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The rabbi who survived the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting 5 years ago considers hope in a dark time for the world’s Jews

(JTA) — In Pittsburgh, “10/27” has become a shorthand for the massacre, on Oct. 27, 2018, of 11 Jews as they gathered for worship at the Tree of Life synagogue complex in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The nonprofit that is coordinating this year’s events marking the five-year anniversary of the shooting is known as the 10.27 Healing Partnership.

But that anniversary arrives as the Jewish world staggers under the weight of another date — Oct. 7, 2023 — when Hamas launched an attack that killed 1,400 Israelis in a day and pulled Israel into a war aimed at the group’s eradication.

For Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, rabbi of Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation and a survivor of the attack, the two events defy easy comparison. And yet, he said in an interview this week, the attacks in Israel compounded the trauma in a Pittsburgh community that was hoping this anniversary — which followed a guilty verdict and death sentence for the gunman in a trial that ended in August — would bring some degree of closure for the survivors, grieving relatives and the community at large.

Myers, in his first pulpit as rabbi after serving for years as a cantor, had come to Pittsburgh just a year before the shooting to lead a Conservative synagogue in a space shared with two other congregations, New Light and Dor Hadash.

He was just beginning Shabbat services that Saturday in 2018 when he heard a loud bang. When he realized it was a gunshot, he pushed three congregants into a supply closet and told others to drop to the floor. He managed to call 911 from up in the choir loft, and, seeing there was nothing else he could do for others in the building, barricaded himself in a bathroom.

By the time police subdued the gunman, he had killed 11 worshippers: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Irving Younger and Melvin Wax.

Myers became the public face of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, and a spokesman for the commemorative efforts that have followed since. While the congregations worship elsewhere, the architect Daniel Libeskind has been hired to design a renovated complex that will eventually house a sanctuary, a museum, a memorial to the victims and a center for fighting antisemitism. (Dor Hadash and New Light plan to stay in their new locations.)

A month of anniversary events will culminate Sunday, Oct. 27, in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park.

Myers and I spoke as Israelis continued to hold funerals and shivas for their dead and clamored for the release of the more than 200 people being held hostage by Hamas. We spoke about the impulse toward vengeance, his approach to fighting antisemitism and how to promote a positive vision of Judaism in a climate of fear.

“Despite all the ugliness I still have hope,” he told me. “I’m a hopeful person, despite all I’ve been through. I’m convinced there are more good people in the world than not. We just need that silent majority to become a vocal majority. But I have hope that we are capable of better.”

Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

JTA: The fifth anniversary of the shooting is coinciding with these terrible, terrible events in Israel. I think in an interview you used the term “retraumatizing” to describe its effects on you and your community.

Myers: I don’t think the word necessarily exists in the English language, but I think it’s just the best descriptor of the whole concept of compound trauma for one thing and you have the next one piled right on top of it. It’s the same physical and emotional feelings. Except hopefully, this time, having been through it, you’ve developed the tools necessary to be able to make it manageable.

What are some of those tools? Because I know right now people are just struggling, whether they’ve lost family, or friends of friends, or just processing the loss of so many Jews in a single day. 

I have to say that I’m not a mental health professional. So I always encourage people to reach out to the right professionals. The things I recommend to people is, first off, to recognize that you do have those symptoms again, to be mindful of your body. What is your body telling you? Finding time for self-care is so critically important. Figure out some way to get sufficient rest. That’s not always easy because the brain doesn’t want to shut off. Make sure you eat, make sure you stay well hydrated, buy time every day for a timeout to see if there’s space to do something you’d like to do. For example, at this time of year for the Northeast, if you look for leaves, set aside an hour if you can take a drive. Just bring a chair and just take in the beauty of the leaves. When you have a lunch break, make it a lunch break.

Have you taken your own advice? What have you found particularly helpful over these five years?

