A young woman in a scouts uniform plays with a child. A young woman in a scouts uniform plays with a child.
Israeli scouts are helping to assist refugees from the south and north of the country in the evacuation centres
Democracy and human rights

“We’re waiting for good news”

Young Israelis after the Hamas Massacres

Following the Hamas massacres, the lives of Israelis – including the younger generation – have been turned upside down. Some want to take action, others are withdrawing and succumbing to depression. But all of them are wondering, what now? The ijab.de editorial team reached out to Tal Madar, deputy Secretary General of the Council of Youth Movements in Israel to discuss the current situation and possible perspectives .

27.11.2023 / Christian Herrmann

ijab.de: My Ukrainian friends have taught me that asking “How are you?“ is insensitive because when people are living through a war, no one feels good. So maybe I should start by asking you how you feel about the news that broke this morning, namely that the Israeli government and Hamas have agreed to exchange hostages and interrupt the hostilities for several days.

Tal Madar: You’re right, the question is painful to answer, but I appreciate that it’s difficult to find other ways to ask how friends and family are doing. In situations like these, we simply lack the right words. As for your question about the hostage exchange, it’s all we talk about – we’re all glued to a TV or radio. A lot of people are angry, incensed even, because they feel this is a deeply cynical deal. How can you negotiate with people who lack any kind of moral compass? That said, our tradition and our values teach us that if you save one life, you save the entire world. Of course we hope to bring back 50 people, but the exchange will also tear families apart whose members remain in the hands of their captors. Women and children might be let go, but fathers, grandfathers and other family members will have to stay. And after the ceasefire ends, what happens? If the Hamas terrorists use that time to stock up on supplies, what will they do then? For sure they won’t stop their reign of terror. I do not envy our politicians who need to find a way to deal with these difficult challenges and take decisions. I also recognise there is a lot of international pressure on Israel. I have to say, I don’t get it. It’s double standards. Hamas is very open about their intention to kill us all. When others commit crimes, like in Syria, the world stays silent. When Israel defends itself, suddenly everyone has an opinion. The events of 7 October have turned our lives upside down, and yet we are failing in getting the world to understand our position. We don’t understand why. Also, as someone who leans left, I’m very disappointed in the international reaction from the left. Is it so hard to understand what kind of people the anti-Israel protestors are and that they are jeopardising their democracy?

For young Israelis, life as they know it has disappeared

ijab.de: Life has been turned upside down for young people, too. How are the member organisations of the Council of Youth Movements in Israel dealing with the situation? What are you doing? What are young people’s lives like right now?

Tal Madar: We have half a million members aged between 10 and 18. Our membership reflects the structure of Israeli society. Our member organisations represent the full range of the political spectrum. We have religious and secular organisations as well as Jewish, Arab, Druze and Bedouin groups. One of our regular activities is volunteering scheme for young people in between them leaving school and embarking on military service. 7 October changed people’s lives completely, and I don’t just mean the people who were and still are directly impacted by the terrorist attacks of Hamas. Between 60,000 and 70,000 young people from the south on the border with Gaza, and around 30,000 from the north on the border to Lebanon, are now refugees in their own country. They no longer have a daily routine, no school, no kindergarten. Worst case, they lost friends and relatives during the massacres or family members were taken hostage. They’re young. Right now, they should be thinking of moving out and building a life of their own. Instead, they are cooped up with their families in a tiny space. But just like during the pandemic, there’s not a lot of concern or understanding for the specific needs of young people. We’re trying to create new spaces for them, but it’s not easy.
Young people deal in different ways with the situation. I recognise three groups. The first is stable. After the initial shock, they bounced back fairly quickly. These are the ones who want to volunteer and take action. The second group engage in risky behaviour; they might resort to alcohol or drugs. The third group is the most vulnerable. These are young people who have withdrawn completely, locked themselves away in their apartments. They don’t leave the house or interact with others. It’s them we are reaching out to. We talk to them, suggest things they could do and tell them “Get out there! Now!” We try to instil some optimism in them and help them look ahead to the future. We tell them that this war will be over at some point and that we will win it. But we don’t know either what price tag this victory will have, and what it might look like. Young people have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers.

The worst thing? The attackers were our neighbours

ijab.de: Are you concerned that this is a traumatised generation?

Tal Madar: Right now, we’re all traumatised. We wonder why we failed to see what was building right there next to us for all those years – and by “we” I don’t mean our intelligence services, although questions need to be asked there. I mean society at large. How could we let this take us by surprise? The worst thing is that the attackers were our neighbours. They lived among us, they worked for us. Now they’ve come to kill and rape us. Our intelligence services have been trying to identify the ringleaders. They dug up a phone call placed by a man on 7 October to his mother in Qatar. He’d called to proudly announce that he’d just killed ten Israelis, and she congratulated him. These people are our neighbours. Even Russian soldiers who’ve been forced to fight against Ukraine sometimes desert. None of the Hamas militia have deserted. We thought we’d achieve peace if we helped to improve the lives of Palestinians. That entire concept has disintegrated and we’re out of ideas about what we can do to help.

ijab.de: Under the circumstances you’ve just described, is it possible for Israelis to feel empathy towards the people in Gaza? After all, their world has fallen apart too.

Tal Madar: No. [interrupts the conversation and fights back tears before continuing.] That’s not me. I’m not like that, I was never like that. I always felt for other people, but right now I cannot be sympathetic to their situation. There is no question that the images on TV are terrible and I cannot say that I want the people in Gaza to suffer. But people have a choice; they can decide the future for the next generation. For instance, they could resist if Hamas asks them to hide hostages in their apartments ­– something that we know is happening. They could stand up and say that Hamas does not speak for them or for all the people in Gaza. But instead, people are chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, by which they mean that Israel needs to disappear and all Israelis along with it. They want to kill me. They do not recognise me as a human being. No one asked the survivors of the Holocaust to feel empathy towards the SS guards in the camps. We are in the same situation.

I will not stop believing in the power of human contact

ijab.de: Is there an important message that you’d like to share with our readers? Something you need to say?

Tal Madar: Yes, I want to share two things. One: it’s good to have Germany by our side. To me, that feels even better than support from the United States, although I find it hard to explain why. The German government has maintained a clear position. Two: Germany has faced up to its history. It’s confronted the demons of the past and continues to do so to this day. That fills me with hope. There was an event to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto uprising 80 years ago, and I was there. Three heads of state spoke that day: Polish, Israeli and German. It took 80 years of healing, but today our countries are friends. This is why I will never stop believing in the power of education and of human contact. I hope we can still find the strength to engage in that.

ijab.de: Thank you! When my Ukrainian friends say farewell, they wish each other a safe and peaceful sky. I’d like to wish you the same.

Tal Madar: Thank you! In Israel, we say “We hope for good news, only good news!“

This interview was made possible in cooperation with ConAct - Coordination Center for German-Israeli Youth Exchange.

Ein junger Mann spricht in ein Mikrofon
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