Interview by Lisa Arnold
What has it been like to live in Israel since the 7th October massacre? Lisa Arnold interviewed Dani R to find out.
This interview was conducted by Lisa for Humanistischer Pressedienst (Humanist Press Service) which is based in Berlin. We are very grateful to her for making it available to Humanistically Speaking.
Lisa interviewed Dani R who lives in Ra'anana, which is twenty kilometres north of Tel Aviv, Israel. Dani was born and raised in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, and he emigrated to Israel at the age of twenty-four. He is now married with five young children. Professionally, he is an entrepreneur and works from Israel for a Swiss company. Dani is not his real name.
Currently, there's a lot of media coverage of fighting in the Gaza Strip and the situation for Palestinians. But people in Israel are still under fire from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon following the Hamas massacres on October 7th. Dani is experiencing the situation in a suburb of Tel Aviv, where the war is both horror and everyday life. In this interview, he gives an insight into what life has been like for him and his wife and their five children since October 7th. He's convinced that Israeli society will survive this crisis and emerge stronger.
Lisa: How did you experience October 7th?
Dani: We were woken up at 6.30 in the morning by a rocket alarm. Within seconds, my wife and I got our five children out of bed and ran to the bomb shelter. Luckily we were both at home. Recently, I had to do this alone with the children, which wasn't easy.
Have there often been missile alarms?
No, this year the first alert was on October 7. It's different in the villages next to the Gaza Strip, where rocket alarms are a regular feature of everyday life. But sirens in central Israel never really come as a surprise, it's always a development. First a rocket in the south and then an attack by the air force, it was always a sequence of warlike events that we were able to observe. So it was always apparent when something was coming our way. On October 7, it was immediately clear that it was not "normal". Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and there have been repeated short wars, most recently in 2022 against the Islamic Jihad. This time, Israel was taken completely by surprise. As a deceptive manoeuvre, Hamas repeatedly sent numerous fighters to the fence between Israel and Gaza in recent months, so that Israel no longer sent out any warning signals when the attack actually came. It was a bit like the fable "The Shepherd and the Wolf". The Israeli security forces and intelligence services were convinced that Hamas had no interest in escalating the conflict. They were very wrong.
Into the air raid shelter with five children – how long does it take you?
Where we live, north of Tel Aviv, we have 90 seconds until the missiles hit or are shot down by the Iron Dome missile defence system. But we have to run down two floors with all the children. Right next to the Gaza Strip, it's only 15 seconds before the rockets or other projectiles hit. We have 50 litres of water, food for a few days, a first-aid kit etc. in our bomb shelter, so we could survive down there for a while.
What happened on October 7 after the missile alert?
After the rocket warning and our stay in the bunker, we went to synagogue as a family despite everything and celebrated the Simchat Torah festival. Slowly, the first horror stories of a brutal lynching of a soldier and reports of Hamas terrorists entering Israeli villages on off-road vehicles reached us via the media and friends. Shortly afterwards, we heard cars speeding away – soldiers on leave, heading south at lightning speed. But no one had any idea that in those hours over 1,000 Israelis were brutally murdered, tortured and raped and that a large number of children and babies were also killed and 240 Israeli hostages were taken to the Palestinian coastal enclave.
When did you realize the extent of the attack?
On the evening of October 7, there was talk of 40 dead, shortly afterwards of 100. It was only within the next two to three days that the extent became known and people began to understand that a brutal massacre had taken place. It was only days later that the sexual crimes and the torture of civilians, including children, were increasingly uncovered.
Why was Hamas able to march into Israel with around 3,000 fighters so easily?
Israel has made fatal mistakes, both in terms of prevention and reaction. In prevention, the secret services failed completely, signs that indicated something was going on were not taken seriously. Too many soldiers have been deployed to the West Bank in recent months because there have been many small attacks against soldiers and civilians there, with dozens of deaths in 2023 alone. The region around the Gaza Strip has been neglected, relying too heavily on the high-tech fence. Around 3,000 heavily armed Hamas fighters marched into Israel. The terrorists were able to torture, slaughter, rape and burn for hours. The army reacted too late and was not organized well enough. Many soldiers and armed civilians set off on their own towards the south to stop the advance and save lives. Many paid for this with their own lives. These are the initial findings. It will take months and years to follow up and draw conclusions.