All of those things. You know, put down the electronic leash and just don’t use it. Take a break. That’s what voicemail is for. And just stepping away from demands and just easing off the proverbial gas pedal for a little bit. Take time out for myself. Because I’m no good to my congregation at large if I’m not my optimum self.

You described the years waiting for the start of the trial as being “stuck in neutral.” You wrote, “It was a challenge to move forward with the looming specter of a murder trial.” Now that there is a verdict and a sentence, are you seeing a way forward?

The best way to describe it is the Greek myth of Sisyphus [doomed to roll a boulder up a hill without ever reaching the top]. And the most important thing is just get out of the way. When it comes running back down the hill, make sure it doesn’t run you over. The reminders are constant: Tree of Life is mentioned every day somewhere in print, every single day. Because we are the poster child for antisemitism in the United States.

And when Tree of Life reopens it will be more than a synagogue — it will be a symbol. How do you lead a community in that circumstance?

Just the fact that it opens will be an important statement to the entire Jewish community, the United States and beyond that we didn’t let evil win. It took a lot longer than we wanted [to rebuild]. We want to be in our building yesterday. But that being said, it will be a powerful symbol. There’s the beauty of Daniel Libeskind’s design, but to me more importantly is what emanates from the building in terms of who we are. What are the things that we do? Where are we focused?

A rendition of architect Daniel Libeskind’s plans for the interior of the new Tree of Life synagogue. (Tree of Life)

Your community has launched a national nonprofit organization dedicated to uprooting antisemitism. What will make its approach different from other organizations working in this sphere?

It’s about identifying one’s niche. You’ve got these two massive legacy institutions, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, and all of these popup organizations doing also wonderful work. But frankly, there is a lot of duplication going on in organizations. What can we add to the conversation? We have the site. We have the story. We have the testimonies of survivors. That’s impactful. And to that end, that’s something that we can use carefully with the school children to teach them the story, not just of antisemitism but that it doesn’t end with the Jews. We can have schoolchildren come to us for a fulsome experience, not to leave depressed but to be able to leave saying, “What’s an action that we can take back to our community in our own way to further the goals of Tree of Life, to eliminate antisemitism, and to have respect for all of humanity?” With all due respect to all of these other wonderful organizations, they don’t have the capacity to do that in the way that we do.

I think some people might look at Tree of Life and come to another conclusion: That Jews aren’t safe, and all the money that synagogues have had to spend on security in recent years contradicts the message — and it is right in the name of the synagogue — that Judaism is life-affirming. Do you worry about that?

Really good question. I think of that when I go to other houses of worship, and recognize so many that don’t have security, and think that they’re immune from bad actors who will physically do terrible things for unexpected reasons. But whatever the reasons are, the sanctuary that existed in America’s houses of worship no longer exists. It’s a fiction. Our responsibility is to provide that balance between being open and welcoming, and yet safe and secure. That’s a really hard balance.

And that’s why we’re working with professionals to create the right balance, so that I don’t feel like I’m going through TSA to get into Tree of Life, but that people know we’re mindful that these are the realities. One shooter demanded a wholesale change across the entire American landscape for synagogues, and that’s the reality. So we have to be a model of how can you do that in an intelligent, non-threatening way.

But are there people who come to you and say, “Rabbi, I am trying to have a positive Jewish experience in my life, but I see what happened here. I see what’s happening in Israel, and I can’t get past the fear and towards something” (again, I’ll use that term) “life-affirming”? How do you respond?

It’s not fictitious. There are people afraid to come. That’s another reason to have livestreaming. We can say, “We care about you. And we’re going to do our best to use technology to provide ways for you to stay connected in a way that you feel safe. And we’re hopeful that as time goes on you can find ways to [overcome your fears].” But that’s what it means to be a domestic terror victim. And to that extent, I would submit that the entire Jewish community in the United States are victims of domestic terrorism on an ongoing basis.

