But the much larger issue is the ongoing threat to Israel from Hamas. It has been an Israeli war aim to end Hamas' reign over Gaza (and, specifically, its ability to launch attacks against Israel). In my view, Israel will either need to reach that goal or accept a Hamas surrender of some sort. It seems very unlikely that Israel will agree to a cease fire that would simply allow Hamas to launch the same type of attacks weeks, months or years from now.
The third issue is that steps will need to be taken to ensure that Hezbollah stops attacking Israel from the north. If there is a negotiated agreement that moves Hezbollah back from the border as per the existing U.N. resolution, an all out war with Hezbollah / Lebanon may be averted. But if Hezbollah remains on the border, that may be the next all-out war that Israel is forced to fight.
Tonight is the second day of the temporary cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, negotiated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt. According to the deal, Hamas is supposed to provide a list of 10-15 hostages to be released by 10 p.m. each day. Israel then provides a list of 3 convicted prisoners for each hostage to be released. In addition, Israel has apparently agreed to allow 200 trucks of aid and fuel into Gaza and to one full day of a "pause" in fighting. The hostages are supposed to be released by 4 p.m. each day.
Yesterday, the first day, Hamas delayed release of the hostages by approximately 2 hours. Today, Hamas announced that the deal would be delayed "indefinitely." Qatar, Egypt, Israel and Hamas were involved in urgent talks with Israel apparently telling Hamas that if the deal was not honoured by midnight, Israel would end the pause and restart attacks. Eventually, Hamas gave in by about 1030 p.m. As I am writing this, today's hostages have been released, 13 Israelis including 8 children, one of them - a three year old. Three children from one family were released - but the mother was killed on October 7th and the father is still being held hostage by Hamas. Apparently, 14 were on the list to be released but one was inexplicably not released - the mother of some of the released hostages.
Note that more than 30 of the hostages being held by Hamas are young kids, including babies. Many of them lost one or both of their parents in the October 7th massacre. Israel is trading convicted criminals for these hostages. The Israeli held prisoners are not "political prisoners." They are convicted terrorists who have carried out attacks or attempted attacks against Israeli civilians, police or army forces and are being held in Israeli jails.
A clip has been circulating from Sky News where the interviewer suggested that Israel valued Palestinian lives at a "lower value" than Israeli lives - since it was trading one Israeli hostage for 3 terrorists. The logic is shocking. Obviously, Israel would be happy to trade one Palestinian criminal for all of the Israeli hostages that Hamas is holding. Interestingly, Hamas was insisting on 1000 prisoners for each hostage early on - then several hundred as the war went on. Only because of the ground invasion of Gaza, the number has gone down to 3 criminals for one hostage. Here is the clip in case you are interested.
The hostage deal is causing a great deal of debate in Israel. Many political and military personnel are concerned that the deal will endanger Israeli soldiers in the long run and will give Hamas time to rearm, restock and regroup for the upcoming battles in Khan Yunis, Jabaliya and other areas of Gaza. There is also concern that these types of deals give Hamas further incentive to try and kidnap other Israelis. Weighed against that, it is a primary value for the State of Israel to try and return any and all captives, including civilians and soldiers. The Israeli government had a heated debate over this issue. Ultimately, only the "National Zionist Party" - led by Itamar Ben Gvir opposed the deal. The deal was supported overwhelmingly by the current Israeli government.
The war has been going on for more than 50 days since Hamas declared war on Israel on October 7th and massacred more than 1200 Israelis. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists were called up to the army (including several of our family and extended family members). Israelis of all ages, men and women, reported to bases across the country, and were stationed in and around Gaza, in the north near Lebanon or Syria, in the east, in or around the West Bank or near Jordan. Some were sent to the south to protect Eilat. We have one friend who is 51 years old who insisted on reporting for duty - even after being rejected initially.
I saw a program here discussing the large number of Israelis who made immediate arrangements on October 7, 8 or 9th to fly to Israel from Canada - from Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary - and to report to duty. These were people who have been living in Canada for anywhere from 1 to 15 years but felt the obligation to report. When the Israeli military issued calls for reserve soldiers to report to duty - the response rate was more than 130% - which means that a very large number of reservists reported to duty who had not even been called up yet.
Israelis who are not in the army have been volunteering in so many different ways. Many are volunteering for an organization called "Sar-El" which determines where volunteers are needed and sends them to different places. Some might be helping to pack or sort equipment or pack meals for army bases. Others have gone to farms to help farmers pick fruit and vegetables. Others are finding ways to help the displaced families - bringing food, entertaining kids, fundraising or in other ways.
A few women in Ra'anana decided to start baking personal challahs for soldiers to deliver them on Fridays before Shabbat. At first, there were 3 or 4 women - and they made between 150 and 200 challahs. This week, we helped to collect and deliver some of the challahs to the "central" location in Ra'anana for distribution. For this week, they had a much larger list of women helping out and distributed more than 1500 challahs to soldiers in the field. One of our family members was quite happy to receive one - along with other members of the unit. They used them in conducting a Kabbalat Shabbat service with kiddush and challah - in Gaza yesterday. They hope to be up to 3,000 challahs delivered by next Friday.