What is it like in your environment?
A distant acquaintance of mine, a young paediatrician and father of seven children, was called to the front on that black day. He was shot that very morning. Around ten young people from our small town died, many of whom were at the Nova music festival. The reports of victims of the war continue to this day, with soldiers and civilians dying every day.
How dangerous is it really for you?
The danger is there at the moment, but it is mostly calm in the centre of the country. It is particularly dangerous for the soldiers. There are also a lot of families who have come here from the north and south. The towns near the border have been evacuated. We were in Switzerland for a few days, during which time a family from Ashkelon came to stay with us, and now they have found another temporary place to stay. Ashkelon is a town near the Gaza Strip and it has been badly affected. A friend of mine was drafted into the army, he has seen his young children twice since October 7, his wife startles when there are reports of dead and wounded again and is scared every time someone rings their doorbell – it could be the army psychological service coming by to report her husband's death.
Where do people find accommodation?
In empty hotels, with family members, acquaintances, etc. The tourists are gone. The hotel rooms are available. Schools have even been opened in these hotels to give the children some normality. It is not expected that this war will be over soon.
How long do you think the war will last?
The point is this: A considerable part of the Israeli population is actually very critical of the government. But at the moment it's not about whether you're left or right, whether you like Netanyahu or not. There is an understanding that we have to survive now. Things that we used to discuss are no longer relevant. The war with Hamas may last a few more weeks or months. But it is quite possible that the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon will launch even stronger attacks on Israel and the situation in the north will escalate. A war in the north could last for years.
What is the goal of Israel?
The first is to free the 240 hostages, including 30 children, including babies. On October 7, there were horrific images circulating of children being beaten by Palestinian civilians in Gaza and of infants being kept in animal cages. Where the 240 hostages are today, how they are doing, how many of them are still alive, only the terrorists themselves know. The second goal is to bring those who carried out the massacre to justice. Many of the Hamas fighters who carried out the massacres returned to the Gaza Strip after October 7 and hid under the Shifa hospital and in other places in the tunnels. The destruction of the military infrastructure is of course also of great importance to Israel. The third is to restore calm in the longer term. Israelis have the right to live in their country without always having to fear that 3,000 bloodthirsty fanatics will invade again. Hezbollah in Lebanon and other militias in the Middle East must also realize that attacking Israel is not a good idea.
From whom do you perceive the greatest solidarity?
On the one hand, there is certainly a great sense of solidarity within the population. In addition, many Jewish communities around the world are helping and donating. There are also many Christians in the USA who are donating. There is a great deal of gratitude towards the USA because they are not only helping with words, but also financially and militarily. Other countries like Germany have also supported us, Scholz was there and experienced a missile attack first hand. There is also a lot of solidarity in the social media, which somewhat offsets all the hatred that is being sown there.
The others are at the front, you're in the office. What is your contribution?
It's actually a paradox. You sit in your office and hear that four young men have died, for example. They would have had their whole lives ahead of them and I'm sitting here at my desk. But on the other hand, everyone has a job to do and I'm helping to ensure that the economy doesn't completely collapse. I do voluntary work, we support families whose fathers are at war, we send them food parcels to the front, show solidarity and help with everything we can.
"There is a movie that is only being shown to diplomats, politicians and foreign military personnel for the time being. Some of the Hamas fighters wore body cams and filmed their actions. Psychologists say that watching the movie can cause severe psychological damage."
How are you?
It took me a week or two to start to digest the whole thing a bit. I have to consciously curb my own media consumption. I specifically inform myself twice a day and have friends who would notify me immediately if there really was something relevant. It's extremely stressful to deal with all these reports of torture, mass rape and so on. There is a movie that is only being shown to diplomats, politicians and foreign military personnel for the time being. Some of the Hamas fighters wore body cams and filmed their actions. Psychologists say that watching the movie can cause severe psychological damage. Perhaps it makes certain circles realize what kind of beasts they are dealing with, but I don't see any added value for the population when they see such images. In one scene, the "Palestinian freedom fighters" tear out a father's eye and he has to watch his daughter being tortured to death with the remaining eye. There are scenes in which children's limbs are chopped off. I don't want to have to watch something like that.