Part of my answer has regularly been that the more antisemitism they do, the more Jewish we must do. There’s a vibrancy through community. No matter what the setting may be, whether it’s a joyous occasion, whether it’s a sad occasion, there’s something about the energy that you get when you’re in community. We recognize that as we began to come out of COVID. What’s the first thing people did? People missed hugging, that interpersonal connection that being on a screen does not provide. So there are ways to provide for safe gatherings, to just be in community with each other and those are important. And those we continue to do, whether it’s religious services, which is the primary function of a synagogue, or social gatherings, cultural gatherings, educational gatherings. Those are the things that we must continue to do and do even more of because if we don’t, then we give into that terrorism, and then the terrorists win. And I’m not doing that on my watch.

I want to take you back to the trial. I think a lot of the reporting talked about how the guilty verdict and the death penalty would bring “closure.” Did you experience it that way?  

There’s no one answer, frankly. A verdict can’t bring back your loved ones. So I don’t know if closure is the right word. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that a chapter ended. We flipped the page in this book that we’re writing. And, as has always been the case, the next page is totally blank. We’re now writing that next chapter. Now we can begin to move forward and really begin to explore what healing looks like. Because I don’t know we can really get “closure” in the way that I think people would want.

Right, you certainly can’t bring the loved ones back or erase what you experienced that day.

The reminders are there at any given moment. Your brain will replay the video that seared in your head of the day. And it’s not just say, Oct. 27 at precisely 9:54 a.m. when the video clicks on in my head every year. It can be at any given moment. Sometimes it’ll just start to play and you can’t shut it off. And that’s what it means to be a survivor. You have to learn to live with those things. I’ve got to go with it and let it play and get through it.

I know so many people right now who are thinking about vengeance, because 1,400 Israelis are gone in a moment as the result of acts of unbelievable brutality. And I think it’d be natural for anyone to want to seek vengeance. Have the last five years made you think about vengeance and both its uses and its abuses?

When we try to seek vengeance, we lower ourselves to the same level as the perpetrator. And then we’re no better than the perpetrator. And it’s not a holier-than-thou attitude —  it’s more that I become a victim in another sense, because it changes the biochemistry of who I am. And I refuse to let that happen. I’m not going to let the perpetrator make me then become another victim. So I recognize the mission that’s been foisted upon me because of this. And that’s where I focus my attention. Vengeance has never entered into it. I can see why people could be prone to that. I totally understand. It’s a natural response, to give yourself the space to cope with the horror, the anger, all of the emotions of it and to rush to that sort of judgment with potential regret later.

But it saddens me when I see people who respond in a comparable dangerous, violent way, because that doesn’t solve anything. Just as one mitzvah causes another mitzvah, one sin causes another sin. The initial feeling might be one of delight, but give it a little time further and you’ll discover there’s more regret than there was delight for going down that path. So I made the choice long ago. No, I’m not going to carry that anger with me, because it’ll overwhelm you and it can destroy you and I’m not going to let that happen to me.

Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Oct. 31, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, four days after 11 Jewish worshippers were killed during services there. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

I saw a tweet, and it’s so different it’s almost hard to compare the two, but someone said that what happened in Israel on Oct. 7 was like Tree of Life times 100. Have you been talking to folks in Israel or people in your congregation about how to process what just happened, and do you worry about the wrong messages that might come out of a traumatic event like the Hamas attacks — perhaps calls for vengeance?

When we try to name something that’s unnamable and unexplainable, we frequently try to find the right comparison. Which is why you’ve heard language such as the Hamas attacks being the single greatest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, to try to put it in some term that people can understand. It’s very easy for us to expand on that and just [hate] all Muslims and all Arabs. And I’ve been praying to God: “Please don’t let me go down that path.”

I don’t think what happened in Israel could be compared to Tree of Life. Yes, they’re both about the threat of antisemitism. But [what happened in Israel] is far more than just that. You’re talking about an existential threat to the existence of a country.

