Editor: How do you experience the situation in Israel since October 7?
Jutta Weduwen: Early on October 7, I received the first message from Judith Kuhne, our country representative in Israel. In the course of the next few hours, the horror that has befallen Israel became clear. We were and are in exchange with friends on the ground, with our partner organizations and the volunteers.
The cruel terror attacks of the Islamist Hamas exceed everything we have known and experienced so far. Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed, tortured and abducted by the terrorists. People are in great fear for their loved ones, for their safety, for the country. A friend told me that a close friend of hers, an elderly woman, was kidnapped in Gaza. We see the disturbing images and read the news about abducted children, inconceivable violence against women, slaughter at the music festival and at Kibbutz Be’eri. ASF used to have connections to the kibbutz. A former volunteer survived the massacre in Kfar Aza I am horrified and heartbroken by the accounts of friends who are experiencing so much suffering. It was a devastating terrorist attack that did not stop.
How are the volunteers dealing with the situation?
The volunteers had only been in the country for a month at the time of the attacks, and had actually only been at their volunteer positions for two weeks after the introductory seminar in Jerusalem. We have no volunteer sites in the area directly affected by Hamas infiltration. The southernmost volunteer site is Tel Aviv, and other volunteers are in Nahariya, Afula, Herzliya, Haifa and Jerusalem. Of course, the volunteers were very unsettled during the days of the attacks, they got the repeated rocket alert, they had to go to shelters.
Israel is in a state of emergency, this perfidious threat to the civilian population is unique, the casualties are immense, the situation is horrible. The volunteers felt this, it is a burden. Our Israel volunteers are prepared in advance and on site to deal with these crisis situations, they are registered in crisis lists of the German Foreign Office and my colleague Judith Kuhne is on site accompanying them. Nevertheless, the situation was and still is a major challenge.
What’s the next step?
In consultation with the volunteers and our partner organizations, we have decided that all volunteers will interrupt their service in Israel and come to Germany first. The search for flights was time consuming and tedious and so we were relieved that special flights were arranged. On October 13th all volunteers were back in Germany. Now we are looking with the volunteers how to continue.
We very much hope that the volunteers will be able to return to continue their service. For this, however, we will weigh the security situation well.
I am very grateful to our state representative Judith Kuhne for her great commitment on the ground. She lives with her family near Jerusalem, and they have also been affected by the whole situation. The work has to go on under high pressure while the daycare centers are closed and new information is coming in all the time.
Judith is in exchange with our partners on the ground. They are very understanding that the volunteers are interrupting their service and have thanked us for the arrangements and the caring support of the volunteers. We are also in contact with Holocaust survivors who are well accompanied by the organizations “Amcha” and “Irgun Jozei Merkas Europa”. The reports of Jews who had to hide for hours in cellars or fields, who had to experience the most severe violence and hatred of Jews, or the pictures of hostages and corpses being publicly mocked, evoke traumatic experiences of the Shoah for many survivors, but also for their descendants. This makes psychosocial support by families and our partner organizations all the more important.
How does ASF view the debate in the German public?
I think it is very important that people express their unequivocal solidarity and attachment to Israel. There have been and still are rallies in various places expressing this solidarity. ASF has supported these calls. Israel is a country that gives and should give refuge and security to Jews. October 7 marks a cruel attack on the security of the people of Israel. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.
I am appalled by the demonstrations that in many places cheer the terrorist acts of Hamas. Even if Palestinians fight for their rights and self-determination, they do not have to support terror organizations. The anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred on the streets must be taken seriously, and we must all take a clear stand against it.
In the debate now, people often point to both sides and the past history of the Middle East conflict….
It is frightening when Hamas terror attacks are relativized, a phenomenon also described as whataboutism and bothsiderism. These massacres should be called what they are: They are Islamist terror attacks. Behind them is the hateful ideology of Hamas. They are directed in an inconceivable violence against Jews, against Israel’s right to exist and against democratic and emancipatory values. These terrorist attacks must not be explained away with Israel’s occupation policy or with the dominance of the Western world.
Nevertheless, I can urge that in the defense of Israel by the military, international law should be upheld and a humanitarian catastrophe prevented – although here, too, Hamas, out of cynical calculation, is doing everything it can to ensure that as many civilians as possible in the Gaza Strip remain unprotected. I can also keep an eye on the rights and needs of the Palestinians and at the same time perceive Israeli society in its diversity of positions and backgrounds. And this is also the decisive difference: Despite all the tensions and injustices in the country, Israel remains a democratic state and a diverse society in which people can live diversity and publicly contradict the government – Hamas rule, on the other hand, is a regime of terror that wants and brings suffering on both sides.
What is ASF doing concretely in the country in this situation?
If there are people from the south of Israel who need refuge, we want to offer the volunteer apartments that are empty for the time being. Likewise, we want to see if we can give support with the Beit Ben Yehuda guest house. This is how we try to help practically. We have a great circle of friends in Israel who support us on a voluntary basis. This enables us to get a good idea of what help and support is needed at any given time.
We keep in touch with our partners and friends – in Israel, but also with our Jewish partners here in Germany – and show them our solidarity, that’s what we can do in these difficult times.