whatever notions there were of peaceful coexistence were shattered at dawn on October 7. Its consequences are difficult to describe precisely here. From a distance, the collapsed roofs and broken windows looked as if a tornado had hit the village. Up close, we saw much more intimate and terrifying evidence: bloody handprints on the walls, burned rooms, bullet holes and charred guts, personal belongings strewn about. The acrid smell of smoke and death itself permeated the compound. This is what a pogrom looks like.

There was some reason for hope elsewhere. In Tel Aviv we meet with Brothers and sisters for Israel, a group led by tech entrepreneurs that formed a year ago to lead a grassroots movement against the right-wing takeover of Israel’s judiciary. As of October 7, Brothers and Sisters has transitioned from a progressive protest group to providing humanitarian aid across the country (their charitable status is contested by some right-wing parties).

The 130,000 residents near Gaza who have been relocated to hotels scattered across the country – reminiscent of the plight of migrants here at home – intend to return and rebuild. “I will not allow my home to become a memorial,” said one of them. A brave Palestinian journalist said most Palestinians want to break the grip of Hamas but fear retaliation and believe Israel’s relentless bombing campaign is only strengthening the terrorists’ grip.

The Israelis we met near Gaza were sharply critical of the government and its formerly vaunted military. “Paper tiger,” one woman told me. “We live only a mile from a military base,” said another, “but we had to wait hours for help while our community was being butchered alive.”

They are furious that Netanyahu’s government has abandoned its security concerns in favor of right-wing settlers in the West Bank. Many marched in their thousands (including members of my own family) in support of an agreement to end the bombing in exchange for the release of the hostages. Prisoner releases began yesterday, largely thanks to the efforts of the Biden administration.

Almost everyone we met in Israel is worried about what will happen next. Will this cessation of bombing and the return of the first group of hostages allow the terrorists to regroup and strike again, as Hamas has promised? A two-state solution must be pursued, but will Hamas be replaced by another terrorist government intent on destroying Israel? Netanyahu’s government must go, but how soon can that happen during the war?

These questions are well beyond my legislative role as a state senator, but I have an obligation to demand answers that will help lead to peace.

Hoylman-Sigal represents the West Side of Manhattan in the state Senate.

Leave a Comment