As a rabbi, as a Jew, I pray that God should inspire and impart divine wisdom upon all those in the right leadership capacities in Israel, to make good, smart choices. That’s far beyond my skill set to figure out what those would be.

Anniversaries are meaningful but also somewhat arbitrary. Do you worry that the lessons or memories of what happened on Oct. 27 will fade over time or, as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, be overshadowed or subsumed by tragedies that seem even bigger or just more recent?

The past two years I’ve been privileged to participate in the Flight 93 memorial service on 9/11, because the flight 93 memorial is in Shanksville, which is an hour east of Pittsburgh. Over time, the observance has lessened and lessened and lessened. That’s just human nature. It’s how we cope with a trauma like that. I expect the same thing to happen when it comes to the 10/27 commemoration. Those who hold it most dear will continue to observe it in whatever personal ways they can, but there’s a gradual lessening of observance. It saddens me, but it’s what I would expect, having seen it in so many other circumstances.

You experienced something perhaps no other rabbi has had to go through in the modern era. What don’t outsiders understand about the shooting or its impact on you personally, or as a community? What would you want every synagogue rabbi or synagogue president to know based on your experience?

Be prepared. Take those trainings seriously. Because you may be called upon to save a life. Be direct with your congregants in terms of how they need to respond to this. God willing, you never need to use CPR, but you take the course because one day perhaps you might.

Because, as Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said to me, if [Nazi hunter] Simon Wiesenthal was alive today, his response to the shooting at Tree of Life would have been, “What took so long?” Because that’s the nature of America. We have something like 12 mass shootings per week in the United States.

What do you think is the most proper, the most appropriate way for people to take a pause and remember an event like 10/27?

It’s complex in a different way. For the Pittsburgh Jewish community, it’s the only event that’s observed twice: a solar date [on the standard calendar] and a lunar date [on the Jewish calendar]. There’s a heaviness to it because we get through the public commemoration, then there’s the yahrzeit [22 Heshvan, which fell this year on Oct. 22]. The public commemoration is really important because it’s not solely about an attack upon three congregations in one building. For so many Pittsburghers, it was an attack upon Pittsburgh. So many took it personally. It’s about all of Pittsburgh and how we come together.

But in the end I think our Jewish tradition is just so beautiful and powerful: We gather, we pray together, we say Kaddish together. But when the entire community says Kaddish together, and you get to the lines where the congregation usually says “amen,” there’s nobody to say “amen” because we’re all mourners. To me that’s that incredible.


The post The rabbi who survived the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting 5 years ago considers hope in a dark time for the world’s Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities

The bloodied aftermath of a kindergarten in Kibbutz Be’eri attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen

More than 100 Israeli victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel filed a lawsuit on Monday against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Palestinian terrorist organization and helping it carry out the massacre last year that killed more than 1,200 people.

The lawsuit claims that the UN organization dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants has spent years “sending over one billion dollars from UNRWA’s New York bank account in Manhattan that defendants then caused to be delivered to Gaza in cash US dollars to benefit Hamas.” UNRWA allegedly laundered billions in donor cash to Hamas, “greatly reducing humanitarian aid provided to Gaza residents and playing a key role in the Oct. 7 attack.” MM~LAW LLC filed the lawsuit against UNRWA in US federal court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Both the Israeli government and watchdog groups have unveiled evidence purportedly showing that many UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, assisted in kidnapping Israelis that day, tortured and hid Israeli hostages in their homes, aided in the transfer of Hamas weapons and trucks, and had other close ties to Hamas.

The UN has been probing the allegations in an ongoing investigation. In April, a UN spokesperson said that one case of an employee helping Hamas and its Oct. 7 onslaught had been closed and four others suspended, citing a lack of evidence.

