Captain Greenglick's funeral was today in Ra'anana. We joined thousands of Ra'anana residents to line the streets and wave Israeli flags as the military hearse drove by, escorted by several security vehicles. I would think the same scene will take place again tomorrow in Ra'anana for the funeral of Eliezer Chitiz, who will also be laid to rest in the military cemetery in Ra'anana, which is two blocks away from our home.
Military Situation - State of the War
Israel is in a very dangerous phase of the war now. The country's military forces are fighting actively (to different degrees) on seven different fronts. One area of heavy fighting is in Gaza, where thousands of Israeli troops are fighting Hamas guerillas in many different locations. The Israeli army has gone into the tunnel network in various locations and has been fighting in many different areas in northern and southern areas of Gaza. Since the temporary cease fire deal ended, the casualty rate for Israeli soldiers has spiked dramatically. I have not heard any reports to suggest that the fighting is close to a conclusion.
In the north, Israel is fighting on two fronts. On the Lebanon border, from Israel's west coast to the point where Lebanon, Syria and Israel all meet, Israel is fighting a very active and very difficult war against Hezbollah. Hezbollah is stationed right at Israel's border and has been launching anti-tank missiles against civilian and military targets, unmanned suicide drone attacks, weaponized, controlled drone attacks and other military and terrorist campaigns. Israel has been defending against these attacks and launching its own counter-offensive measures on an ongoing basis. Many Israeli soldiers have fallen in these northern battles.
In the northeast, Israel is fighting against Syria and Iraq, with Hezbollah and other Iranian backed military groups launching attacks from Syrian territory. Israeli has responded to these attacks in many different ways, some of which have been reported in the media - reaching as far as the Damascus area.
Israel is also fighting against Hamas-backed groups of terrorists in areas of Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). Some areas have seen particularly heavy fighting including Jenin and the Tulkarem area.
In the south, Israel has had to deal with proxy attacks from the Houthi rebels, an Iranian-sponsored military organization situated in Yemen that has vowed to attack any and all ships travelling through the Red Sea Strait en route to or from Israel. The Houthis have fired several long-range, Iranian-supplied missiles at Eilat and other places in Israel. To date, these missiles have been shot down by U.S. or Israeli defence forces using anti-missile systems.
The big "mastermind" behind all of this - and the main enemy is, of course, the Republic of Iran, which has armed, trained, sponsored and, largely, controlled all of these forces. Iran is using Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and other groups as proxies to attack Israeli while, to date, avoiding any direct attacks on Israel. As recently as yesterday, Iran threatened to begin direct attacks against Israel soon. Iran has, for several years, called for the destruction of Israel and is certainly the most hostile country in the region towards the State of Israel. Iran has also been the sponsor of virulent anti-Semitic propaganda including Holocaust denial and other poisonous forms of anti-Jewish bigotry.
To get to seven fronts, you can separate the Syrian forces from the Iraqi forces - though attacks and activity from these two groups are largely originating from the same place.
Now with that all in mind, calling for an "unconditional cease fire" is tantamount to calling for Israel to surrender to these various enemies, which Israel certainly will not do. The Hamas leadership, in interviews since October 7, 2023, has stated that they plan to carry out the same types of attacks "over and over again" until "Israel is destroyed." Iran has made similar threats. Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah started this war and they have not offered any proposals or concessions that would form the basis for a short or long term cease fire.
For now, the prospects of all of this ending any time soon seem bleak. At this point, it seems unfathomable that Israel will conclude the war in Gaza without destroying the Hamas leadership or coming to a deal whereby the Hamas leadership leaves Gaza (like the Lebanon war deal in the 1980s in which Arafat and the PLO left Beirut and went to Tunisia). Israel will also need to insist on a deal whereby Hezbollah moves back, several kilometres, from the Israeli-Lebanon border and the Israeli-Syrian border. If there is no deal with Hezbollah, there may will be a full-blown war with Lebanon, that could start any time now.
As for Iran, I don't believe that Israel is about to launch a major attack on Iran, though there are certainly scenarios in which Iran could draw the U.S. into the conflict and provoke U.S. operations against Iran. This does not seem too likely as of now, but the Middle East is quite unpredictable.
