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Laryssa Waler Hetmanczuk on her Witness Mission to Israel

Mar 28, 2024 | Featured, Politics

An Israeli tag “Bring them home now!” which in Hebrew says “Our heart is kidnapped in Gaza”

New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

A prominent leader in the Ukrainian Canadian community and media commentator, Laryssa Waler Hetmanczuk, went to Israel in January 2024 on a visit organized by the Centre for Israeli and Jewish Affairs in Canada. CIJA took several Canadian community and business leaders to Israel, so that they could see firsthand the aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. The visit was quick, just four days, and packed with meetings with representatives who were impacted by the October 7 attacks including the Christian, Jewish, Palestinian, Bedouin, Druze and LGBTQ+ communities. This is what Laryssa had to tell NP-UN about the visit.

Laryssa Waler Hetmanczuk and the group meet the mother of a young man who is being held hostage. Photos: linkedin.com

What is your biggest impression and a takeaway from the visit?

Among the first things that springs to mind is that every Israeli I met: Jewish or non-Jewish, while very supportive of Israel and the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, was very critical of their own government. They were incredibly critical that the government let October 7 happen from a security perspective. They said that they broke the promise of Israel, a state where Jews can be safe. And they were critical of the domestic response after October 7. They were incredibly unified behind the Israeli Defense Forces and they were very supportive of their soldiers. And the Israeli Defense Forces is made up of Muslims, Jews, Christians; of all races and all orientations. What we sometimes forget is that Israel is a very diverse country; and the only place it’s safe to be Jewish, or gay or even Christian in most of the Middle East.

Many of the people in Israel are stuck on October 7, emotionally. As a people, many feel they will not move forward until their hostages are home. Israel is such a small country, population-wise, and when the hostages were kidnapped, everyone felt it very personally. The degree of separation from general population to the hostages and the victims of the terrorist attack, is very small. There is a lot of trauma in Israel.

What did you see in the country in terms of the effects of the October 7 attack and the war?

What I personally thought when I went to a lot of the places in Israel, is that it was the same sort of devastation as in Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol. The bullet holes in kindergartens, the homes and the families that were burnt, the shells of the homes and the cars that were charred… the torture that happened, it was very reminiscent of what Russia has done to Ukraine. A lot of it was identical, actually, to what Russia has done to Ukraine. I think part of the difference is, Israel is such a small country geographically that the impact feels very intense. In Israel, life feels more paused, the day-to-day life feels paused. They are desperate for Western moral support; and for people to understand that there cannot be peace while Hamas remains in power. Hamas exists to destroy Israel and they’ve said they’ll repeat October 7 again at the first opportunity. So what’s Israel supposed to do? Sit around and wait? Ask Hamas nicely to stop? Everybody kept thanking us for going there and for listening to them and seeing it first hand, because they feel very alone right now.

Moshav Netiv Haasara, where 20 of the 1000 residents were murdered on October 7, homes were burnt to the ground

Their economy has also been negatively impacted, their tourism is non-existent, their banking and other systems are trying to get back up and running. They’re worried for their economic future; and about a future terrorist attack.

A bomb shelter where a 78 year old woman was crouching in the corner while she was shot 9 times

What was the feedback from the people you met?

When Israelis talk about a two-state solution, which people in the West have always supported, they say there can’t be a two-state solution if Hamas is the government of the other state. And right now, Hamas is so popular in Gaza and in the West Bank, so, how would a ceasefire agreement work with an organization that exists to wipe you out? Israelis are struggling with the global perception that they’re the bad guy. A lot of people under 50 and 40 years of age barely know that the Holocaust happened; or deny that it happened outright. So we’re dealing with global community that doesn’t know that millions of Jews were killed within the last hundred years.

Did you meet any repatriates from the former Soviet republics?

There’s a huge Russian population in Israel. At a lot of the stores you could speak Russian and get service. I interacted with a lot of Russians; while they were not supportive of the Putin regime, many didn’t want to talk about the war in Ukraine. I think since my trip, Russia has come out even more in support of Iran and their allies including Hamas, so I think the world is figuring out really quickly there are good guys and bad guys.

What did Palestinians that you met tell you about the way the war is going?

The Palestinian man I talked to; his heart is broken. He works in the tourism industry, so he would always go back and forth between Gaza and Israel. He said that Hamas doesn’t speak for him. But he’s worried about speaking out because of what may happen to his family relatives in Gaza. People like him are in an impossible position. Everybody I talked to recognizes that Hamas is the bad actor. You’ve got to think about it in the context of: what’s Israel is supposed to do? They’re fighting a terrorist organization that exists to kill them and that said that it wants to repeat October 7. They’re fighting an organization that uses rape and torture as their modus operandi. Hamas has shown, over and over again, that it is willing to sacrifice their own citizens in pursuit of killing Jews. They care more about killing Jews than they do about helping their own people. They put their military assets in schools and hospitals, and they build those tunnels instead of bomb shelters. They want their own children to become martyrs in the cause of killing Jews. I don’t know how you make peace with a group of people who believe like that.

What did Israelis you met have to say about the future?

I asked people: how do you see peace five or ten years from now? Everybody said it will be through economic integration. You get rid of Hamas and then you slowly start building economic relationships, rebuild the tourism industry, there’s a massive economic relationship in the medical industry. There was massive integration also in the agriculture sector, that I think they’ll probably focus on rebuilding.

What did Palestinians you met tell you about the future?

They said that Hamas has to go. Let’s remember: Hamas knew October 7 would happen: they planned it for years. They had years to stock up food supplies, clean water, build bomb shelters, medical supplies etc. They didn’t do that. They knew Israel would attack back because it has to. But instead of, essentially “shoring up” supplies to endure a military response from Israel, Hamas elected to have their civilians suffer. Remember that Hamas has been in power since 2006. They’re the ones who run all the “humanitarian” systems. They had the benefit of foresight that Israel did not. It’s heartbreaking to watch how the war is unfolding. It’s heartbreaking to see so many children and innocent civilians hurt and die and I pray for peace every day. But peace does not come by laying down arms. Peace for all impacted communities, will only come by destroying Hamas. I think it’s also important for us in the West to support organizations that provide aid responsibly and effectively to displaced persons in Gaza, but we cannot forget that Hamas has to go.

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