October 31, 2023
Sondra Oster Baras
It has been more than three weeks since that horrible Shabbat of Simchat Torah, the 7th of October. A date that has become seared in our brains and in our souls. A date that reminds us, day in and day out, of horrible tragedy, barbarous violence, inexcusable and savage torture and slaughter. It will become a national day of mourning for years to come. But for now, we are focused on each day, trying to make sense of it all, coping with everything this situation has thrown our way.
Every day I watch TV and every day I am reminded of the incomprehensible number of 1400 people slaughtered in one day and close to 250 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. We watch the testimonies of the survivors of the massacre. Parents massacred in front of their children, children massacred before the eyes of their parents and young siblings, babies taken hostage in Gaza as their parents are murdered. Their surviving grandparents, aunts or uncles ask themselves over and over— who is caring for the children? Are they alive? And they feel so helpless.
On Friday night, the IDF began the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. They are leveling huge areas in Gaza, discovering and destroying tunnels, Hamas headquarters, rocket launching pads, arms depots. Hundreds of Hamas terrorists and their weapons caches are in the basement of Shifa Hospital, using the patients and doctors as human shields. The terrorists are like ants—crawling everywhere, hiding underground. As the IDF eliminates some, there are always many more to take their place. Israel has set as its goal to eradicate Hamas but we all wonder if that is possible
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in Southern Israel. Many have no home to come back to. Even as their family and friends were slaughtered or kidnapped by Hamas, their homes were burned to the ground by the terrorists. They are temporarily housed in hotels. Small groups of adults gather in the lobbies: they share their experiences and try to give comfort and hope to one another. But the question that looms largest in their minds involves their future. Will they go back to their communities?
In 1946, under the leadership of Ben Gurion, 11 new communities were begun in the Negev in one night, as part of a long-term strategy to ensure the Negev remained part of the State of Israel. For more than 75 years, these communities made the desert bloom, often despite threats of terrorism just a few kilometers from their homes. But for the first time since the State of Israel was established, these communities have posed a clear ultimatum to the people of Israel: Us or Them. And the “us” in that statement does not just refer to the people who lived near Gaza. It refers to the entire nation of Israel.
The people of the Western Negev will not rebuild their communities unless they can be assured that Hamas no longer exists and that the IDF will ensure that no terrorists will ever take their place. But it is also a question of us or them on a grander scale — the State of Israel cannot exist if we tolerate the existence of terrorists on our borders — in Gaza, in Lebanon and Syria and in Judea and Samaria.
Our sons and daughters are fighting and protecting the nation all over Israel. As soon as the tanks started rolling into Gaza on Friday night, we knew that my nephew would be the commander of one of those tanks. My friend told me that her son is taking part in fighting against Hezbollah in the north. Everyone has children in the IDF. Everyone is doing their part. I have friends who are cooking for IDF soldiers stationed locally — enabling them to have a hot meal each day instead of combat rations.
Our mayor, has been traveling all over the country bringing goodie baskets to the sons and husbands of Karnei Shomron residents, wherever they are stationed. Last week, he took a batch of my brownies to my son in the north. Tomorrow he will take a batch of my brownies to my other son who is part of the IDF protection outfit in a community in Judea. Our soldiers are literally fighting for their families and their homes; sending them goodies reminds them how much we love and appreciate them.
I thank G-d each day that I do not live in the south of Israel and that I and my family did not suffer the horrors of that terrible day. But then I look around my own neighborhood and I realize that we could so easily be next. Azoun is an Arab village literally a few hundred yards from the last house of Karnei Shomron. And it is known to be a Hamas hotbed. For the past year, there has been a significant increase in terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria. While we recognized the danger this increase represented, we believed it was containable, that the Arab population surrounding us wanted to live in peace. We can no longer afford to believe that.
As we watched the people of Gaza cheering the terrorists, as we noted Arabs throughout Judea and Samaria, including the PA leadership, either applauding the terrorists or refusing to condemn them, as we watched pro-Palestinian demonstrations all over the world, we realized we are threatened on all sides. Since October 7th, the IDF has arrested some 1000 terrorists in Judea and Samaria, most but not all of them, affiliated with Hamas. What happened in the south, could happen here any minute.
I refuse to give in to fear. I have come to live in Judea and Samaria because I am convinced we are fulfilling G-d’s wishes, taking part in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. “Oh Mountains of Israel, shoot forth your branches for your children are soon to return” (Ezekiel 36:8). We have witnessed the trees growing and we have, indeed, come back home.
But we dare not be unprepared. As the IDF works day and night to eradicate terrorism from our midst, we are working around the clock to ensure that the communities of Judea and Samaria have the security equipment they need to stave off an attack until the IDF can arrive on the scene. Thanks to your generosity, we have already provided surveillance cameras, surveillance drones, communications equipment and protective gear. But the needs are still great. Please, whatever you can do to help will be so greatly appreciated. And as we end each conversation with one another these days, I say to you, with the help of G-d, together, we will prevail.