Israeli Appreciation towards Soldiers
One of our family members was home for a break from reserve duty in Gaza. We went to grab breakfast before he had to return. He was in uniform. As we were sitting in the cafe, some Ra'anana residents came over to talk to him. They thanked him for his service and insisted on paying for whatever he wanted to order (as well as anything his friend and fellow soldier ordered). Of course we would have been happy to pay the bill but this was such a nice gesture. It is something that happens all over Israel wherever civilians see soldiers in uniform, especially these days.
According to current reports, there are still about 133 hostages being held by Hamas who were taken into captivity on October 7, 2023. Some were soldiers, some were residents of the various Kibbutzim and communities near Gaza that were attacked and some were concert-goers attending the Nova music festival. Some very young children are still in captivity, assuming they are alive. No list has been provided by Hamas or the International Red Cross - or anyone else. We really don't know how many of these hostages are still alive, what condition they are in or where they are being held.
Based on information we have received from released hostages, we know that the hostages were being held in very difficult conditions with very little food and water provided each day. Some of the women were separated out and kept in different areas. There are reports (from the released hostages and others) about widespread sexual abuse. Some of the other hostages were quite elderly, in their 80s, with various medical conditions.
Israelis have been demonstrating in support of the families of these hostages and demanding that the government take all appropriate steps to return the hostages home. But so far, there is no available deal on the table that would bring this about. There are rumours of different negotiations taking place, brokered by Egypt, Qatar or others - but I have not heard any reports that a deal is close.
Israel is obviously facing a difficult situation trying to extricate Hamas from Gaza while they have embedded their fighters in civilian populations and launched attacks from schools, mosques, hospitals and other crowded areas. Even the Hamas leadership is apparently now using groups of hostages as human shields to avoid being killed or captured.
The Hamas Health Ministry has been reporting more than 20,000 Gazans as having been killed. But there are a few things to remember.
First of all, the numbers are not verified and Hamas has notoriously exaggerated or fabricated numbers of casualties (remember the hospital incident early this year).
Secondly, Hamas does not announce the numbers of fighters who are killed. By Israel estimates, the numbers of Hamas fighters killed are 1/2 to 2/3 of the total number killed. In other words - the actual Hamas numbers of total casualties my be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 - we just don't know.
Of those, the number of Hamas fighters killed is between 8,000 and 12,000, according to different Israeli sources.
Suffice it to say that the civilian casualty numbers are therefore much lower than the numbers that are simply accepted and printed by publications and news media around the world.
This is not to say that anyone in Israel is happy to see high numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza.
But at the same time - we are dealing with an enemy that is trying to kill as many of us as possible- civilians and military personnel. In that circumstance - Israelis feel that we are better off killing our enemies than being killed ourselves. This is the same type of reaction that the Allies had when dealing with Germany - or Japan in World War II - or that any nation has when confronted with an armed conflict started by an enemy.
The Israeli army would rather protect the lives of as many Israelis (soldiers and civilians) as possible, even if that means that there are civilian casualties while fighting Hamas. That's unfortunate but it is a by-product of war. Certainly the civilian casualties in Gaza or far lower than the casualty numbers in conflicts involving Russia, Syria or even the United States (see Afghanistan, Iraq or other places).
To call the Israeli war against Hamas a "genocide" is nothing less than a morally vacuous blood libel. Yet that is the language coming from Turkey, Iran, Hamas-sponsored university groups across the United States and Canada and other places.
Volunteers and Visitors
Amidst all of this, people are still visiting Israel, as difficult as it might be to get here (with El Al and Emirates being the only airlines that are currently flying to Israel). One of our friends arrived last week and is volunteering with "Sar-El" a group that stations volunteers for two-week periods at army bases around Israel to help pack supplies, equipment, food and assist in other ways. Another friend has been visiting and volunteering to pick fruit and vegetables at various sites around the country. Israel normally relies on labour from Thailand, Judea and Samaria, some Gazans and other foreign workers for much of the seasonal agricultural work. Very few workers from any of these places are available. Farmers around the country have been begging Israelis and others to come help out - sometimes on a paid basis and sometimes as volunteers. Israelis and people from all over the world have been answering the call.
Many synagogues from across North America and other places have been bringing "missions" to Israel. A group from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York came earlier this month. In mid-January, a group will be visiting Israel from Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto. Just today, some friends told us that they will be arriving in mid-January for a 10 day trip - including some time volunteering in different places.