Israel discovered that Hamas used UNRWA facilities in Gaza, including its schools, to run operations and attacks against Israel and to store weapons, both in and under UNRWA institutions. The Israeli military recently revealed that in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Hamas terrorists were found in UNRWA’s central logistics compound alongside UN vehicles. A group of 3,000 teachers working in Gaza for UNRWA even praised the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. UNRWA operates 183 schools in Gaza that are staffed by over 9,400 employees, according to the lawsuit

UNRWA schools have previously been accused of inciting antisemitism, terrorism, and hatred of Israel in the textbooks it distributes to Palestinians students.

The Israeli victims of Oct. 7 claim in their lawsuit that UNRWA “knowingly and intentionally” employed Hamas members and “knowingly provided material support to Hamas in Gaza,” including providing them access to UNRWA facilities and offering “safe havens for terrorists and their materiel.”

They accuse UNRWA of facilitating “construction of Hamas command and control centers, attack tunnels and underground bunkers under UNRWA headquarters, UNRWA schools, medical clinics, and offices.” The UN agency is also accused of turning its facilities into “prison cells to hold hostages,” as well as “military storage and deployment bases, including the storage and guarding over weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies, to be used by terrorists.”

UNRWA “collectively spent over a decade prior to the Oct.7 attack helping Hamas build up the terror infrastructure and personnel that were necessary to carry out the Oct. 7 attack, including by knowingly providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel,” the lawsuit charges.

The UN organization also allegedly “permitted installation of rocket launching platforms and terrorist firing positions within and/or adjacent to UNRWA schools, medical clinics and offices, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

The case includes accusations about UNRWA implementing a tactic to further fund Hamas by paying its Gaza staff in US dollars rather than local currency, which is the Israeli shekel. The lawsuit states that although other large, local employers in Gaza pay their employees in shekels, UNRWA instead pays its local staff in US dollars and in cash. As a result, UNRWA personnel are required “to turn to Hamas-affiliated moneychangers” to exchange their cash dollars for shekels needed to buy things like groceries and other necessities.

“Hamas runs the majority of the Gaza moneychangers, and those are that are not actually run by Hamas are required by Hamas to pay Hamas a share of the fees they earn (often ranging from 10 percent up to 25 percent) for such exchange transactions, thus ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA’s payroll went to Hamas,” the lawsuit explained. “Hamas uses the moneychangers to finance its military activities, and there are multiple examples in recent years of Hamas using currency exchange facilities in Gaza to finance its military activities.”

The lawsuit continued, “Hamas desperately needed the US currency itself. US dollars in cash form are vital to Hamas for purposes such as obtaining weapons on the international black market to be smuggled into Gaza and used for terrorist purposes, including the Oct. 7 attack.”

The plaintiffs said that because UNRWA’s actions in aiding Hamas “occurred in significant part” in New York — like trips taken by UNRWA personnel to the United Nations in New York City to secure funding from donor countries — the federal court in New York in which they filed their lawsuit has jurisdiction to making a ruling in the case.

Plaintiffs include not only victims of the attack but also families and representatives of those murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. They demand a trial by jury and are seeking damages “in an amount to be proven at trial.”

The post Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help

When Michal Harel and her family moved to Canada from Israel in April of 2019, they had a hard time getting settled. Between learning English, finding a home, acquiring work permits, and of course navigating the more restrained social norms in Canada, Harel and her husband, Avital Epstein, struggled to get their new life in […]

The post Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month

Trucks stand at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, Egypt, April 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Israeli offensive in the Rafah area gradually took all the ground adjacent to the border between Gaza and Egypt. Over the past few days, there have been reports of Israeli forces now conducting attacks from the area taken northwards, both in the relatively open area between the city of Rafah and the coast and inside Rafah itself.

Many civilians in Gaza have moved to the safe havens allotted by the IDF. The resistance by the US government to the Rafah operation was based on the premise this would not happen. Just as in the previous IDF offensives in northern Gaza and the Khan Yunis area, the rate of evacuation is one of the factors determining the rate of advance of the IDF units.

