This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

I went into our Jerusalem bed­room at a lit­tle after 8 a.m. on Sat­ur­day morn­ing to get dressed for syn­a­gogue. My wife Ilana sat at a small fold­ing table by the win­dow, a head­set over her ears and her eyes intent on her lap­top screen. She had just begun one of her vol­un­teer shifts field­ing calls from lone­ly and trou­bled peo­ple from all over the coun­try for Eran, Israel’s emo­tion­al first aid ser­vice.

I could over­hear only Ilana’s respons­es to her first caller. Where are the booms com­ing from?” she asked with prac­ticed and sin­cere empa­thy. I caught her eye and we nod­ded at each oth­er. Ilana has been with Eran for many years now, and some­times the callers are peo­ple suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness. We assumed these booms” were hallucinations.

Then the air raid siren went off — pierc­ing­ly, close by. Not delir­i­um at all. 

Our apart­ment com­plex was built in 1980, long before secu­ri­ty rooms were man­dat­ed by the build­ing code. There’s a bomb shel­ter in the base­ment in a dis­tant part of our U‑shaped build­ing, but it’s not in great con­di­tion and in any case it’s much too far away and dan­ger­ous to run to if mis­siles are falling. The civ­il defense pro­to­cols advise us to take shel­ter in the stair­well, which is sup­pos­ed­ly the strongest part of the build­ing (I’m not con­vinced this is real­ly true) and to stay as far away as pos­si­ble from win­dows. The chances of a direct hit by a mis­sile are small, but one that falls near­by can send sharp shards of glass fly­ing with great force. My daugh­ters, daugh­ter-in-law, and my grand­daugh­ter, Ya’ar, were stay­ing with us and fol­lowed these instruc­tions; Ilana stuck to her post.

I took Ya’ar to our syn­a­gogue, just across the street. It’s a new­er build­ing and safer than ours. The siren sound­ed again soon after we arrived, and we decid­ed to move the wor­ship down into the secure base­ment. It was both Shab­bat and Sim­chat Torah, mark­ing the end and the begin­ning of the year­ly cycle of Torah read­ing. Usu­al­ly the ser­vices are very long and many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are called to read from the Torah and we dance with the scrolls. We short­ened the service.

The enor­mi­ty and the hor­ror of what was hap­pen­ing start­ed to hit us over the course of the day. (We don’t usu­al­ly lis­ten to the radio on Shab­bat, but we turned it on and kept it at low vol­ume so that we could under­stand what was hap­pen­ing and receive any instruc­tions that the army might broad­cast.) My first reac­tion was anger — at Hamas and its fol­low­ers, but also at my own army and gov­ern­ment, which had clear­ly fucked up. But I remind­ed myself that the facts would come out only slow­ly, after the war was over, and that spec­u­la­tion at this time is use­less. Fear came fast on the heels of my anger. Fear not so much of Hamas, but of the fact that this emer­gency was in the hands of a gov­ern­ment in which I have no con­fi­dence, and which I have been protest­ing against from its incep­tion, as it is manned by extrem­ist and incom­pe­tent min­is­ters intent on destroy­ing the fun­da­men­tal insti­tu­tions of Israeli democ­ra­cy and the rule of law. 

My elder son was called up for reserve duty on Sun­day and sent to the south to bat­tle the ter­ror­ists. We lost our younger son, Niot, to an acci­dent dur­ing his army ser­vice twelve and a half years ago. Every­one is fright­ened that they will lose their sons and daugh­ters. I can’t say any more than that we feel inca­pable of los­ing anoth­er child. 

I teared up dur­ing Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s speech on Tues­day. Nev­er has a US pres­i­dent giv­en Israel such elo­quent, pow­er­ful, sin­cere sup­port. Israel is receiv­ing sim­i­lar back­ing from oth­er West­ern coun­tries. But we can’t take that for grant­ed as the war pro­gress­es. There is much we can do that will turn the world against us. To make sure that does not hap­pen, we must set aside the illu­sion that we can do as we wish, with­out regard for inter­na­tion­al law and our moral compass.

We’re in the midst of a war to defend our­selves and vic­to­ry in that war is the first pri­or­i­ty. But the Pales­tini­ans in the Gaza Strip — not all of whom sup­port Hamas — have also suf­fered, and will inevitably suf­fer much more in the cur­rent war. The thirst for revenge is a nat­ur­al and under­stand­able reac­tion, but we need, as we bury and mourn our dead and tend to the wound­ed, to keep a lev­el head. We must fight but we must also think about the day and the years after the war is over. To respond to Hamas’s atroc­i­ties by adopt­ing its meth­ods would be a vic­to­ry for our ene­mies. Anger, fear, hor­ror — we can’t help but feel these things. But they can’t guide us because they lead nowhere. We must breathe deeply, look up from our screens, and think about the lives we want to lead when the war is over, and how to build those lives even as we fight to pre­serve them.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Haim Watz­man lives in Jerusalem and is the author of three books: Com­pa­ny C: An American’s Life as a Cit­i­zen-Sol­dier in Israel; A Crack in the Earth: A Jour­ney Up Israel’s Rift Val­ley; and a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Nec­es­sary Sto­ries, a selec­tion of the more than 150 he has writ­ten. His play The Chair won the 2021 The­ater Insti­tute Award of the Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Dra­ma Inter­na­tion­al Com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makin­skie Jew­ish The­ater in War­saw. He has trans­lat­ed more than 50 books from Hebrew into Eng­lish, among them works by Shlo­mo Avineri, David Gross­man, Hil­lel Cohen, Amos Oz, and Tom Segev. He edit­ed the Eng­lish-lan­guage ver­sion of Yuval Noah Harari’s world­wide best­seller, Sapi­ens. Sub­scribe to his Sub­stack newslet­ter here.