In short, there are lots of volunteer opportunities and I think Israelis are very grateful for the help - both from non-Israelis - who have shown up to volunteer - and from Israelis - many of whom are volunteering in different ways.
Of course, many other tours have been cancelled - including the various birthright groups. Some friends who were planning to come cancelled - and others postponed their trips. I think the short term future of tourism to Israel is very much up in the air - like so many other things for Israelis now including academic programs, social events, work and so many other parts of a normal routine. So many of our young people are cancelling all of these events to serve in life and death missions in Gaza, Israel's north, or wherever else they might be stationed.
As I mentioned above, only El Al and Emirates (as well as the Emirates subsidiary "Fly Dubai") are flying to Tel-Aviv now. El Al is flying to several cities in the U.S. - so if you are flying from New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami or some other cities - and don't mind flying El Al - there are still available flights.
In my case, as I have written in different articles in the past, I tend to stick with Star Alliance airlines, flying Air Canada as often as I can. So I have been joining Air Canada flights with El Al flights. They don't have a baggage sharing arrangement - so I have had to collect my bags, go through immigration and then re-check-in to drop off my bag. It is very cumbersome. If you are doing this, you need to allow about four hours for a transfer.
For my flight back to Toronto, I flew through Amsterdam without a checked bag. This was much better than flying with a bag since I did not have to go through immigration, security or anything else. I was just able to make my way over to the Air Canada gate with lots of time to spare and even managed to spend time in the lounge in Amsterdam (which was nothing exciting).
On my way back to Israel, I flew Air Canada to London. That part of the flight was fine. I then had to collect my bags and walk quite a long distance to the subway system to take a train to terminal 4. This took quite a while and was a bit of a pain since I had a suitcase with me - along with a carry on bag and a knapsack. There were lots of escalators, moving walkways, corridors and other parts to this journey - which took close to an hour in total.
Once I arrived at terminal 4 - things were fine - though the El Al gate was not even open yet. So I wound up sitting around in a coffee bar waiting for the El Al desk to open.
Overall, it was certainly better than Amsterdam but it was not fun. At least the immigration line was efficient.
I haven't found the ideal arrangement yet though I will have to go back to Toronto in mid-January. My current plan is to travel again through Rome. (El Al to Rome and then Air Canada to Toronto).
Although some airlines have announced a resumption of service to Israel, scheduled for mid-January, I don't believe that these flights will begin again until there is a cease fire of some sort. I guess we will have to see.
Throughout all of this, Israeli TV has continued to broadcast episodes of "Eretz Nehederet" ("It's a Wonderful Country") which is the closest thing Israel has to Saturday Night Live. The show is replete with satirical sketches involving impersonators of many of Israel's political leaders and other public figures. Eretz Nehederet has aired some sketches in English poking fun at the BBC's coverage of the war, the U.S. college campus situation and other world events. Much of the humour is very dark - but they are trying to bring a bit of levity to a very difficult situation. The skits are hit or miss. Some are extremely funny, some not so much. Isn't that the case with any satirical show?
Last week's show included an impersonation of Tzvi Yehezkeli - an Israeli commentator who is fluent in Arabic and has been on Israeli TV continuously, providing interpretations of Arabic news releases and statements. The Eretz Nehederet version was quite spot-on, making fun of Yehezkeli's explanation of Arabic phrases and idioms. At one point - the impersonator provided a sentence in Arabic - and then offered the translation - "The world is like a cucumber....one day you are holding it in your hand - and the next day it is stuck up your butt." I'm not here to interpret these things - I am just passing on what I heard (and laughed at, I have to say).
Last night, Eretz Nehederet aired a very serious sketch involving a traumatized soldier showing up to watch his family arguing about politics as usual. This one was tear-inducing and difficult to watch. The skit was done with an overlay of the song "Kama Tov She'bata Habayta" - ("How great it is that you have come home") - sung originally in 1971 by the late Israeli singer Arik Einstein. The song was originally written as a group effort by Yankele Rotblitt, Shalom Hanoch and Itzkhak Klapter. The original version was written welcoming someone back after returning from a long trip abroad. Eretz Nehederet changed the words somewhat. Not sure if there is a translation available yet - but if your Hebrew is up to it - and the link works wherever you are - you can use the link above to watch it. Even without the Hebrew translation, you can probably get the mood from the sombre tone and the scene itself.