During the clearing operations in each area taken, IDF units have uncovered hundreds of tunnels, including dozens crossing the border into Egypt. These tunnels were used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza, as well as civilian traffic — both people and goods. Officially the Egyptians destroy all tunnels they discover on their side of the border, but apparently, over the past few years, they have reduced this effort considerably — these tunnels all have large openings on the Egyptian side of the border, they are not small or camouflaged, and the traffic through them was not a trickle.

Rocket launchers and stocks of rockets were also found adjacent to the Egyptian border. Additionally, more evidence has been found in Rafah of Hamas’ use of UN sites and mosques.

The IDF has also continued to conduct raids into northern Gaza and Khan Yunis whenever concentrations of returning Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are discovered, as well as raids into the Nuseyrat area, between Gaza and Nuseyrat. The Nuseyrat area is the only one in which the IDF has not yet conducted a major offensive operation.

In a much publicized raid on June 8, which was conducted by a Police Force special unit supported by the IDF, four hostages held in two separate private homes (one belonging to a news photographer who had published in Al-Jazeera) were rescued. An Israeli officer was killed in this raid, and a few others were wounded. The Palestinians, as usual, claimed enormous casualties to civilians living in the area of the raid. Again as usual, there is no evidence that the published number was anywhere near the truth.

Given similar events in the past — when numbers claimed by the Palestinians of hundreds of civilians killed by the IDF were later found to be grossly exaggerated, to have included many terrorists, and to have included Palestinians killed or wounded by Palestinian fire — the reliability of these numbers must be regarded as suspect.

Also found over the past few weeks were the bodies of a number of hostages killed on October 7 whose bodies were taken to Gaza, as well as a few who were kidnapped alive and then killed while being held. One more body was discovered inside Israel.

After spending an estimated $320 million on building a floating pier to provide humanitarian supplies, it seems the US will permanently dismantle it. It was incapable of withstanding the buffeting of waves, and broke apart once. The pieces were then towed to an Israeli port for repair and to await a calming of the sea. Afterwards it was returned to the Gaza coast, but when the sea conditions worsened again, the Americans pulled it out again. Because the IDF captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing, Egypt refused to continue sending humanitarian supplies through it. However, supplies increased through the other crossings between Israel and Gaza, thereby bypassing Hamas tax-collectors. According to posts published by Gazans on social media, this lowered the prices of commodities in Gaza.

On June 9, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNHCA) published a report stating that the claim that there is a famine in Gaza is not based on supporting evidence:

The FRC does not find the FEWS NET analysis plausible given the uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis. Therefore, the FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed during April.

They qualify that statement by claiming they are physically incapable of acquiring sufficient reliable evidence. However, photographs posted on social media by Gazans show that the real problem is less a matter of lack of foodstuffs and more an issue of inefficient distribution. The IDF spokesperson has reported that much of the supplies are simply being stored inside Gaza and awaiting distribution because the organizations in charge of distribution are incapable of meeting the rate of supplies flowing into Gaza. Furthermore, Gazans are complaining openly that Hamas is deliberately taking much of the supplies and hoarding them to sell at high prices to raise funds for its operations. They also complain of theft of supplies by criminal organizations for the same purpose.

Lebanon

In a speech given on June 19 by Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, he claimed that:

Hezbollah has 100,000 troops all told and has therefore turned down requests by other organizations of the Iranian-led Shiite alliance to send contingents to Lebanon.

Hezbollah has the full panoply of weapons to conduct ground, air and sea combat, it manufactures weapons at home, and it is receiving weapons from Iran despite Israel’s attempts to prevent this.

He also claimed that Hezbollah has information that Cyprus has agreed to allow Israel to use its airports if Israeli airports are damaged by Hezbollah fire. He threatened that if Cyprus does this, it too will become a target of Hezbollah’s firepower.

