“They say that Jews are God’s chosen people, but if we really are God’s chosen people has God forsaken us? Why did he allow this terrible massacre that was perpetrated against us?”
This rhetorical question comes from Daniela Londner, a Maltese-Israeli who’s been living in Israel for 46 years, in a voice full of both sadness and anger.
Upon connecting with her on video call, I was surprised to find myself facing a person vastly different from the one I had met for the first time in Jerusalem in 2017. On that occasion, she recounted how she met her Israeli husband in Italy in 1975, they were married in a year’s time, and then moved together to the Israel in 1977. She’s now a grandmother of nine.
Six years ago Daniela struck me as a woman of quick wit and inner calm, with a knack for finding the humour in life. However, the brutal attack by Hamas on Israeli soil on the 7th October – when scores of armed Palestinians breached the border security fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel and indiscriminately gunned down, tortured, and kidnapped Israeli civilians and soldiers taken off guard – has changed her, as it has changed millions of other Israelis.
The terrible news about the massacre stirred traumatic memories of the Holocaust, which remain raw for many Jews and Israelis. “We are still processing the emotional and psychological toll of this ordeal, and it will take a long time to recover,” an anxious and defensive Daniela told The Journal from her home in Israel.
“I have to admit that I’m not the same person anymore. It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” she goes on. “I wake up in the morning, I look out of the window and it’s a beautiful day. Then, suddenly, the bad news starts rolling in and I think of all those killed in their beds, cots, houses; all those beautiful people gone.”
She explains her grief at learning, that very morning, that a body part of an acquaintance’s son, who served in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and who had been missing since Hamas’ assault on the 7th October, had been found: “He was a young soldier. They couldn’t trace him but finally they found his car and, not far from it, they found a piece of his head. They have confirmed it through DNA testing. How can human beings commit such atrocities on other human beings?”
What she sees as a silver lining in all of this, though, is the fact that Israeli society, that has been so bitterly politically divided as evidenced by the mass protests of the past months, has come together as one in solidarity. People have each other’s backs and are collecting food and other basic items for their soldiers on the front. All of Israel feels like one big family, Daniela notes, adding that recruiting 300,000 reservists within 24 hours is certainly no mean feat.
“Hamas must be wiped out”
Like the majority of Israelis, Daniela believes that what keeps fuelling this long-simmering violent conflict in the Middle East is the determination of militant groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah – backed by the Iranian authorities – not only to derail any effort by Israel for reconciliation and peace but also to totally eliminate the State of Israel: the country and its people.
Asked how she feels about grandmothers like her, but in Gaza, who have no real safe place to hide in and save themselves and their cherished ones’ skin as the Israeli air force strikes the Gaza Strip incessantly, she expresses empathy: “The situation is painful for them too, but unfortunately Israel is fighting an existential war with Hamas. We either wipe out Hamas or they wipe us out. So, my message to these nannas would be: ‘Run away from Hamas. They are not only our worst enemy but also your worst enemy. Through their terrorist acts, including the indoctrination of your young grandchildren in favour of jihad and terror and against Israel, they are leading you to destruction. Israel is helping you to get rid of Hamas, so that we can continue seeking a path to live together in peace and security but under very different terms.”
Like everyone else, Daniela is perfectly aware that military operations in densely populated urban environments like Gaza are incredibly difficult to conduct without many civilian casualties, but she is convinced that the Israeli military follows its obligations to never target civilians or civilian infrastructure willingly.
“Though Israel has a very strong military, the IDF prioritises the safety of civilians. Before launching military strikes, the army always issues early warnings to give people time to evacuate,” she remarks. “But how can our military be held responsible for civilian casualties if Hamas purposefully place their weapons, ammunition, and missiles in hospitals, schools, and houses? This is not a football match – this is war. It is the duty of every nation to protect its people. The IDF defends its people; Hamas should defend theirs. Not only does Hamas not care about the poor people of Gaza, but they actually devise ways to harm them by using them as human shields. Hamas even have their own, hidden, reserves of fuel, food, and other commodities while leaving their population in misery.”
“We can live together”
Asked how Jews and Palestinians can live together if they are not considered equals and both worthy of determining their own fate, she argues strongly that Israel does believe in equality, and that this is proven by the facts on the ground.
Just over 20 per cent of the citizens of Israel is Arab, she points out, and the Arabs have lived within the same borders with the rest of the population for decades: “Israel is beautifully composed of people of different faiths and backgrounds who come together to build a better future: Jews of different denominations, Muslims, Christians, Druze, and others. We’re neighbours, we’re friends. We live close to Nazareth, an Israeli town where the majority of inhabitant are, in fact, Arabs. They run Israeli State and private hospitals, banks, businesses, and a lot more. As citizens of this country, Arabs they have the same legal rights as Jews. They are free to vote in democratic elections, they are represented in the Knesset (Israel’s House of Representatives), and there are several Arab judges in the High Court.”
Challenged about the Arabs living in the Gaza Strip, which has been frequently described as an “open air prison” due to the severe movement and economic restrictions imposed by Israel, Daniela is quick to point out that Israel’s hand has been forced by Hamas. She recalls that, when Israel completely pulled out from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it faced internal criticism because many feared that, instead of focusing on improving the quality of life, well-being, and happiness of its people, the Palestinian administration would use Gaza as a breeding ground of terror against Israel.
“Those who were skeptical have been proven right,” she says. “Instead of building a thriving society, they opted to channel resources intended for civilians to feed their terrorist machine instead. They have squandered the huge amounts of money pouring into Gaza as humanitarian aid from the European Union and from Arab countries and used them to build terror tunnels and rockets instead. In the meantime, for years we’ve had to endure vicious terror attacks against innocent civilians with hundreds murdered, blown up in buses, in cafés, restaurants, and discos, barrages of rockets falling at random in the Israeli towns and kibbutz. Our government has never gone the whole way to deal with this situation. Now it’s time to get the job done and eliminate Hamas.”
What’s in store?
Daniela trusts that, once Hamas are completely out of the picture, the people of Gaza will have the opportunity to start focusing on building the better future they deserve. She looks back on how, decades ago, Jews focused on forging a prosperous nation out of a place that was, in her words, “sand and stones”. She points out that, in spite of having been under attack practically since its inception, the State of Israel has flourished and has become a role model for other countries, including Arab countries in the Middle East. She is convinced that the post-Hamas leadership of the Gaza Strip will have the potential to help usher in a new era of peace in the Middle East provided that it emulates the wisdom and foresight of the Israeli nation’s founders.
However, to arrive there, Israel now needs to soldier on and “finish the job”, she asserts. Maintaining that no one but Israel has the right to decide on how to safeguard its very own existence, she denounces “unfair” international calls which, she feels, are underpinned by hatred against Jews, anti-semitism, and anti-Israeli bias and misjudgement.
Daniela’s message to the world is loud and clear: “Don’t stop us now.”
Main photo credit: Shir Torem / Reuters