The other Israeli show that has been airing twice a week is "Zehu Zeh" ("That's that") which is also a satirical show but a very different format. I think I have written about it in the past. They have also been airing skits making fun of the Houthis - implying that they are launching rockets at Israel from Yemen because they are bored. Zehu Zeh usually features two songs each episode, one with a guest singer. Over the past few weeks - many different guests have appeared including Eidan Reichel, Chava Alberstein, and others. The music has generally been excellent. The comedy sketches - hit or miss.
Israeli singers have continued to travel the country performing for soldiers all over - whether in bases near Gaza, Gaza itself - or in different places in the north. Some stand-up comedians have also been entertaining soldiers. As you might have seen, Jerry Seinfeld showed up in Israel last week as a gesture of support - though I am not sure that he entertained troops anywhere.
December Holidays in Israeli
As you might know, Christmas is largely a non-event in Israel, outside of pockets of Christian communities. It is a regular workday, everything is open. It is quite something to see - for someone who is used to being bombarded with Christmas music in restaurants, shopping malls and everywhere else for two months before the holiday in Canada.
I have nothing against people celebrating Christmas - I wish all of my friends the very best in enjoying their celebrations. And if I am in Toronto and invited to a party or a dinner, I am certainly happy to join them.
At the same time, it is a season where, when I am in Toronto, I am constantly reminded how I differ from everyone else - how I stick out as a minority - and how I don't belong.
Even though Israel is a majority Jewish state, the malls are not generally decorated with any particular holiday's decorations - and there is no time of the year where Jewish holiday-themed music is on the radio 24/7. On the actual holidays, everything is closed. But it seems to me it would be a lot less "in your face" than the way Christmas is celebrated in North America - even though Canada is not supposed to be a "religious" country by definition.
In Toronto this year, the local Second Cup starting playing Christmas music right after Canadian Thanksgiving ended (in October). I would have thought that even people who celebrate Christmas would be happy with two to three weeks of Christmas music at most. But maybe I'm wrong.
Anti-Semitism Around the World
One of the major effects of this war has been a massive ramp up in anti-Semitism around the world. The U.S. Ivy League schools (many of which receive huge donations from Qatar) have been at the forefront of anti-Israel demonstrations - many of which have blended into anti-Jewish hatefests.
In Canada, the universities have not been much better. Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) has been the source of some of the most vitriolic anti-Israel - and anti-Jewish hate speech. York University has not been far behind. University of Toronto's "Varsity" publication has been spewing repugnant disinformation. CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees) has a leader who "rejoiced" the day after the October 7th massacres and has engaged in an outrageous smear campaign against Israel.
Through all of this, Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was the proud recipient of thank you video put out by one of the Hamas leaders - obviously an ignominious and dubious honour. I think that Australia and New Zealand also received this fine mention from Hamas - and perhaps Ireland as well.
There have also been demonstrations across Europe and around the world, chanting "from the River to the Sea..." which is a call for the destruction of Israel. As a result, there is quite a feeling of isolation here right now. Israel seems to have very few real friends - the United States, Germany - and some days Britain Maybe a handful of others.
Interestingly, there was a poll published last week in Israel - in which Israelis were asked "who is a better friend of Israel - Trump or Biden?" Far more Israelis went with Biden - which was a new phenomenon for Israelis, many of whom had viewed Trump as one of the best U.S. Presidents that Israel ever had as a friend in the White House.
But really - aside from all of this - for those European Countries that are wavering, and others, the situation is not that complicated. You have on the one hand an axis of Russia, Hamas, Turkey, Qatar, Hezbollah, Iran and a handful of others. On the other hand - Israel, the U.S., Germany, Great Britain and some others. I don't even think one needs to say more than that. For the countries supporting the Hamas-Qatar-Iran group - unfortunately, they will probably wind up next on the list soon enough. And frankly, this is probably a very real warning to Trudeau and his government who want to bring hundreds of thousands of Hamas sympathizers to Canada. All I can do here is quote President Biden - "Don't!....just don't!..."
And I think that is about it for now. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2024 and hope that it will be a much more peaceful year. Best regards from Israel.