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I Witnessed the Aftermath of Hamas’ Carnage; We Can Never Forget It

The bodies of people, some of them elderly, lie on a street after they were killed during a mass-infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, southern Israel, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

I have just spent the past few days in Israel. This was not my first visit since October 7, and Israel has been uppermost in my thoughts throughout that time — but this week’s visit was without doubt a life-changing experience.

Together with colleagues from the Jewish Federation’s LA Board of Rabbis, I traversed Israel, and saw and heard things that I will never be able to unsee or unhear. And to be clear: I do not wish to unsee or unhear them. But the emotional impact they made will remain with me for the rest of my life.

On Tuesday morning, we visited Kfar Aza. Until October 7, Kfar Aza was an idyllic kibbutz on the northernmost part of the eastern border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Now, it is a haunting reminder of the carnage of that cruel day.

Founded in 1951, and home to some 900 peace-loving, idealistic kibbutzniks, Kfar Aza was known as a pioneer kibbutz in computerized irrigation, and as an eager promoter of peace projects. Every year over the past few years, members of the kibbutz would gather on open ground near the Gaza border — just half a mile away from the kibbutz boundary — and fly kites adorned with messages promoting peace and freedom that were directed towards their Palestinian neighbors.

The annual tradition, known as Kites for Hope, was spearheaded as a response to the 2018 wave of terror in the form of explosives attached to kites sent into Israel from Gaza. Kites for Hope’s creator was Aviv Kutz, a Kfar Aza resident, who had also spent time in the United States.

This year, Kites for Hope was scheduled to take place on October 7. It didn’t happen. The 350 Hamas terrorists who swarmed the kibbutz early that morning, continuing their assault throughout the day, butchering and burning 68 residents and kidnapping 18 others, made sure of that.

Heartbreakingly, Aviv, along with his wife Livnat and their three children Yonatan, Yiftach, and Rotem, were murdered in their home, where they were discovered days later. Just a few feet away from Aviv’s brutalized body, in the living room of their modest house, lay the peace kite he and his family had intended to fly later that day.

Standing just yards away from their home, we heard about Aviv and his family from their friend Maya. We also heard from Zion, who heads the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council citizen security force. He told us about his friend Ofir Libstein, the indefatigable mayor of Shaar Hanegev. That fateful morning, Ofir had attempted to protect his beloved Kfar Aza with a pistol he kept at his home, but he was soon mowed down in cold blood by a Hamas murderer on the road beside his house.

A bullet hole from one of the bullets that killed him is still visible on the gatepost leading into his front yard, as are bloodstains. Nitzan, Ofir’s 19-year-old son, was also a victim of the Kfar Aza massacre that day. Initially considered missing, his body was discovered 12 days later close to the Gaza border.

Zion, an impassive man with the kind of bearing and presence one expects of a security operative, suddenly and unexpectedly broke down and cried, as he described discovering his friend Ofir’s body lying on the road on October 8. He was certain that Ofir was deliberately targeted as part of the Hamas strategy to eliminate local leadership, in order to paralyze and confuse the whole area for as long as possible.

Suddenly, as Zion was speaking, a deafening explosion boomed from somewhere uncomfortably close to where we were standing. We all jumped, and our lives flashed in front of our eyes. We knew that there was a truce, but we also knew that the deal between Hamas and Israel was very precarious.

Zion reassured us that it was a controlled explosion, but later in the day we discovered that Hamas had breached the ceasefire, albeit briefly, claiming IDF provocation. In that moment we suddenly realized what it meant to live in Kfar Aza before October 7, and, indeed, anywhere in proximity to rockets originating in Gaza. There is no way that Israel can continue to accept this threat to the lives of its citizens.

On Tuesday afternoon, we visited Camp Shura, the army base where hundreds of bodies were brought to be identified by the IDF rabbinate unit that specializes in this grisly work. The relatively new facility is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world outside the United States, able to cope with almost 300 bodies at any one time.

