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Israelis on the Gaza border outraged at weeks of government complacency

Israeli kibbutzniks say they’ve been complaining to officials for weeks about Hamas troop movements

My brother-in-law David Levy woke up at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning to the sounds of an unrelenting missile attack.

“It was nonstop, nonstop for over two hours,” he told me by phone hours later from his home on Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev, about 20 minutes by car from the Gaza border.

David and his wife Etti ran to a neighboring bomb shelter as Iron Dome alarms sounded — making him, like so many Israelis, both desperately worried and livid.

“This is a total f–k-up,” he said, back in their house after getting an all-clear signal, at least for now. “It took hours for the army to get to some of the towns to confront Hamas. Hours. There’s still a hostage situation in Ofakim.”

That’s a town about a 15-minute drive from where David and Etti live, the place they’d gone the day before to pick up cake for Shabbat. Their friend Ofer Lipstein, who heads up the regional council there, was killed in the attack.

“I just heard he’s dead,” David said. “He was killed fighting them.”

The Lebanese news outlet Al-Manar was one of several outlets that carried reports on Lipstein’s death.

“Apparently, Hamas attacked at different points,” David told me. “They entered with armored vehicles, like Toyota Hilux with these huge machine guns on the back.”

He reeled off the names of nearby towns and kibbutzim under attack: Magen, Re’im, K’far Aza. The Israel official death toll at the time we spoke was over 100, with 900 wounded. Those numbers only climbed throughout the day.

“We don’t have any idea how many people have died, how many hostages,” he said. “They were burning houses to get the people out, to capture the people.”

There was an all-night rave going on near his home in the Negev. Thousands of young people were dancing to trance music in the desert to celebrate Sukkot. Hamas soldiers attacked the event, and thousands fled. But David said he fears “it was a massacre.”

I asked if his kibbutz was safe from ground attack.

“Who the f–k knows?” he said. “The front line was destroyed. Where are they? Are they all concentrated? Who knows? Maybe there’s some of them that are reaching Tel Aviv.”

The uncertainty quickly transitioned to anger over Israeli leadership.

“This is such a colossal failure, a colossal political failure, diplomatic failure, intelligence failure and military failure, colossal like the Yom Kippur War,” he said. “I mean, just think of who we’re dealing with here in the Middle East. Hamas was supposed to be like the least of our problems, compared to Hezbollah, compared to Iran.”

He said neighbors along the border with Gaza had been complaining to officials for weeks about Hamas troop movements.

“They were like, something’s going on in Gaza,” he said. “And the response was, ‘No, no, we came to terms with them. They’re not gonna start anything. They promised the U.N., they got money, they just want to come work. And it was a total deception. The IDF was totally unprepared. It started at 6:30 in the morning. It’s now 6:30 in the evening, and still there is fighting going on.”

It happened, David said, because Israel’s leaders — from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down — and Israelis themselves, were both divided and focused on the wrong things.

“Instead of being on the ball for security issues, we’ve been dealing with all this nonsensical s–t in this country,” he said. Attempts by the right-wing government to change the country’s governing laws and democratic nature, he said, were a complete, infuriating distraction. “That has nothing to do with anything existential. I hope that this is a wake-up call to everybody on all sides. This just has to stop.”

When Israel is divided, he said, “All we can do together is commit hari-kiri” — national suicide.

Now, the question is what Israel will do in response. 

Hamas leaders who meticulously planned the invasion no doubt counted on a retaliation. It will not be an easy war. No one knows how many civilian and IDF hostages are being held in Gaza, and how that will complicate any full-scale ground war.

“Obviously, Israel is going to make sure that Hamas pays a very, very, very big price on what happened. But I don’t know what that means, because I don’t know what the goal is.”

“They have to set a goal,” he said of Israel’s leaders. “I can’t see them totally taking out Hamas, who’s going to rule in Gaza?”

The Israeli media is speaking about Netanyahu forming a wartime emergency cabinet with his political opponents. David said there’s no way opponents like Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz would join a war cabinet with current far-right ministers like Boris Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

“They’re part of the whole problem,” he said of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

The whole tragedy portends a massive political shake-up. A close relative of his who is a staunch Netanyahu supporter and religious called him on the Sabbath — something strictly forbidden for religious Jews — and said he is “done with Bibi,” David said.

But where Israel goes from here is less clear, as the rockets keep falling and Israeli troops roll toward Gaza. Again, the Yom Kippur War, a surprise attack that took place 50 years and one day earlier, provides the template. There was the shock, the anger, the tragic loss, followed by deep national soul-searching and a political shake-up. Israel emerged, stronger, but scarred and pained, determined never to fall into the same deadly trap — until it did, yesterday.

“We have to find a way to get back to business,” David said. “We have to find a way of coming to terms with each other.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that David Levy had seen his friend Ofer Lipstein, who was killed on Saturday in an arrack on the southern Israeli city of Ofakim, when Levy visited there on Friday.

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