Two articles in the past two days have raised the question of what Oct. 7 and its aftermath will mean for the idealism of Israeli peace activists. The communities targeted and hit worst by Hamas’s brutal invasion on that day were popular among activists because of their proximity to Gaza. In part, the kibbutzim in the “Gaza envelope” area were collective acts of defiance rather than fear—the residents would not run from the threats of Hamas and they would show their belief that history was moving forward and not backward.
There were also practical reasons to live there as a peace activist. Some residents shuttled Palestinians from Gaza back and forth to Israeli hospitals through the organization Road to Recovery, and many Gazans had permits to work in and among these communities during the day. Vivian Silver had spent decades leading peace organizations in the area, and after retiring she volunteered for the hospital runs. She was murdered in Be’eri by Hamas on Oct. 7. Some of those with work permits acted as spies for Hamas, enabling them to memorize every nook and cranny of towns the terrorists had never seen in person.
The peace activists who lived along the Gaza border were Jews who lived their ideals, who took risks for the sake of others, and practiced precisely what they preached. There was not a hypocritical bone in their bodies, and their communities represented the proud tradition of frontline villages that made Israel’s border real, not just a line on a map. Be’eri was older than the state itself.
And so the inevitable question is now being asked: Can you believe in the need for Be’eri kibbutzniks strongly enough, after Oct. 7, to be a Be’eri kibbutznik (or the nearby equivalent) yourself? At the very least, can you envision a future made better by the same peace activism that made these Israelis the targets of the most horrific and brutal pogrom since the Nazis stalked the killing fields of Europe?
“I feel such as I’m fighting to stay human and to not change, but it isn’t easy,” Yael Noy, the head of Road to Recovery, told the Wall Street Journal. The article adds: “Three other volunteers for Road to Recovery were also among the victims of the attacks, and several others were taken hostage. Noy said that since the attacks, she has faced anger from neighbors on her parents’ kibbutz who say she should abandon her peace-building work, and some of her volunteers have yet to return to their work.”
Avi Dabush, of Rabbis for Human Rights, said he still believes in his work but that it’s unrealistic to expect it to bear fruit in Gaza as long as Hamas rules the enclave: “Right now I can’t see any way that we, the communities there and myself and my family, can live with Hamas on the border.”
There’s a hard-earned realism in those comments that doesn’t surface in the younger, Tel Aviv-based activists profiled by CNN and calling themselves Gen Zayin (Get it? Gen Z?): “The group’s anti-war position won’t be welcomed by most of the Jewish population at this current moment, they say, which is why Gen Zayin members stick up posters in the dead of night and surreptitiously share pamphlets that espouse their anti-war, anti-government manifesto in high schools.” The CNN article also interviews family members of victims and other activists, not just the know-it-all high school manifesto crowd. They, too, speak with anguish of reconciling their desire for peace with their will to continue as before.
There is a very good chance, however, that they will never come any closer to their goal than they were before Oct. 7, when it became tragically clear just how far they had been from it.
The picture we see in our minds of the border communities only contains what’s visible: the nearness, the friendly interaction, the breaking bread, the stillness between rocket alarms, a tense and hopeful status quo maintained by a fence. But that picture is painted by the unseen: surveillance cameras, remote-controlled machine guns, and underground barriers. Hamas used drones to disable the cellular-reliant surveillance and remote-controlled guns. The underground barrier was rendered useless because the terrorists simply bulldozed barricades and drove over the fence.
In other words, what you saw was only a façade. When Hamas made it so that what was visible was all there was, Israel fell victim to an unprecedented massacre followed by widespread Palestinian looting and rioting while Israeli survivors hid in safe rooms. Israeli border security—of which there will be more, not less, going forward—made it possible to believe that one day Israeli border security wouldn’t be needed. I don’t know how many Israelis will be prepared to believe that ever again, no matter what they see when they look out their windows.