‘Where is the army?’: Israelis in shock after bloody Hamas assault

The last that relatives of paramedic Amit Maan, 22, heard from her was a desperate voice message on Saturday as she tried to take shelter from Hamas militants in the clinic of the Be’eri kibbutz in southern Israel.

“Please make it stop, please make it stop . . . where is the army?” Maan pleaded as automatic weapon fire rang out. Maan’s sister said on Sunday she still did not know what had happened to her; authorities had provided no information.

A day after the unprecedented attack from the Gaza Strip surprised the country and its vaunted army, Israelis were left traumatised at what they had seen on their streets and in their homes — and by the apparent unreadiness of authorities tasked with protecting them.

Images and video of people lying dead in Israeli streets after execution-style killings and others — including women, children and the elderly — being taken hostage and hustled into Gaza have brought the country a new level of horror. Israelis are accustomed to living with simmering conflict, but not since 1948 have they endured such a deadly and large-scale attack inside the Jewish state’s borders.

Eyal Rosen, a colonel in the Israeli military reserves from Ein HaBesor village near the border, said: “I feel like I am in a catastrophic dream. The nation doesn’t know the full extent of the violence, and the day after it does will be a time for rehabilitation, mentally, for the kids and civilians.

“We lost our deterrence for a long time, as a society and as a nation.”

As militants flooded over the border on Saturday, claiming the lives of some 300 Israelis and injuring more than 2,000, Rosen and his neighbours, veterans of elite units, were left to fend for themselves.

They picked up their own small arms and fought off three separate attacks by Hamas gunmen on their community, which sits about a dozen kilometres from what had been a heavily fortified border with the hemmed-in Gaza Strip, the Islamist’s movement’s stronghold.

That citizens were left to fight militants in their own homes with handguns by a state which prides itself on its military prowess and advanced weapons systems was, for many Israelis, deeply jarring.

At first taken by surprise by the assault on Saturday, Israel then responded with a heavy bombardment of Gaza which by Sunday morning had killed more than 300 people in the blockaded Palestinian enclave and wounded almost 2,000, according to officials in the strip.

Israel woke on Sunday to a morning of continued bloodshed, tears and shock. Those with relatives in Hamas hands or still missing begged on television and radio for any information, as authorities remained unresponsive and gunfights still raged in several communities in southern Israel.

“I’m still filled with horror and absolutely devastated. I’m waiting until we can finally leave here,” said Dina, a university lecturer living in the town of Sderot, on Sunday.

Her town was the scene of the first images that filtered out on Saturday of fatigue-clad Hamas militants in pick-up trucks roaming freely, while firing automatic weapons, inside an Israeli community.

Dina’s son, a police officer and former combat medic, had been moonlighting as a security guard at the nearby Supernova Music Festival, an event that was just one sign of how unthinkable the idea of such an incursion from Gaza had become.

The two-day outdoor rave, with DJs from Britain, Brazil, and Japan, drew thousands of young Israeli revellers. As groups of Hamas commandos attacked, “the cursed party”, as Dina now calls it, turned into the site of a massacre and mass hostage-taking.

For hours the Israeli military failed to respond as Hamas gunmen shot at revellers like “ducks in a shooting gallery”, in the words of one partygoer. In one viral video, a young woman was spirited away on a motorbike by Hamas personnel as she screamed for help from her boyfriend, who was also taken captive.

“My son fought there and stayed with the injured until they finally evacuated them,” Dina recalled. “He defended them with his own body and was the last to leave.”

People react at the site where a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday © Itai Ron/Reuters

While the horror played out at the site of the music festival on Saturday, other Israelis, like paramedic Maan, were left holed up in safe rooms, pleading via the media and to their own relatives for help.

Videos made by Hamas of hostages they had taken circulated on Palestinian and Israeli social media. In some cases, relatives then approved the airing of the videos on Israeli television in the hopes that this would add to pressure on Israel’s government and the international community.

In one such video, a mother and her two young children, aged five and three, along with her sister are seen being bundled into a Hamas jeep. The children’s father pleaded on live television for information and for their safe return.

Analysts expect the situation to evolve into a major hostage crisis; Israel’s ambassador to the UK said on Sunday that more than 100 people were being held.

Some local residents, like Rosen, were able to fend off Hamas militants on their own until security forces arrived.

Adele Raemer, a resident of the Nirim kibbutz, said her granddaughters were in a nearby safe room in their home when gunmen tried to break in. Their father, Raemer said, killed two of the attackers.

“It’s shocking. This is totally unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever happened,” Raemer said. “We all left our houses, we had two minutes. I grabbed some pills, a bag and wallet and shoes, and ran. We literally ran for our lives.”

Like many Israelis, even those with left-leaning politics, Raemer said the weekend’s bloodshed had hardened her views.

“I still believe there can be peace,” Raemer said. “But the Hamas on the other side has everybody hostage — their people hostage and clearly they also have us hostage.

“And something drastic has to be done about it. I am always the first person to solve things with speaking, with diplomacy. But an attack like this is unprecedented. This is war.”

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