Amit Yaacov, a human resources officer with the Israeli Defense Forces, paid a visit to Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David last Friday night to talk about his experiences on the ground in the Gaza Strip.
“It takes time to understand and to process what people have been witness to,” Yaacov said. “The night I went to Gaza, the truck took us right to one of the houses that our troops were in. We immediately fell asleep, we were so tired.”
He said that his unit was awakened at around 4 a.m. to the sights and sounds of nonstop bombings all around them.
“You don’t have the time or the mental ability to think about the consequences while you’re there,” Yaacov said. “You have things that need to be done now, even though things are going on (around you). There are people whose mission is to keep you safe, and you have to trust them.”
Yaacov is a native of Jerusalem, who currently resides in Great Neck where he works as a Community Shaliach with the Sid Jacobson JCC in Greenvale. During his deployment in the Gaza Strip, he said that he wasn’t involved in any combat, although he is also an officer with one of the IDF tank battalions.
He added that, in fact, he can’t think of any army that does so much to try and prevent casualties on the other side.
“We got a mission that was delayed two or three times because not all of the population in the area we were supposed to be attacking was evacuated,” he said.
He later recalled another instance where an air force drone confirmed that four terrorists were driving in a vehicle, but aborted the mission because it was too close to a populated area.
“Even though we confirmed it,” he said. “We saw their ammunition and recognized the vehicle they were using. It was aborted because the price was too high.”
Yaacov said his sister was once wounded by a piece of a missile that was bombed out of the air by the Iron Dome defense system. “People get hurt, even though we’re trying to protect ourselves,” he said. “It’s the same on the other side.”
Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip planned a coordinated assault on Oct. 7 — during the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah — which claimed the lives of at least 1,200 people who were brutally killed in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival.
After the attack, videos have showing Hamas militants celebrating the massacre, parading bodies and capturing civilians.
“We thought we knew the situation, and then Oct. 7 came and we realized the situation is different,” Yaacov said. “We saw the videos of how the Gazans celebrated when Hamas brought back hostages, dead bodies, soldiers, citizens, kids. They were celebrating.”
During his visit to B’nai Sholom, Yaacov shared with congregants a Hamas service T-shirt that he brought back with him from his visit to the Gaza border, celebrating the October attack. “The department of the massive terror attack” is printed on the shirt in Arabic.
“When we have merch for summer camps,” he said, “they have merch for terror attacks.”
Yaacov said that hatred of Israel has been implanted in Gaza over the course of many years, with the encouragement of the education system, the media and Hamas’s rule over the enclave.
“Personally, if there can be any solution that will include any sort of agreement or ceasefire, I don’t believe in that any longer,” Yaacov said.
He added that after spending time in Gaza, he does not think that peace will be attained. From the Palestinian perspective, he said, peace was never the goal.
“When they talk about an agreement or going back to their homes that we hear a lot, Hamas doesn’t mean to go back to the ’67 borders before the Six Day War,” he said. “They’re not talking about the West Bank or settling in Sinai or even in the Golan Heights. They’re talking about Israel. They’re talking about Tel Aviv. They’re talking about Haifa. They’re talking about all of the state of Israel.”
He explained that the reason why Palestinian supporters have adopted the slogan “From the river to the sea” is because their objective is to cause the State of Israel to cease to exist.
“And in that case, no peace can be reached with anyone,” Yaacov said.
He said that since the October attack, Israeli citizens have been doing all that they can to support the IDF. “It’s incredible,” he said. “Once again we have witnessed the strength of Israeli society. It doesn’t matter what others will do. They cannot defeat us. They can hurt us, but they cannot defeat us.”
Thanks to all of the support from communities across North America, Yaacov said, people in Israel feel like they are not alone in the fight.
“We felt that someone has our back,” he said. “It feels like everyone was recruited towards one mission — the sake of the Jewish nation.”
Whether through donations of medical supplies and clothing or raising money through the UJA, he added, the show of support makes everyone stronger.
Yaacov said that he would never forget his experience in Gaza. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a good experience or a bad experience, but it definitely was one heck of an experience.”