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What Israelis believe now, five months after Oct. 7

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today marks five months since October 7 and the surprise Hamas assault on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Palestinian lives in Gaza have been forever changed by Israel's military response. Air and ground assaults have killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, and the U.N. says more than 2 million people are living in, quote, "appalling conditions." We'll have more on the efforts to reach them with aid elsewhere in the show. The catastrophic conditions in Gaza can overshadow the immense trauma and transformation that Israelis have experienced, and the state of Israeli society may determine what comes next in this conflict. From Israel, NPR's Daniel Estrin reports on five profound changes after five months of war.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: First, Israelis are living their lives on hold.

AVIDOR SCHWARTZMAN: So, yeah, this is the neighborhood.

ESTRIN: Avidor Schwartzman, an October 7 survivor, has only now moved with his family from a hotel to this new trailer park outside the hotel. It's in Kibbutz Shefayim north of Tel Aviv.

SCHWARTZMAN: It doesn't feel like home, but it feels a lot more like a home.

ESTRIN: Small trailer homes built on sand, housing broken families - along this row of homes, a young woman whose dad was killed October 7, a family with a hostage in Gaza and Schwartzman, whose in-laws were killed.

SCHWARTZMAN: I wish I could just, you know, erase it from my mind, not to wallow in everything because there is so much sadness here and so much grief.

ESTRIN: New homes are being built for them in another kibbutz, but his and other families will not leave this trailer park of sadness until Israel strikes a deal with Hamas to free the remaining captives. Around 130 Israelis are still being held in Gaza, many believed to be alive.

SCHWARTZMAN: We cannot and we will not do anything until they'll be here. Those in power need to do everything that they can to release them.

ESTRIN: It is not just the survivors and the hostages whose lives are on hold. Ninety-four thousand Israelis are still displaced from their homes near Israel's borders with Gaza and Lebanon, areas still under rocket fire.

SCHWARTZMAN: On October 7, something cracked or maybe broke in the Israeli psyche. Even those that weren't there, just saw it on TV - they are still there.

ESTRIN: A second thing many Israelis now believe - the world has turned its back on them, seeing Israelis as the aggressors, not the victims, from Israel's foreign minister accusing the United Nations of minimizing Hamas atrocities to Israeli influencers addressing the masses on Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHIRAZ SHUKRUN: My name is Shiraz. I'm an Israeli Jew, and I am here to inform you that the Holocaust is happening all over again. So if you're staying so silent when Hamas is murdering so many innocent people from Israel, shut the [expletive] up when we defend ourselves, OK?

ESTRIN: Shiraz Shukrun, a 25-year-old social media influencer promoting shampoo, Vaseline and beer, volunteers with the Israeli government, posting videos about October 7.

SHUKRUN: I find that I'm way angrier than before. I feel like so many people are against us.

ESTRIN: Shukrun says she has friends who were killed when Hamas stormed the Nova music rave, killing hundreds there. But online, she sees Free Palestine hashtags and social media posts justifying the Hamas attack.

SHUKRUN: Only Israelis know how other Israelis feel. No one will never know how we feel. The only positive thing that had happened, I feel like, is the fact that we are - this nation is way more connected than before.

ESTRIN: And that's a third way Israel's fractious society has changed since October 7. It's largely united by the war. The slogan yachad ninatze'ach, together we will win, is everywhere in Israel, draped on tech company buildings, displayed on highway signs along with the traffic updates and on buses along with the route number.

NADAV EYAL: There's a consensus in Israel that the war should continue until Hamas is not a military threat on Israel and does not control the Gaza Strip as such.

ESTRIN: Israeli author and journalist Nadav Eyal says there's widespread support for the war despite the cost for Palestinians.

EYAL: I think generally when people fight a war that begin with a murderous, genocidal attack by one side on the other, the side that was attacked is less inclined to be empathetic towards its enemies.

ESTRIN: Palestinian children are suffering extreme hunger in Gaza. But a recent poll finds 68% of Jewish Israelis oppose humanitarian aid. There's a new catch phrase here. Israelis are reevaluating their conceptzia, their basic concept, of what they believed about Palestinians.

ADI PESHKO KATZ: The beliefs we had before October 7 were just wrong. We were just naive.

ESTRIN: Thirty-four-year-old lawyer and mother of three Adi Peshko Katz.

PESHKO KATZ: We thought that there is a hand from the other side that we can reach. We couldn't believe the Plan B they had. Now we understand there was no Plan A. This was the original plan - to try and kill us all.

ESTRIN: She joined a security squad affiliated with the Army and patrolled her small town, Kiryat Yam, for a few months.

PESHKO KATZ: I was really proud that my kids saw their mom wearing the uniform and the weapon and literally protecting our home.

ESTRIN: On October 7, many civilians spent a day under attack before help arrived. Many Israelis no longer believe they can depend on their army alone. They must protect themselves. That's a fourth profound change to Israeli society. Since October 7, 900 armed security squads were mobilized in cities and towns across Israel, made up of 12,000 volunteers trained by police.

ORI KAHAN: Here I have my rifle.

ESTRIN: One of the youngest civilian volunteers on a security squad is 21-year-old Ori Kahan. We're in his bedroom in the central Israeli community of Rishpon. He keeps his rifle under his bed.

KAHAN: It's a kind of AR-15. It's made by IWI, Israel Weapon Industries. It's made for, like, real counterterrorism.

ESTRIN: So you have your stuffed dinosaur...

KAHAN: Yeah.

ESTRIN: ...And your pirate ship and your tactical helmet and...

KAHAN: Yeah.

ESTRIN: ...Assault rifle under the mattress.

KAHAN: Yeah, indeed.

ESTRIN: Kahan reflects on how his life has changed.

KAHAN: After October 7, I lost my attention, like, for, like, going to parties and bars and having fun to - my whole life kind of shifted towards, like, being aware of the people around me.

ESTRIN: He has the sense that something could be coming this spring.

KAHAN: A lot of my friends got reserve warrants for May.

ESTRIN: Called up by the army to report near the Lebanon border for a possible war with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group better armed than Hamas with long-range missiles that could paralyze Israel. His family is hoping diplomacy can avert that. But Kahan's mom is stocking up on dried food, and his dad shows us his new generator.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATOR SPUTTERING)

ESTRIN: Sales of generators are booming now in case Hezbollah knocks out Israel's power grid. And this is a fifth way Israelis are different now. Even if the Gaza war winds down, they're shifting their gaze toward their northern border, girding themselves for another war. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Rishpon, Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAHALIA SONG, "LETTER TO UR EX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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