To be young in Israel was to be free and optimistic — before October 7

The world has changed and we will never forget what happened


TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JULY 12: (Israel out) Israeli Youths Celebrate Summer At Silent Disco party on July 12, 2011 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In order to prevent excess noise from bothering others within the surrounding neighborhood, youth wear headphones synchronized to the music while dancing amongst one another. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

November 02, 2023 16:17

On the evening of October 7, the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Shoah, I started reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief.

I’m 22 and until that day death had been an abstract concept. Like most young Westerners, I assumed it would be an emotion with which I’d have to grapple with in old age. How wrong I was. 

Last year, I lived in Tel Aviv and interned at Haaretz, Israel’s paper of record. At the time, the country was experiencing major domestic turmoil. Israelis were heading to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years and a set of very controversial judicial reforms was being proposed in the Knesset. 

Although the newspaper covered these stories extensively, in truth it all felt rather remote in sunny and secular Tel Aviv. The city had bounced back from Covid and, thanks to the hi-tech industry, was experiencing an economic boom. Every evening it seemed that a new bar, restaurant or gallery was opening. Halcyon days and halcyon nights.

On the world stage, Israel was going from strength to strength. After the Abraham Accords, a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia looked probable. For once, there was optimism about geopolitics in the Middle East. 

Among leftists, normalising relations with the Arab world had split opinion. I remember editors and friends who were concerned it would further sideline the Palestinian cause. Many reasoned that Israel had de facto won the conflict. She was making peace with her neighbours, so it’d be difficult to maintain momentum for a two-state solution. 

In fact, at the time one journalist at Haaretz said to me, “Once the government announces an end to conscription, that’ll be the death knell for peace. If Israelis don’t have to send their teenagers to war, they’ll cope with the status quo.” 

How I now marvel at those ingenuous conversations, at our certainty that some things would come to fruition, while others were set in stone. 

All our predictions have been proven incorrect. Everything we worried about transpired to be extraneous to what we needed to worry about. 

I confidently told my family in Britain, “Nothing like the intifadas will ever happen again because Israel’s technology is so superior.” Those words now make me want to curl up with embarrassment.

And even in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, as the full extent of the horror was unfurling, there was talk of some good emerging from the carnage. 

“Maybe this’ll be our Belfast moment,” a friend speculated from his shelter, air-raid sirens soon drowning out his voice. 

But the truth is suffering does not ennoble. History has shown us again and again that people do not become more liberal and forgiving after terrorist attacks. They become more hardline, more militant. 

My old neighbourhood has been bombed to bits, I no longer recognise it in the endless stream of photos and videos I get sent on social media. I know people who have been murdered, who have been mutilated and who are missing. 

The details of how they were tortured will stay with me forever. 

As will this line in Notes on Grief: “For the rest of my life, I will live with my hands outstretched for things that are no longer there.”

For me, that means losing the kind of hope that only the young and naïve can possess. 

I’ll be reaching out, trying to grasp it for the rest of my life.

November 02, 2023 16:17

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