But, as the rabbis grimly informed us, on October 7 and the days that followed, they were utterly overwhelmed, soon running out of gurneys on which to put the bodies. Instead of using gurneys, they had to put human remains on the floor, side by side. Even this wasn’t enough, and they soon ran out of space on the floor. Some of the bodies had been so brutalized by the Hamas terrorists, that it wasn’t possible to identify them, even by the most modern scientific methods.

That evening, we heard from Moshe Shapira, father of Aner, whose heroism and bravery saved the lives of 10 fellow partygoers at the ill-fated Nova rave. Aner, a natural leader, took charge of a group of 29 hiding in a concrete bomb shelter near the site of the party, and calmed them all down. Each time terrorists tossed in grenades from the outside, he tossed them back out, until one exploded in his hand, killing him instantly. The remaining survivors in the shelter hid among the dead. Some, such as Hersh Polin Goldberg, were taken by the terrorists into Gaza, where they remain, their fate unknown.

Moshe Shapira’s composure was striking. He held up a poster-sized image of Aner — the last photo of his son, taken on a phone about 15 minutes before he died. You can see Aner from behind, his silhouette framed by an orange glow, as everyone else around him crouches as close to the ground as they can. Aner’s strength and courage are eerily evident in that extraordinary photo; tragically, minutes later his body would be mutilated and shattered by the Hamas grenade.

On Wednesday we met with survivors of two of the villages that came under terrorist attack on October 7: Netiv Ha’asara and Zikim. They are now living in a hotel on a picturesque mountaintop not far from Jerusalem, but despite the great care, the situation is far from ideal. Traumatized parents are unable to take care of their children, most of whom are totally disoriented by their harrowing experiences on October 7 — some of them lost close friends and relatives, others are just unable to decompress.

Of the survivors who spoke to us, Scottish-born Moira made the deepest impression. She has not had an easy life. After moving to Israel in the 1970s to get married, she and her family were forced to move from the original Netiv Ha’asara village in Sinai, which was disbanded as part of the Camp David peace accord arrangements between Egypt and Israel.

The new Netiv Ha’asara was built in an area that abuts the Erez border crossing on the north Gaza border. Initially, relations between residents and Gaza Arabs were positive, and workers from Gaza built all the homes in the village. But things deteriorated, particularly after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and the Hamas takeover of the enclave in 2006.

Rocket attacks began and became ever more frequent; one Hamas projectile even landed on the roof of Moira’s house. She and her husband rebuilt their home and remained resilient, determined to stay, even after three people in the village were killed by rockets — in 2005, 2007, and 2010.

The thought that Netiv Ha’asara could ever be overrun by terrorists was not even a consideration — but on October 7 it happened. Moira told us that 21 residents of Netiv Ha’asara were killed, ranging in age from 17 to 80 years old. Two of the victims were American citizens. After the IDF eventually arrived and neutralized the terrorists, all the surviving village residents were evacuated to two hotels — and eight weeks later, that is where they remain, in this temporary and unsettling setting.

Moira is a hardy woman — chirpy by disposition and determined by nature. She told us that all she wants now is to move back home, with the assurance that the security risks associated with living in Netiv Ha’asara have been mitigated once and for all. Despite everything she has been through, and despite the gruesome murder of her neighbors and friends, Moira’s home of over 40 years is where she wants to be — the sooner the better.

Listening to Moira was to hear a microcosm of everything that Israel now faces: the painful trauma of October 7, combined with the bewildering instability of the present, and the ever-hovering uncertainty about the future. We muttered what we hoped were helpful words, but we knew, even as we said them, that the road ahead is charged with incredible challenges and painful difficulties — for Moira, and for everyone else.

We also stopped by at the Shamir Medical Center on the outskirts of Rishon LeTsion. We heard how the hospital quickly shifted into red alert on October 7, transferring as many patients as they could to the safety of underground areas in the face of relentless rocket attacks. Soon, the wounded began to arrive in droves — all victims of the savage Hamas attacks.