How is media literacy and dealing with fake news and propaganda videos?
I haven't seen much fake news myself. But a prime example is the story of the Gaza hospital with the 500 dead that Hamas spread. They said that the hospital had been hit by an Israeli missile. All the media, including those in Switzerland, uncritically adopted and published the information. This led to demonstrations in the Arab world and elsewhere. After a few days, it became clear that 500 people had not died and that it was not the hospital that had been hit, but a parking lot next to the hospital. Israel and various intelligence services then analysed satellite images and explained that it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that was fired at Israel and did not reach its target, but exploded next to the hospital and cost the lives of Palestinian civilians. This is simply an example that shows how Hamas spread the news specifically because they knew that the media would spread the news unfiltered and thus the legitimacy of Israel would suffer and the Israeli army's room for manoeuvre would be restricted.
So Hamas is being tactically clever?
Exactly, they were also super-prepared when it came to exploiting the media coverage. For example, they have TikTok and Instagram influencers who film injured and dead civilians in the Shifa hospital 24/7, who unfortunately come to harm during the armed conflicts in the Gaza Strip.
This is how they stir up hatred of Israel and distract attention from what happened on October 7. Of course, they have been planning this for a long time and many of the Western media have not done their homework properly and fall into the Hamas media trap every day. This began on October 7, when freelancers working for Western media were present when the Hamas terrorists went on the rampage in Israel. They documented the atrocities committed by Hamas. In my opinion, this reflects very badly on the Western media, which has local employees who allow themselves to be used for such things.
What could the media do better?
It is an asymmetrical conflict. Hamas has the goal of destroying Israel and also wants as many Palestinian victims as possible. This helps them, of course, when President Erdogan in Turkey and Arab and European politicians and citizens become angry with Israel and can thus fuel resentment towards Israel. Israel has no interest in harming civilians. On the one hand, this is of no military benefit at all, on the other hand, it damages Israel's reputation enormously. But that is precisely why Hamas is entrenching itself under hospitals, schools, mosques and similar institutions. They shoot their rockets at Israel from there and set up their command centres so that they are very close to civilians. It is very important that the Western media take a more differentiated look at this and check the facts.
How do you keep yourself informed?
I have put together a mix for myself. I keep myself informed via newspapers and online portals from Switzerland, America, Israel and also on Arab channels. I try to look at the whole spectrum. I know that it is extremely difficult for journalists to grasp the situation. Above all, it is important to keep October 7 in mind. That is the reason why we are at war today.
How do your children react to the situation?
The other day I took my baby in the baby carriage out into the fresh air in our garden. His five-year-old brother immediately ran to me and said it was dangerous, he could be hit by a rocket outside. An hour later there was a rocket alarm, we ran back into the bomb shelter and after a few seconds we heard explosions. Some of the rockets were fired, one landed on a house near Tel Aviv and destroyed a large part of it. Fortunately, no one was hurt. However, the children also show a lot of understanding for the situation, especially the older ones. When there are rocket attacks, the children are still a bit scared, but they are not yet traumatized by the experiences. It is important that we give them stability and attention. That we explain to them in an age-appropriate way what is happening and what this war is. But that we don't allow ourselves to be restricted and still take them to the playground. We try, as far as possible, to bring a routine back into their lives. That is also the goal of the terrorists, to destroy it and make a normal life impossible.
"In 1929, the centuries-old Jewish community in Hebron was massacred and 69 Jews were murdered. Jewish victims also had their eyes gouged out and hands chopped off. Just like 94 years later, in 2023."
Why don't you just go to Switzerland?
I don't consider the situation in the centre of the country to be particularly dangerous for civilians at the moment. There can always be terrorist attacks in Israel. Unfortunately, this is and has always been a part of life here, even before the state was founded in 1948 and before Israel took military control of the West Bank in 1967. In 1929, the centuries-old Jewish community in Hebron was massacred and 69 Jews were murdered. Jewish victims also had their eyes gouged out and hands chopped off. Just like 94 years later, in 2023. We spent a few days in Switzerland, but then came back. We also want to make a statement – we won't be driven away from here, this is our home, we stand up for Western civilization and its values.