This is not the first time Nasrallah has mentioned the 100,000 troops figure. This is considerably more than all previous reports, which ranged from a low of 45,000 to a high of 60,000. The previous occasion was in October 2021 when internal tensions in Lebanon threatened to boil over into a possible civil war. If he is speaking the truth, then Hezbollah has more men than the official Lebanese army (85,000). The Hezbollah forces are certainly better trained on average than the Lebanese army, and they are also better equipped in some areas.

The exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border continues at a varying but fairly low intensity. Over the past few weeks Israeli attacks have escalated in the choice of targets, which are now no longer only near the border but also include Hezbollah installations in central and northern Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded by increasing the size of its rocket and exploding drone salvos into Israel. There are reports that to reduce casualties Hezbollah has withdrawn many of its personnel several kilometers north of the border and is conducting almost all its fire from a distance.

Hezbollah has admitted that so far 349 of its personnel have been killed (another 50 since my last report). This does not include non-Shiite members of Hezbollah who probably add at least a few dozen to the list.

In addition to the numerical increase in Hezbollah casualties, there has also been an increase in their ranks and importance. The commander and some senior staff members of one of Hezbollah’s three divisions in south Lebanon were killed, as were some senior staff members of another division.

Israeli casualties

The total number of Israelis confirmed killed on and since October 7, 2023, is now 1,609, with another approximately 16,500 wounded.

There are still approximately 116 kidnapped Israelis and non-Israelis in Gaza. How many are alive and how many dead is not known. In the negotiations with Hamas, Israel demanded a list of those alive and those dead, but Hamas refused. Furthermore, Hamas claims not to know the whereabouts of more than a few dozen of the hostages. Some are in the hands of other groups or even “private” clans who joined the assault on Israel in the third wave of the Hamas attack on 7 October. Thus, for example, the four Israelis rescued since my last report were all held in the private homes of “civilians.”

In addition, 19 Israeli civilians have been killed in Hamas rocket attacks and seven by Hezbollah.

As of last month, a total of 662 IDF soldiers have been killed (42 more than my previous report) on all fronts since and including October 7.

Palestinian casualties

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas in its role as the government of Gaza, claims that approximately 37,500 Gazans have been killed so far, and approximately 85,000 wounded. They do not differentiate between personnel of Hamas and other terrorist organizations and civilians, but according to the IDF, at least 15,000 Hamas and other terrorists have been killed. The IDF has also captured many terrorists, though the exact number has not been divulged. From anecdotal information it can be estimated at 3,000-3,500 (there have been no reports of major surrenders over the past month).

Given that Hamas and the other groups had 40,000-50,000 personnel between them (different sources provide different numbers, and there is a problem counting part-timers as opposed to regulars or official “reserves”), these numbers represent a sizeable chunk of their manpower. However, we have no information on the recruitment rate of new personnel, who are perhaps less trained but still add to the numbers. Hamas youth movements (equivalent to Boys Scout movements) conduct basic firearms training from an early age, so they have a recruitment pool of teenagers available to join the fighting.

Until early May, the UN claimed (quoting Hamas numbers) that of the nearly 35,000 Gazans killed in the war till then, 9,500 were women and 14,500 were children; i.e., approximately 68.5% of the killed. Suddenly, two days later, the UN approximately halved the numbers to nearly 5,000 women and 7,800 children; i.e., approximately 36.5% of the killed.

It should be noted that Israel has been consistently claiming its combatant/non-combatant ratio is one of the best and perhaps the best ever achieved by any army fighting in urban areas. These new numbers prove it. In fact, given that the term “children” includes anyone under 18 and that Hamas and the other organizations employ teenagers younger than that as combatants (15-18 year-olds), the ratio is in fact even better than these numbers show. Any civilian deaths are regrettable, but they are unfortunately inevitable whenever combat occurs where civilians are present. When one side deliberately uses them as human shields, this of course happens even more.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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