I watched an amazing and incredibly moving clip on the Israeli show "Zehu Zeh" this week. Singer Idan Raichel appeared on the show. He brought a guest. The guest was a teenage survivor of the massacre from Kibbutz Be'eri. This brave boy had lost several family members. He is a percussionist. He wrote to Raichel and asked him if he could accompany him to visit and sing for soldiers around the country. Raichel met with him and quickly agreed. And then brought him to perform on TV. Raichel could not keep from crying when introducing him.
As you might know, Air Canada is not currently flying to Israel and El Al stopped flying direct more than a year ago (or so). So travelling back and forth has been a bit tricky.
If you are thinking of going to Israel (or flying from Israel to North America), the easiest thing to do is to take El Al with a transfer (from Canada) on American, Delta or Porter. These flights can be booked through El Al and baggage can be sent through seamlessly. They might be a bit costly - but I guess convenience can be expensive.
Since I am trying to maximize my Air Canada Aeroplan miles - I decided do something a bit more circuitous. On the way to Toronto (for an in-person hearing that I had to attend), I flew El Al to Rome and then Air Canada from Rome to Toronto. This was a bit cumbersome but quite frankly, it wasn't that bad. I arrived in Rome and went through a reasonably quick and efficient immigration line. They have a fast line for certain passport holders - which includes Canada, Israel and the U.S. After that, I had to go pick up my suitcase and then head over to the Air Canada check-in counter. Air Canada was efficient and quick - and directed me to a priority security line. I had to go through exit immigration but it was fairly quick and efficient. I finished everything in about an hour and 15 minutes and still had plenty of time to enjoy a great cappuccino and some fresh fruit in the lounge. Overall, I am happy to recommend Rome if you need to change somewhere in Europe and are not on an El Al flight all the way through.
On the way back to Israel, I went through Amsterdam. That was a disaster. After we landed, it took 40 minutes until we pulled up to a gate. Then I had to go through an insane and inefficient immigration line up. No special treatment for Canadian/U.S./Israeli passports. The line up said "expect a 45 minute to 1 hour wait." There were only two or three electronic picture taking machines - and two officials. Some of the machines were out of service. It was even worse than Newark airport. Sorry to offend any New Jersey readers.
After that, I had to go find my luggage. Then it was off to a frighteningly long line up at the El Al check-in counter, where my bag was deemed to be overweight...No excuses accepted - I would have to pay. Of course the security was thorough, which was fine. But now it was back to personal security and then, an equally brutal immigration line up (for exiting the country). By the time I finished everything - I was able to get to the El Al gate about 10 minutes before boarding. No time for a lounge in Amsterdam - or a visit to the famed whisky shop. I had left a four-hour window in between flights and it was still a close call. So unless you are flying KLM or something else that is seamless through Amsterdam, I would definitely not recommend blending Air Canada and El Al - under any circumstances through Amsterdam. Unless you don't mind wasting four or five hours at the airport in line-ups.
Israeli news is reporting on all kinds of anti-Semitic incidents from all around the world since the October 7th massacres. As you know, some of these have been in Toronto and Montreal - and others from cities across Europe. Israelis are starting to think that despite the war, they are safer than Jews in many other places.
There has been some very lopsided press coverage - which is probably very different from what the coverage would have looked like if it had been Canada, the U.S., Great Britain etc., that was attacked. One of the big issues is civilian casualties. Although Hamas has reported numbers in the 15,000-20,000 range, there is no way to verify those numbers. But more importantly, by Israeli accounts, a very large percentage of the Palestinian casualties are Hamas fighters. Civilians have also been killed, mainly those who have been used as human shields. Yet the press simply throws out whatever number Hamas gives them - leading to crazy outbursts, like the one by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau who declared that Israel "had to stop killing Palestinian children." He must have known better but was probably trying to score some political points with some of his voters. Unfortunately, this type of disinformation by a western leader foments attacks on the Canadian Jewish community. The same can be said about French President Macron.
I note, for example, that there was a great deal of concern about the Shifa hospital. One BBC report stated that Israel was arresting doctors and killing patients. BBC later corrected the report and indicated that Israel had brought doctors with their units to help the patients. BBC apologized for "falling short of our standards." But ultimately, Israel found, as expected, large supplies of weapons at the hospital, and tunnels under the hospital - with rooms, washrooms, weapons storage facilities, electricity, water and gas hookups. Israel also found video footage at the hospital showing Israeli hostages being brought into the hospital - through the main doors. There was more than ample evidence showing that the hospital was being used a Hamas centre during the war.
Israel is facing a difficult situation - trying to fight Hamas while minimizing civilian casualties. But Hamas is fighting from residential areas, hospitals, mosques and schools. In several cases, Israeli forces found arms caches in school classrooms - or through doors adjoining the classrooms. One Israeli unit uncovered a large underground tunnel in a mosque with a huge room full of all kinds of weapons.
It is unclear how things will develop but as of now, it certainly looks like this war will continue for some time, likely at least several months.
Continuing to hope and pray for the safe return of all of our kidnapped hostages, the safety of our soldiers and - yes - a minimum number of civilian casualties in Gaza - but the destruction of the Hamas forces and the replacement of Hamas with some type of stable governing body that will prefer to rebuild Gaza and focus on health care, education, employment, and infrastructure rather than military conflict.
I am not sure that this is likely or possible at this time but the status quo from pre-Oct 7 simply cannot and will not be allowed to continue.