This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

On the morn­ing of Sat­ur­day, Octo­ber 7, 2023, my moth­er called. This is ordi­nary; she calls every Sat­ur­day to see if she and my father can come over to see their grandchildren.

Only this time she told me out­right that of course they would not be com­ing. When I asked her why, she was sur­prised. Haven’t you been watch­ing the news?” she asked. There’s a war on.”

In the next few hours, the pic­ture of the cat­a­stro­phe began to take shape. A horde of Hamas ter­ror­ists had breached the bor­der fence with Gaza, invad­ed near­by towns and kib­butz­im, slaugh­ter­ing near­ly every­one in their path and abduct­ing oth­ers to Gaza.

The Israeli Defense Forces were caught com­plete­ly by sur­prise. The cit­i­zens of Israel had to fend for them­selves. Some tried to escape and were gunned down. Oth­ers hid in safe rooms in their homes, made urgent calls for help, whis­per­ing into their phones in hopes that the ter­ror­ists would not hear them. Those safe rooms had been made to with­stand rock­et fire; they were not meant to keep out the wolf at the door.

The Hamas invaders were indis­crim­i­nate in their killing. Men, women, and chil­dren — all viewed by Hamas as fit for mur­der because of their Judaism — were put to death. The ter­ror­ists walked from house to house, ready to kill or abduct. Some­times entire fam­i­lies were slaugh­tered. Some­times, par­ents were killed in front of their chil­dren, who were then kid­napped; some­times, it was the oth­er way around.

And there was the music fes­ti­val near kib­butz Re’im. Thou­sands of peo­ple arrived to dance and have fun.

And then the ter­ror­ists came.

Videos of the onslaught show unarmed Jews flee­ing for their lives as Hamas gun­men fire into the crowd. Some man­aged to escape. Oth­ers hid for hours in bush­es. And some played dead and were spared. 

But many were dead for real. Over 250 peo­ple were mur­dered. A reporter who spoke to first respon­ders and those hardy souls who came lat­er to remove the bod­ies relayed their impres­sions: This was not a war. This was a scene rem­i­nis­cent of Babi Yar, of the SS death squads of World War II. And the scenes of wan­ton slaugh­ter in the kib­butz­im brought to mind the old pogroms of East­ern Europe.

These were scenes that should not have been repeat­ed in Israel. But they were. And the ter­ror they instilled was of an ancient Jew­ish fear that reach­es back gen­er­a­tions and across con­ti­nents. That of the defense­less Jew, at the mer­cy of his ene­mies. In that respect, Hamas had scored a victory.

Hamas took joy in their slaugh­ter. They sought to com­mem­o­rate it. To cap­ture it for all eter­ni­ty. Videos of muti­lat­ed bod­ies, of hor­ri­fied hostages being dragged into Gaza, and of abuse heaped upon the cap­tured in vio­la­tion of all the rules of war and human­i­ty began fly­ing across the inter­net. Reports and footage sug­gest this abuse includ­ed the rape of female captives.

The killing did not spare non-Jew­ish cit­i­zens of Israel. Some died from rock­ets fired from Gaza; oth­ers were mur­dered by Hamas ter­ror­ists, like­ly because they believed them to be Jewish.

But there were also scenes of brav­ery and inge­nu­ity. There was Ret. Gen­er­al Yair Golan, for­mer Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF. Golan, six­ty-one years old, put on uni­form and went into the ter­ror­ist-infest­ed area near the bor­der, evac­u­at­ing those who man­aged to remain hidden. 

There was Inbal Rabin-Lieber­man, who serves as Head of Secu­ri­ty for kib­butz Nir Am, where she lives. Rabin-Lieber­man under­stood imme­di­ate­ly the nature of the dan­ger hurtling toward her kib­butz. She hasti­ly put into action a plan of defense, arrang­ing her secu­ri­ty team — made up of civil­ian res­i­dents of Nir Am — into their posi­tions at the fence of the kib­butz. When the ter­ror­ists came, the secu­ri­ty team was ready. They killed twen­ty-five attack­ers, and Nir Am was spared.

And there was Rachel Edri in Ofakim, a city in the south of Israel. Five ter­ror­ists had invad­ed her home, tak­ing her and her hus­band hostage. Edri man­aged to calm the ter­ror­ists by offer­ing them cof­fee and cook­ies, and even ban­dag­ing one of them. She man­aged to keep her hus­band and her­self alive for hours until police­men res­cued them, killing the terrorists.

As the hours and days passed, Israeli troops con­verged on the belea­guered towns and kib­butz­im, fight­ing at close range against the ter­ror­ists, slow­ly regain­ing lost ground and dis­cov­er­ing more lost lives. And the Israeli Air Force began bom­bard­ing Gaza, prob­a­bly in prepa­ra­tion of a wide-scale ground assault. 

Israel is fight­ing back, but the pic­ture is grim. Over one thou­sand Israelis are dead. Thou­sands more are wound­ed. Over one hun­dred are held hostage in Gaza, their con­di­tion unknown. And there is fear that the vio­lence will spread to oth­er fronts. Yes­ter­day, a num­ber of ter­ror­ists infil­trat­ed Israel from Lebanon. They were stopped, but it’s an omi­nous sign of what may come. In Lebanon, Hezbol­lah is wait­ing in the wings, weigh­ing its options. If it joins the fight, this war will be many times as bloody — for Israelis and their neigh­bors alike. This seems to be why Pres­i­dent Biden has decid­ed to send US Navy ships close to Israel, in an attempt to deter Hezbol­lah and oth­ers from ini­ti­at­ing fur­ther attacks.

Israel changed on Octo­ber 7. It will not be the same hence­forth. The nature of this change is yet unclear. For now, the war is still wag­ing. It is nowhere near over. Israelis expect a deci­sive vic­to­ry. They will not be sat­is­fied with any­thing less. After the Holo­caust, Jews world­wide have made a solemn oath — Nev­er Again. Now it’s time for the Jew­ish state to show that these are not emp­ty words.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Jonathan Dun­sky is the author of the Adam Lapid his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies series and the stand­alone thriller The Pay­back Girl. Before turn­ing to writ­ing, Jonathan served for four years in the Israeli Defense Forces and worked in the high-tech and Inter­net indus­tries. He resides in Israel with his wife and two sons.