Home Top Stories ‘Everybody is scared’: As Gaza faces threat of ground invasion, tensions run high in Israel

‘Everybody is scared’: As Gaza faces threat of ground invasion, tensions run high in Israel

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‘Everybody is scared’: As Gaza faces threat of ground invasion, tensions run high in Israel

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ASHDOD, Israel — As residents of northern Gaza scrambled for safety amid bombs and the threat of a possible ground invasion, across Israel the start of a Jewish Sabbath was marked by high tensions, sirens and rockets.

In Ashdod, about 40 miles from the Gaza border and a frequent target of Hamas rockets, warnings of a possible air attack sounded Friday night, alerting people to get to a shelter.

In one of those shelters, a woman runs in, wearing pajamas and shouting into a phone: “I was going to keep Shabbat, but I’m too stressed! I decided to smoke!” If this were a film, the scene might offer a moment of levity, but here in reality, Israelis say they’re afraid of what’s to come in the days ahead.

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“All the people are so traumatized from the attacks,” an officer who identifies himself as a “fighter in a special police unit” said, referring to Hamas’ unprecedented attack almost one week ago.

The officer, who identified himself as a "fighter in a special police unit," carried an Israeli flag.
The officer, who identified himself as a “fighter in a special police unit,” carried an Israeli flag.Chantal Da Silva / NBC News

“Everybody is, like, very sad, you know? But you see how everybody is laughing?” the officer, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said, gesturing to a crowd of fellow officers laughing and talking nearby. “We’ll cry after the war. It’s not time to cry.”

‘I think everybody is scared, but we can’t be’

According to the officer, authorities in Israel have gotten a surge in calls from residents who are on high alert and scared for their safety. Sometimes it ends up being nothing, sometimes it’s something, he said. “They call the police for anything,” he said.

Asked if he had any fears himself, the officer said: “No … Like, I think everybody is scared, but we can’t be scared.”

The officer acknowledged the criticisms Israel has faced in the wake of its bombardment of Gaza and ordering residents of northern Gaza to evacuate in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Saturday, but he said: “People hating on us, it’s just useless for them.”

“Obviously, I am not happy when I see all these Palestinian people killed,” he said. But added, “If we have to choose between them or us, we can’t let things go sometimes. … If we don’t do nothing, they will throw us at sea and they will keep killing us, so this is war for us to exist.”

‘After what they’ve done to us, you can’t feel sorry for them’

Earlier in the day, in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, Noy Fliker, 27, who has a brother serving with the Israeli military in southern Israel and a close family friend, Omer Shemtov, 20, who was taken hostage by Hamas at the festival where at least 260 people were killed on Saturday, said she was “very worried” — for her brother, for her friend and for herself.

Fliker expressed similar sentiments as the officer, saying that while she wishes “good” people could all be safe, over the past seven days, she has been telling herself she “can’t feel sorry” for what is happening to people in Gaza, where almost 1,850 people have been killed and thousands more have been injured and displaced since the attacks.

“A lot of us in Israel, we love life and we just want to live our life. I don’t like politics, I don’t like to speak about it,” Fliker said. “Now, after what they’ve done to us, you can’t feel sorry for them. I’m sorry, but you just can’t.”

An Israeli civilian looks at destroyed cars.
An Israeli civilian looks at destroyed cars following a missile strike in Ashdod, Israel, on Oct. 9, 2023. Kobi Wolf / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Asked if she recognizes the difference between civilians in Gaza and Hamas militants, Fliker said she does, but that protecting Israel, where at least 1,300 people have died since the Hamas attack, is her priority. “Of course, I wish God would come here and say, ‘He’s evil’ and ‘He’s good,’ but we can’t know that,” she said.

‘Nothing’s going to be the same’

In the days since Hamas’ ambush, similar comments appear to be echoing across Israel, including from the nation’s president. On Thursday, before Israel ordered the entire population of northern Gaza to evacuate south, which Hamas urged Gazans to ignore, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said civilians in Gaza “could have risen up” and “fought against” Hamas, comments that appeared to lay partial blame on Gazans for the attack.

Asked during a news conference what measures Israel was taking to not harm civilians living in Gaza, Herzog replied: “It’s an entire nation that is out there that’s responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.”

“They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat,” Herzog added.

The comments came before Israel delivered its order for the entire population of northern Gaza to evacuate south, forcing more than 1 million people to decide whether to flee their own homes.

The officer said he feels that both the events that have unfolded over the past week and those to come will mark a turning point in a decadeslong conflict.

“It feels unreal,” he said. “I am not a general. I’m just a soldier. But I just have a feeling that nothing’s going to be the same again.”

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