Classrooms Without Borders’ Avi Ben-Hur on the aftermath of Oct. 7
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Israel at warScholar in residence gives update from the ground

Classrooms Without Borders’ Avi Ben-Hur on the aftermath of Oct. 7

“We have a monster on our doorstep,” he said. “We were caught asleep. We had horrible things done to us."

(Photo provided by Classrooms Without Borders)
(Photo provided by Classrooms Without Borders)

Avi Ben-Hur is quick to say that Hamas’ violence in Israel on Oct. 7 wasn’t a terrorist attack.

“It was an invasion,” he said. “It wasn’t a terror attack. And it lasted for three days. It took the Israeli military establishment three full days to clear the terrorists out of Israeli territory before we went on the offensive in the Gaza Strip.”

It is believed that nearly 1,200 people in Israel were murdered that day — including children, women and foreigners — and about 240 were taken hostage. More than 130 people are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Ben-Hur, an Israeli educator specializing in Land of Israel studies, the history of Jerusalem, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Holocaust studies, is Classrooms Without Borders’ scholar-in-residence. He made aliyah from his native Brooklyn, New York, in 1983, and lives in Jerusalem with his wife. He has three children.

The events of Oct. 7, he said, have reverberated across the country, both physically and psychologically.

“Oct. 7 undermined the personal security of every citizen of Israel, including the 21% of the population that is not Jewish, but Israeli,” he said. “It has not been retrieved. I’m saying that with 1,000% certainty and taking into consideration that we still have around 120,000 internally displaced citizens of Israel. Refugees, essentially. And we had to evacuate 60,000 residents from our northern border because Hezbollah has been shooting anti-tank rockets at people’s homes.”

The numbers, he said, present a future challenge to the Israeli government.

‘At the end of the day, if these people don’t have a sense of security, if they can’t return to their homes and live there safely, that’s a major failure of the government and it will have to pay the piper,” he said.

On top of the distress of having to leave their homes for their safety, Ben-Hur noted, many were traumatized when their family members were murdered or taken hostage by Hamas.

“They’ve seen atrocity after atrocity. They are ongoing. They’re not post-traumatic. It’s ongoing trauma,” he said.

Israeli citizens in the north, he said, have had homes damaged or destroyed, although they didn’t face the kind of horror those in the south did on Oct. 7 and the immediate days following.

The loss of security has led most Israelis to believe that the Gaza war has to be fought until Hamas is no longer a threat, according to Ben-Hur.

“We have a monster on our doorstep,” he said. “We were caught asleep. We had horrible things done to us. It’s not a question of payback. We have to retrieve our safety and security so people can go back to their homes and live their lives like normal people. We have to degrade the monster’s offensive capabilities so this can’t happen again.”

On top of the immediate impact felt after Oct. 7, Ben-Hur said the ongoing conflict means everyone has felt some sense of loss. In a country as small as Israel, with almost 200 military casualties since the start of the war, everybody knows somebody killed.

The more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas — 25 of whom have been declared dead — present another hardship for Israel. The reality, Ben-Hur said, is that there is no way to know how many people are still alive.

The angst, sorrow, pain and rage felt by the families of the hostages, Ben-Hur said, is beginning to boil over. They are terrified their family members will be killed.

Complicating issues, he said, is Hezbollah and terrorists to the north.

Ben-Hur spoke to the Chronicle the day after a lone wolf attack at a Jerusalem bus station. He said those kinds of incidents are near the top of all Israelis’ minds.

“I picked up my daughter (who is serving in the IDF) at the bus station at 9:45 this morning,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I could make it. She wrote and said she would hang around and I was like, ‘Do I want my daughter in uniform waiting around?’ That’s a bizarre thought, but it’s not a bizarre thought because I’m a parent,” he said.

And yet, he said, most people focused on Gaza are unaware of the danger Israel faces from the northern border and the West Bank.

“The West Bank is boiling over,” he said. “It’s about to explode and most Israelis are not really aware of that. A series of terror attacks have emanated from the West Bank in the last few days and the link is Oct. 7.”

Ben-Hur doesn’t shy away from placing part of the responsibility on the Israeli government for the current tension in the north, saying Hezbollah and other terrorist groups have been encouraged by what they’ve seen from Hamas.

He noted, though, that the Israeli government’s unwillingness to turn over taxes collected to the Palestinian Authority or permitting workers to cross from the West Bank into Israel have all negatively impacted on the situation.

“We have the most right-wing government officials in history,” he said.

And while Ben-Hur is quick to note the role of the Israeli government in the conflict, he doesn’t believe calls for new elections will result in a left-leaning governing coalition. Instead, he believes a center-right bloc will most likely emerge, which he doesn’t think would be more willing to discuss a two-state solution than the current administration.

“Because the people in Israel would not, right now, be predisposed to that,” he said.

The Pittsburgh Jewish community will have a chance to hear from Ben-Hur in person from Feb. 4-13 when he’ll present various programs to groups in and around the city. A complete list of events can be found at cwbpgh.org. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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