‘The younger family members are now being called up for service – it is an extremely worrying situation’

The Kedem family, whose murder by Hamas fighters was highlighted by Inna Gardiner on social media (36764699)

THE unfolding Israel-Hamas conflict has affected the lives of the many Islanders who have friends and family living in the Middle East region.

At the time of writing, there have been over 1,000 deaths and thousands of injuries among Israeli citizens as a result of Hamas firing rockets from the neighbouring Gaza Strip, while an estimated 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been kidnapped, among them children as young as two. The retaliatory attacks by Israel, meanwhile, have led to the deaths of 830 Palestinians.

Among the Jersey residents who have family and friends living in Israel is Stephen Regal, who is President of the Jersey Jewish Congregation, and who describes the current situation as “extremely worrying”.

“It is very concerning,” he said. “I have family in Israel, both older and younger family members, and the younger ones are now being called up for service in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces].

“The fact is this isn’t army against army – it is terrorists against a civilian population. And it is something that all right-thinking civilised people should rail against. Yet, here in the UK, we see supporters in the Labour Party agitating on behalf of Hamas. We saw football supporters at Celtic on Sunday waving banners supporting Hamas.

“But it isn’t right to invade a pop concert and massacre young people, as Hamas have done. They are firing rockets into civilian towns and cities, and they are kidnapping people. I’ve seen pictures put out by Hamas of children aged two or three being held captive in dog cages. If they had their way, Hamas would re-enact what happened in 1933 to 1945. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s inhumane.

“I do concede that there are inequalities on both sides,” he continued. “There is no such thing as 100% right and 100% wrong. And one can’t hide from the fact that the occupation must end in some way.

“However, Gaza hasn’t been occupied since 2007. The Israelis do not enter Gaza at all. And yet there are countries like Qatar and, in particular, Iran that are supporting Hamas in their actions. Look at the size of Iran on a map and then look at Israel. What is it about this tiny strip of land, the only land set aside for Jews, that generates such hatred?”

Mr Regal said that he took issue with media organisations referring to Hamas fighters as “militants”, with the BBC in particular singled out for criticism.

“The BBC refuse to call Hamas ‘terrorists’, they call them ‘militants’. But they’re not militants – they go around shooting innocent civilians and kidnapping children. That’s a terrorist. What happens when these so-called ‘militants’ kill people in Oxford Street or in Leeds or Glasgow? Will the BBC still call them militants then?”

Martha Bernstein. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (36764722)

Another prominent member of the Jewish community in Jersey is Martha Bernstein, who is the Island’s representative on the Commonwealth Jewish Council and secretary of Jersey Fencing.

“Both my husband and I have friends and family living in Israel,” she said. “I am particularly concerned about my son’s best friend, who is a 27-year-old young man, and who is undoubtedly going to be called back up from the reserve list.

“I think this is the first time that the reality has really hit these young men. Most of the congregation here in Jersey have got nieces, nephews and grandchildren living in Israel, and they have all done their military service, but it was service carried out during peace time. Things are suddenly very, very different.

“I spoke to my son over the weekend and he told me his friend described the current situation as unlike anything he has lived through before. This time, heading to the bomb shelter felt very unsettling.”

As Mrs Bernstein noted, the initial attack by Hamas was timed to take place almost 50 years to the day that the Yom Kippur War began: 6 October 1973.

“The big difference today is, of course, social media,” she said. “I was 13 years old in 1973 and, back then, we were dependant on newsprint and the BBC. There was no other coverage. People these days probably can’t imagine what it is like to have a war without social media. Ukraine happened right under our noses, we all saw it every day, and the same is now true of this. Yet when I was a child, you literally had no idea whether your friends and family back home were okay. You couldn’t just pick up your mobile phone or check Facebook. War has become a whole different sort of experience.”

Mrs Bernstein requested that anyone wanting to show support could donate to MDA Israel, which is akin to an Israeli version of the British Red Cross.

“They will go to anyone, they don’t look at where a person lives. If they need to go into Gaza, they will do. They are completely and utterly non-sectarian. MDA Israel is just paramedics, doctors and nurses. You can donate to them at donate.mdauk.org.”

Since the conflict began at the weekend, several Jersey ministers have posted on social media, with Chief Minister Kristina Moore writing: “I have been shocked and saddened by the Hamas terror attacks on Israel and Israelis. The killing of innocent civilians can never be justified, and the Government of Jersey fully condemns this appalling violence.

“We have colleagues in government and the public service who are praying for the safety and security of their family and friends in Israel. My heart goes out to families who have lost loved ones. We will do all we can to support any Islanders who are affected.”

Elsewhere, Minister for Education and Children Inna Gardiner – who has family and friends living in Israel – tweeted: “Devastated, afraid, praying for family and friends in Israel. In 24 hours: 300 killed, 1,800 injured, dozens taken hostage children, women and elderly civilians. Thousands of rockets fired from Gaza. And all I can do is get on with my day and try not to cry.”

JEP columnist Ollie Taylor commented on the “hypocrisy” of Jersey politicians ignoring Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“Western leaders have come out in support of Israel’s right to defend themselves [but not Palestine’s]. It’s a very one-sided view, when we also support Ukraine’s right to defend themselves and supply them with arms. It doesn’t add up.”

He added that Jersey’s five-year occupation stood in contrast with the 75-year occupation of Palestine.

“Look at how we remember it: speeches about freedom and democracy, the amount of books that have been written about it.

“And that was what was considered a fairly soft occupation – there weren’t German snipers shooting at people. So this ongoing occupation must end in order to stop the cycle of violence.

“I think the attitude towards Israel-Palestine has changed over the years. Where before it was much more defensive of Israel all the time, people now see with their own eyes the oppression of the Palestinians. The information is out there for people to inform themselves.”

Jersey Overseas Aid has said it is “appalled” by the loss of life in the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.

At the time of writing, assaults by Hamas militants have left more than 900 Israelis dead – including 260 people whose bodies were recovered from the site of a music-festival massacre in southern Israel – while retaliatory air strikes have killed over 770 people in Gaza, flattening buildings and injuring thousands.

Hamas has also taken over 100 Israelis hostage, while Israel’s military this week ordered the “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off fuel, electricity and water supplies to 2.3 million people.

A JOA spokesperson said: “We are appalled by the loss of life following the shocking recent attacks.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the thousands of innocent civilians caught up in the violence.

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