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A woman mourns an Israeli couple who were killed in a deadly attack by Hamas gunmen from Gaza as they attended a festival, in Kiryat Tivon, Israel, on Oct. 12.SHIR TOREM/Reuters

Ayelet Tsabari’s latest book is The Art of Leaving.

My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I have a looming deadline for my next novel and I shouldn’t sleep in. Still I doze until 6:30, when I hear a distant siren. I sit up, heart racing. There’s a text from my partner, Sean, who’s working near the Dead Sea: “Go to the shelter.” Another siren. Louder this time.

I gently nudge my 10-year-old daughter, who wakes with a start. We are lucky that our apartment building has a bunker. In our neighbourhood, many people huddle in the stairwell during missile attacks. We run down the four flights of stairs and join our bleary-eyed neighbours underground.


Simchat Torah is when we celebrate the beginning of the annual cycle of the Torah. We had plans to meet my mother for breakfast and then go to the synagogue to see the hakafot, the men singing and dancing while carrying the Torah scrolls. We are as secular a family as they come, but a visit to the Yemeni synagogue on Simchat Torah is a fun event. Plus there’s candy to be had, flung by the women from their second-floor balcony, the kids scrambling to collect it from the floor. My daughter is upset about this change of plans. Over the next few hours, we run back down to the shelter a few times. The barrage of rockets is heavier than usual. I reassure my daughter: We have a bunker. We have the Iron Dome. We are safe.


It is almost 50 years to the day since the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that launched the bloody Yom Kippur War. I was a baby then, rushed by my father down five flights of stairs to the bunker in the suburban city of Petah Tikva, where we lived. It was also a holy day. I don’t know it yet, but there are other parallels between these two events, separated by half a century: the casualties, the negligence, the shattered overconfidence, the crushed national spirit.


The horrors start trickling in in small doses. Videos that look impossible. Dread creeps in. More footage, all of it sickening. Posts by people pleading for help, saying goodbye. Stop, I tell myself. Don’t look at snuff. Put away the phone. I look at my daughter. I have not told her anything further. I think of the children who were murdered, kidnapped, or witnessed horrors no kid should ever see. (“Dad was murdered,” reads a screenshot of a WhatsApp message from a child to her mom. “Help us.”)

I swallow tears. I hide my fear. I tell my daughter everything will be okay. I wonder if I’m lying. I fantasize about leaving, getting on a plane tomorrow.


The following day, Sunday, a beloved friend in Canada posts a “Free Palestine” slogan on social media. Nothing else. I’m hurt. Why not condemn the atrocities of Hamas first? Hamas is a terror organization as vile as the Islamic State. Hamas isn’t Palestine. Why not, at least, check first that I’m okay? That my family is safe? The failure by some “progressives” to condemn horrific, barbaric crimes – slaughtering entire families, kids and babies, setting fire to their homes, kidnapping women, children and the elderly, gunning down young people running for their lives from a party, dragging the naked bodies of women through the streets – is unfathomable. One can support Palestinian rights, and still condemn war crimes against Israeli civilians.

We just see things from different points of view, she writes. Compassion is always the best point of view, I reply.


As I write this, children and civilians in Gaza are being killed by Israeli air strikes. Israel begins a full siege on Gaza, cutting off power and water. My heart aches. The people of Gaza, who have suffered enough, are under fire again, suffering innumerable losses. Unlike me, they can’t leave.


Between the numerous messages of concern from friends and colleagues from Canada, I get a random e-mail from an unknown address advising me to leave Israel and return to my homeland or be thrown in the sea. The invasion of my own inbox chills me. I think of something a peace activist wrote on Twitter: “Nobody in this land is going anywhere.” I was born here. So were my parents. I am pretty sure Yemen, from which my grandparents emigrated, and which does not allow Israeli visitors, would not take me.


At night, I lock my windows and doors, hold my daughter and tell her to be quiet. Why? She asks. I don’t know what to say. I can’t sleep. I’m scared that they will come here, I think. I don’t want them to find us.


More than 1,200 people died in one day. Over 100 were taken hostage. In a country of nine million people. It is our 9/11. The bloodiest day in Israeli history.

Israel is a tiny country. Smaller than Vancouver Island. There is a small degree of separation between almost everyone I know and this tragedy. The mother of a woman from my choir and her Thai caretaker were murdered in one of the kibbutzim that was invaded. A friend lost his brother-in-law. My cousin’s daughter managed to escape the music festival that was attacked. Another cousin posts images from her wedding, which I attended, embracing a friend who is then shown in a video being dragged away by Hamas. He was murdered.

My feed is filled with people seeking their loved ones: A former neighbour’s two children are missing from the festival. A friend from the United States, whose only son is also missing – he was since confirmed dead. A Canadian friend messages a dear acquaintance in Be’eri who is a peace advocate and justice fighter for the Palestinian cause. Later, it is discovered that she was kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

One post, perhaps the saddest one of all, asks mothers or couples to volunteer taking care of recently orphaned babies.


Besides the devastation, the fear, the disbelief, there is anger. Anger for the colossal failure of this government, a government that has been the most right-wing, extreme and nationalistic in Israel’s history. A government that has driven people to fiercely protest against its planned judicial reforms for many months that failed to recognize the threat and protect us.

But, to borrow Israeli author and peace activist David Grossman’s words this week, “make no mistake, and do not be confused: with all the fury at Netanyahu and his people and his policies, the horror of these past few days was not caused by Israel. It was effected by Hamas.”


I drive away from my beloved city to a further one, to be with family in a safer place. At least until Sean returns from work and joins us. I go for a walk, circling my brother’s place, and look at the eyes of passersby. I see the heartbreak in them, the collective grief reflected back into mine. It starts to rain. I catch shelter under an awning. I stand alone and sob.


I delete social media from my phone. I try to eat. I call my mother. I check with loved ones. I hug my child. I offer my apartment to a family seeking refuge from the south. For now, this is all I can do.


A friend posts a picture of a tree that was cut down outside her window. Like our souls, she says, it will take a long time to grow back.

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