Hundreds were admitted, and, somehow, they managed to save every life — a truly remarkable achievement. Over the past few days, the hospital has been treating hostages released by Hamas as part of the deal associated with the pause in the Gaza campaign. Many of them were Thai workers, whom — despite their horrific experiences — have expressed their desire to stay in Israel.

Although the journey is far from over, the profound impact of our visit to Israel resonates deeply, evoking a sense of both urgency and unity. My experience in Israel this week was punctuated by tragedy and resilience, underscoring the crucial work that lies ahead. Critically, the crisis we have witnessed cannot be allowed to fade into the backdrop of our consciousness; instead, it demands our sustained attention and diligent action.

The unity and commitment displayed by all the members of the clergy mission, despite our differing backgrounds and congregations, was nothing short of inspirational. Our collective resolve has been strengthened, not only to support Israel and its people through these trying times, but also to continue our collaborative efforts back in the United States.

This week, we committed ourselves to a shared mission, and galvanized ourselves to turn our upsetting encounters in Israel into action, so that unrelenting hope and optimism can be transformed into an enduring reality. Am Yisrael Chai!

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation

Graphic posted on a social media account administered by University of California-Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on February 17, 2024. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) student government passed on Friday legislation adopting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, (BDS) movement and falsely accusing Israel of genocide.

“This bill prohibits the purchase of products from corporations identified as profiting from the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people by the BDS National Committee,” says the measure, titled Senate Bill (SB) #52. “This bill seeks to address the human rights violations of the nation-state and government of Israel and establish a guideline of ethical spending.”

Puma, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Airbnb, Disney, and Sabra are all named on SJP’s “BDS List.”

Powers enumerated in the bill include veto power over all vendor contracts, which SJP specifically applied to “purchase orders for custom t-shirts,” a provision that may affect pro-Israel groups on campus. Such policies will be guided by a “BDS List” of targeted companies curated by SJP. The language of the legislation gives ASUCD the right to add more.

“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchases of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians,” the bill adds.

A notable provision of the bill regards the charter for the Special Committee on Ethical Standing. It says the committee must be “dissolved” in a year and its”responsibilities” absorbed by UC Davis’ Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, a division of the student government that which describes itself as a special advocacy group for non-white students. The requirement makes BDS a permanent policy of the school and links it to the issue of racial justice, which, on a college campus, serves as a safeguard against any future attempt to pass legislation proscribing the adoption of BDS.

SJP praised the bill’s passing and signing by ASUCD’s president, Francisco Javier Ojeda.

“The bill that was passed prevents any of the $20 million in the ASUCD budget from being spent on companies complicit in the occupation and genocide of Palestinians, as specified by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement,” the group said on social media. “From McDonald’s to Sabra to Chevron, none of our student feeds that fund ASUCD operations will be used to financially support 30+ companies that are complicit in Zionist violence.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California-Davis is one of many SJP chapters that justified Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In a chilling statement posted after the world became aware of the terrorist group’s atrocities on that day, which included hundreds of civilian murders and sexual assaults, the group said “the responsibility for the current escalation of violence is entirely on the Israeli occupation.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters — which have said in their communications that Israeli civilians deserve to be murdered for being “settlers” — lead the way in promoting a campus environment hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel voices. Their aim, the civil rights group explained in an open letter published in December, is to “exclude and marginalize Jewish students,” whom they describe as “oppressors,” and encourage “confrontation” with them.

The ADL has urged colleges and universities to protect Jewish students from the group’s behavior, which, in many cases, has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza 

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden (34) was taken hostage with his wife Shiri (32) and 2 children Kfir (10 months) and Ariel (4), holds with her friend Tal Ulus pictures of them during an interview with Reuters, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas continues, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 13, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The IDF released “horrifying” new footage on Monday showing Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her two children flanked by gunmen in the Gaza Strip, filmed shortly after their abduction during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Captured by surveillance cameras in Khan Younis, the footage shows Bibas wrapped in a sheet and clutching her red-haired sons, Ariel, aged 4, and Kfir, who was only 9 months old at the time of their abduction, and is the first proof of life since October 7. The children’s father, Yarden Bibas, was separately abducted and his condition remains unknown.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari expressed the military’s deep concerns over Shiri and her children’s fate. 