You were born and raised in Switzerland. Why did you choose Israel as your place of residence?
I was already fascinated by Israel as a teenager and then spent a year here in a kibbutz and also worked as a paramedic in an ambulance – both very formative experiences. I officially immigrated 13 years ago. My wife is from Israel, her family is originally from Iraq, from one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, dating back to the Babylonian exile. In 1951, her family was forcibly expelled from Baghdad, after 2,600 years. They fled to Israel, but had to leave everything behind. Other family members here are descendants of Jews who came to Israel from Eastern Europe around 1780. Of course, it was a different kind of immigration to mine; dangerous boat trips and treks through the desert used to be the only way to get to Israel.
Your wife also has a definite opinion on the situation and posts it on Facebook. Do you agree?
There are political issues on which we agree and others on which our opinions differ.
How important is politics in your marriage?
It's not a big issue. Despite all our differences, we are a great team. With five children, you are very focused and have more than enough to do.
How do you see the future with the Palestinians?
In recent years, the doctrine that the conflict can be managed has prevailed in Israel. The aim was to have as much normality as possible. Even if this means that terrorist groups such as Hamas can arm themselves. After the massacre of over 1,000 Israelis, this is no longer the case. Most Israelis say that they would rather do without peace and stability in the short term so that October 7 can never happen again. That is why most Israelis support the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, despite the fallen soldiers and the economic and political consequences. Israel's existence is at stake here. Unfortunately, sacrifices have to be made for this. Freedom has its price.
Are you worried about anti-Semitism in Europe?
I am not at all surprised. Unfortunately, it is relatively widespread among certain population groups with an immigrant background. And, as in the past, it also serves as an outlet for a variety of frustrations that have nothing to do with Israel or the Jewish population in Europe or elsewhere. Jewish institutions are heavily protected; in Germany and France, heavily armed police officers are stationed outside every Jewish school. This has been part of everyday life for years. In my opinion, even more protection will be needed in the near future. In the neighbourhood where we live in Israel, around ten percent of the residents are from France. Many no longer feel safe as Jews there. That raises a lot of questions.
How have you experienced the last ten years?
The country of Israel is still under construction and is portrayed very differently in the media than it is in reality. The coexistence of Jews and Muslims actually works very well. We also have a gardener here in our Jewish neighbourhood who is Muslim. Our dentist is a Muslim Palestinian, but she has an Israeli passport. But it is precisely these relationships of trust that are being destroyed at the moment, because there were also relationships of trust from which information flowed to the other party. For example, Khalil worked in a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip for decades, where he did gardening work, knew the people and also gained insights into their households and daily lives. Papers were found on Hamas fighters who died in the fighting in the kibbutzim, recording in extreme detail who lived where and how. Information that must have come from Khalil, because only he could have had all this knowledge. For example: number of people per household, dog yes or no, weapon yes or no, where the bomb shelter was, etc.
So are you also afraid of espionage?
The open question now is whether he passed on the information voluntarily as an informer or whether he handed it over under threat. But stories like this destroy the relationship of trust between Israelis and Arabs who work here in the long term. Many will now probably say that they no longer want to employ Palestinian workers. It's all about minimizing risk.
So it is no longer a government war, but the hostility is also seeping into the population?
The mistrust is great. Israeli Arabs have shown more or less solidarity over the past month. Of course there were those who sided with Hamas. But there were no riots, there were those who distanced themselves from Hamas. Dozens of Israeli Bedouins in the Negev were shot dead, hit by rockets or kidnapped. They have also suffered greatly from the invasion and are therefore very angry with Hamas and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Are you in contact with the opponents?
No. Not even before the war.
What do you want most?
That the hostages are released. That is the most important thing. It's not as if the 240 people, including many young women, children and Holocaust survivors, are receiving a hot meal three times a day. They are probably being badly mistreated and I believe that every day counts. We must free them all as quickly as possible and bring them to safety. And then, of course, I hope that a certain normality and calm will return here. But that will take a while yet.