Many news reports about the Israel-Hamas war highlight casualties, deaths, and destruction. Journalists rarely delve into how either society has responded and mobilized to deal with the war. This article provides a brief view of how Israel and Israelis have reacted to the war as individuals, groups, and as a nation. A useful template for Taiwan to prepare for a potential future conflict with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is how Israelis self-organized to deal with this crisis.
Prior to the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Israelis were even more polarized about public policy than the US or Taiwan. Israelis were conducting weekly demonstrations of between 100,000 and 250,000 against Supreme Court reforms proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Israeli citizens were so divided that some military reservists protested the proposed reforms by refusing to discharge their duty to their reserve military units.
Taiwan also is polarized politically, especially with respect to how Taiwanese view their relationship with Communist China. Hopefully, the stories told in this article might inspire more Taiwanese to focus on making Taiwan a unified, strong and resilient society.
During the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Israelis responded with many acts of heroism, some recorded and some not recorded. Below are a few inspirational examples.
As a result of a 1995 Israeli High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) decision allowing women to be military pilots, the court ruled that women had the right to equality in their military service. In 2000, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) instituted reforms allowing women in most combat roles. As of 2021, women in Israel comprise 40 percent of conscripts and 25 percent of the officer corps. Israel is one of the few countries in the world that conscripts women into the military, and women make up 17 percent of Israel’s fighting force (in combat units).
As of 2021, 15 percent of Taiwan’s active military personnel are women; most of them do not serve in combat roles. This year, for the first time, the Republic of China (ROC) military allowed women to receive the same reservist training as men.
Allowing women to fill more combat roles could enhance Taiwan’s deterrence and lethal capability as well as provide women with more responsibility and confidence in the future of Taiwan.
One example of Israeli women in combat occurred on Oct. 7 with a female tank crew. Since 2020, the IDF started to deploy several all-female Merkava tank crews near the Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Egyptian borders. When Hamas terrorists broke through the border, the IDF ordered a female tank crew and a 9-member special forces unit attached to the tank crew to engage terrorists in multiple locations near the Gaza envelope. They saved at least four small Israeli villages from terrorists. The special forces unit commander commended the female tank crew for fighting like lionesses. The mixed-gender battalion eliminated over 100 Hamas terrorists.
The Gaza Strip is on the western side of the Negev desert, and adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. Many small Israeli communal villages (kibbutzim and moshavim) are located near the border of Gaza. Each of these villages has their own volunteer armed security teams. During Oct. 7, at least 2,500 Hamas terrorists attacked these villages and the local security teams fought the invaders until the IDF arrived. Without these volunteer security teams, the number of people killed or kidnapped would have been much higher. One legacy of Israel’s 1948 Independence War is that each village has an armed security team. Likewise, organizing armed and trained village security teams would strengthen Taiwan’s civil defense concept, in addition to police and military forces. Armed village security teams would help build trust and confidence between the civilian population and the security forces who might be tasked with other duties.
Kibbutz Be’eri, founded in 1946, was the largest kibbutz near Gaza. Prior to Oct. 7, it had a population of 1,100. During the attack, Hamas killed at least 130 and kidnapped about 70 Be’eri residents. More than 100 Hamas terrorists attacked the village. Local security teams and IDF soldiers eventually killed most of the attackers. The IDF rescued at least fifty hostages in Be’eri’s dining room two days after the attack.
Youssef Ziadna is an Israeli Bedouin bus driver. Bedouins are Muslim, typically live in desert regions in the Middle East, and have their own unique culture and history. Israel’s Bedouin population numbers approximately 200,000 (2 percent of the 9 million Israelis) and many volunteer to serve in the IDF, some in special units.
Late on Oct. 6, Ziadna drove a group of nine Israelis in his 14-passenger bus from a town near Be’ersheva called Omer to the desert rave festival near Kibbutz Re’im, arriving at 1am on Oct. 7. They asked him to pick them up later that day at 3pm. At 6am, he received a frantic call to return to pick them up early. Thinking that his passengers were in trouble because of the missile alerts from Gaza, he drove quickly to pick up his customers unknowing what awaited him.
Upon arriving near the festival area, he was met with a hail of bullets from the terrorists, but he was able to find his passengers and not only pick them up, but also managed to cram another 24 people into his bus and drove them out of the danger zone. He saved 33 lives. Yet, he was traumatized by what he experienced and saw that morning, and fears personal retribution from Hamas for helping to save the partygoers. He also is frightened that his city, Rahat, will suffer rocket and missile attacks from Gaza.
Knowing one’s environment better than the adversary gives any defender a huge advantage. For Taiwan, the more the population knows about their locality — including their neighbors — the more likely they will be able to save people and resist any threat that lands on any of the islands.
Within four hours of the Oct. 7 attack’s onset, a group of Jerusalem volunteers formed a Civil Society 24-7 Crisis Center. This center was not sponsored or established by the government. The ad hoc group eventually gathered 300-500 volunteers to run the center 24/7 and have self-organized 20 different sections that focus on different needs of the population, such as clothes, toys, food pantry, pharmacy, supplemental equipment for soldiers (not weapons), hosting and housing unit, emotional and educational support services, translation services and transportation unit. Israelis knew immediately that they had to help those who suffered from the Hamas attack, families who sent soldiers into Gaza, displaced persons from the south and the north, and others needing assistance.
There were other highlights of social resilience.
The Ministry of Health requested foreign medical personnel to assist Israeli civilian hospitals and clinics since the IDF called up some of their staff for military service to support the war in Gaza. Many health organizations around the world found over 12,000 foreign medical personnel willing to volunteer (including 7,000 doctors) and intend to spend at least two weeks in Israel.
Thousands of Israeli teens are volunteering individually and through the many Israeli youth groups to fill the gap that 360,000 soldiers had filled in civilian life, such as babysitting, food preparation and distributing supplies to the 250,000 displaced civilians from the south and the north.
One article written in the Jerusalem Post sums up what Israeli citizens did on Oct. 7 and continue to do: “When the politicians failed and the IDF faltered, the people stepped in.”
Governments cannot be relied on to solve all of society’s challenges. People should prepare and be ready to take charge until the government can provide needed services. Taiwan’s civilians should carefully study the actions taken by Israelis during the Hamas terrorist attack — and plan, prepare, train and exercise accordingly.
Guermantes Lailari is a retired US Air Force Foreign Area officer specializing in counterterrorism, irregular warfare and missile defense. He holds advanced degrees in international relations and strategic intelligence. He was a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan Fellow in Taipei last year and is a visiting researcher at National Chengchi University.
Below are some excellent sources for those who would like to learn more about what Israelis are doing during this challenging period:
The Times of Israel (https://www.timesofisrael.com/collection/those-we-call-heroes/)
Israel’s Good News Newsletter (https://verygoodnewsisrael.blogspot.com/)
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