“Seeing this young mother clutching her babies surrounded by a group of armed terrorists is horrifying and heart wrenching,” he said at a press conference on Monday. 

“Those who have the audacity to question our need to operate in Gaza, but don’t have the basic decency and humanity to demand that Hamas release our hostages first of all, they all should take a good look at this terrified mother, Shiri, clutching her babies,” he said, adding that the IDF would “leave no stone unturned” in returning the hostages. 

The IDF, according to Hagari, lacks sufficient information to ascertain whether they are alive or dead but is “making every effort to obtain more information about their fate.” The footage was obtained from a Khan Younis military post belonging to the Mujahideen Brigades, a small armed group who are holding Bibas and her children. 

The Bibas family said in a statement that the videos “tore our hearts out.”

“Witnessing Shiri, Yarden, Ariel and Kfir, ripped away from their home in Nir Oz into this hellscape, feels unbearable and inhumane,” the family said.  “We’re issuing a desperate call to all the decision-makers in Israel and the world who are involved in the negotiations: Bring them home now. Make it clear to Hamas that kidnapping children is out of bounds.”

The family also called for Shiri and her children to be prioritized in any future hostage release deal with Hamas. 

Hamas had claimed in November that Shiri, Ariel, and Kfir were casualties of an IDF strike, a claim the IDF has contested as unverified and said at the time that the claim was part of the terror group’s “cruel and inhuman” psychological warfare. Hamas also released a video of a visibly distressed Yarden Bibas after he had been informed by his captors that his wife and children were killed by the IDF. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the footage as “heartbreaking” and said it “reminds us who we are dealing with — brutal baby kidnappers.”

“We will bring these kidnappers of babies and mothers to justice. They won’t get away with it,” Netanyahu said.

Irit Lahav, spokeswoman for the embattled community of Nir Oz, said that the video “reminds us that we are all held hostage until the return of all the hostages.”

A quarter of Nir Oz’s residents were either kidnapped or murdered on October 7. 

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Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College

Illustrative: Pro-Hamas demonstrators are detained by police officers in New York during a protest at the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Accusations of institutional antisemitism against Middlebury College in Vermont have been lodged in a civil rights complaint filed by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel.

The complaint, filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) argues that high level Middlebury College officials, by refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally, have fostered a “pervasively hostile climate,” which prevents Jewish students from enjoying the full benefits of being a college student at a higher education receiving federal funds, according to the complaint.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering. In an email to one Jewish group that planned a vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

A month later, the administration uncomplainingly accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official, a request which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

StandWithUs also noted that Middlebury allegedly ignored numerous complaints of antisemitic harassment committed by anti-Zionist groups. After a local Chabad rabbi  wrote to school officials reporting acts of “intimidation,” including preventing Jews from entering the cafeteria, during a “Day of Resistance” event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the school’s associate vice president of safety warned him not to report the incidents to outside law enforcement, saying that doing so would be a “risk to individuals and to our community.” The official also denied being aware of any antisemitic incidents.

“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at SWU Center for Legal Justice, in a press release issued on Friday. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play”

“Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration and lawful response as all minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination,” Gammill added.

Middlebury also allegedly refused to punish anti-Zionist students for using their social media accounts to publish hate speech. Social media posts that cheered Hamas’ atrocities as “decolonization,” called Jews “colonizers” deserving of being victims of violence, and said “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” proliferated in the days and weeks after Oct. 7, but this day, Middlebury has never issued a statement condemning antisemitism.

The Algemeiner has asked Middlebury College to comment on SWU’s allegations.

“Middlebury college has failed egregiously to provide adequate protecting for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” Yael Lerman, SWU director of the Center for Legal Justice said in Friday’s press release. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the college has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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