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A View From the West Bank
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A View From the West Bank

‘It could be that the better news is that she is dead and the worse news is that she has been kidnapped into Gaza.’

Bethlehem, West Bank, July 22, 2022. (via Getty Images)

It wasn’t very long ago that there wasn’t really anybody like Shmuel Junger. He is, to use a sometimes loaded word, a settler, living in a West Bank community with his children and his wife, whose family were among the founders of the first Jewish settlement in the area. (Because this is Israel we are talking about, not only is every inch of land contested, but so is every syllable: Junger describes his community as being in Samaria, a term that many Palestinian activists reject.) His background is a cosmopolitan one, including stints teaching in Hong Kong and working in the United States. His academic studies have included law, Jewish history, and Talmud, and he is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. He has a job that surely would have perplexed both Jews and conservative Christians only a few years ago: He is the Israel director of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, an organization that connects Christians abroad, mostly in the United States, with “communities in the heartland of Biblical Israel.” CFOIC interests are, of course, largely religious and partly informed by the end-times prophetic tradition, but their work also is, as the organization says, an act of “reparation for antisemitic teachings and acts” throughout Christian history. 

We spoke by telephone Monday evening. His remarks are edited for brevity and clarity. 

What’s the view from the West Bank? 

Things are not easy. It was a big surprise for everybody. We are used to attacks, but this time it was full-on in a way we never saw before. The viciousness you can see from the videos, the total surprise, everything all at once—it is going to take some time to realize what we are doing. But we are used to being surprised. It happened exactly 50 years ago in the Yom Kippur War. This is a replay of that movie. 

Walk me through your day on Saturday.

October 7 was the Sabbath, a day of prayer. Being Orthodox Jews, we are observing it by basically disconnecting ourselves: no phones, no computers, no news. It is also a holiday, Simchat Torah, a day to rejoice. We read a portion of the Five Books of Moses every Sabbath, and, when we finish, we celebrate with singing and dancing and a meal after synagogue. I woke up at a quarter to eight and left for synagogue knowing that it was a big day, a big event, with family coming. The first person I saw whispered that something was going on down south. But we don’t have our phones on us, so it’s not as if we can just go Google it, go to the news. So, people coming in reveal the story, in the beginning with a lot of rumors. It started off at 6:30 in the morning, as we now know, and by 8:30 there was a great deal of misleading information. Nothing was sure. We knew there was a big event, that it was going on in the cities and going on in villages. But nothing was clear. 

The second thing that happened was more clear. We have three years of mandatory service, and many people are still part of the army reserves. Suddenly, people were being called—a commander got a call that he needs to go, another soldier, another guy. By 11 a.m., half of our synagogue members had left, and we finished the day at noon with half of the people who usually come. The women and the kids stayed with us. We just finished, did the minimal prayer. Nobody felt like singing or dancing. 

At this point, we still don’t have any details—no numbers, no casualties, nothing. 

As the day continues, we still are not opening our phones. We only do that in case of emergency: If you are called to the army, then, of course, you can open your phone, you can drive—you go. But if you are staying, then there is no need. When the holiday ended at 7 o’clock, we opened our phones. And then the sky fell on our heads. It was shock and madness.

At that point, I learned that one of my community members had lost contact with his daughter. As everybody knows, there was a party with 3,000 dancers at the border. We know that more than 300 died, but, on the morning after the event, it wasn’t clear. It took time for things to be revealed. So, one of my best friends in the community, his daughter was disconnected, he hadn’t heard from her. It’s Monday night, and still no sign of her. It could be that the better news is that she is dead and the worse news is that she has been kidnapped into Gaza. Young, 22 years old, a beautiful girl from our community. 

What is the current sense of how things stand?

Saturday was the day we woke up to realize that our neighbors are not just an enemy. In retrospect, it was wrong to think that the vast majority of people want a quiet life and want to coexist. In the brutality, the videos we see, babies being kidnapped and put into cages—we are dealing with a different type of person. Israel made all the efforts in the world to disconnect from Gaza. In 2005, we evacuated our communities from the area, and invested $1 billion to make the separation. But with one bulldozer—and the help of Iran; we know now that Iran was involved—they entered Israel and were brutal to an extent matched in recent history only by the Nazis. All that they did in the villages around the border is yet to be known, and we don’t want to know it right now, because when we realize the reality of what happened here, it will be impossible to continue as normal. I don’t think there ever is going to be an attempt to continue to deal with this nation using the same tools as we have until now. 

What happens next?

The most important thing we know in life is that when a lion is sleeping, a hyena can come up and bite him, and even make him bleed. But when the lion wakes up, then, be prepared, because the lion will be victorious. It happened in ’63 and in ’73 and now again in 2023, we will all learn the lesson again: that nothing can defeat the people of Israel. 

The turnout for the reserve call-up was more than 100 percent. Older people, past their time to be in the reserves, were coming to volunteer. Literally tons of supplies have been given by the people already, and it is coming from supporters from all over the world. 

This has been a time of unusually bitter domestic politics in Israel. How has that background informed events? 

I have the strongest belief that when something like this happens, everybody leaves their arguments and their flags and we fight against the mutual enemy. It is sad that it takes the mutual enemy to remind us that we should not fight among ourselves, that we need to keep our eyes on the goal. The sad reality is that the terrorists who have been arrested already talk about us fighting and shouting at each other every Saturday night, which is when the protests are held. They took that as a sign of weakness. But they will discover that that was a mistake. This is a small nation, and we are one big family. There are fights in the family, but we are still a family, and the proof of that is today and yesterday. You have the demonstrators and the people they were demonstrating against fighting together side by side. Because the question here is our actual life. 

What do Americans need to know about this? 

Understand who we are dealing with. These are not freedom fighters—these are vicious, cruel, ISIS-style murderers. 

And what should Americans be doing? 

There was almost 100 percent bipartisan support for the decision to support Israel in [Congress].  Both sides support Israel, because we are sister nations: We are supporting America, and America is supporting us. And an attack on Israel eventually is an attack on America. The American people should first of all make sure that they are getting their reports from places that will tell the real story, the real news. No. 2, they can show their support by telling their local representatives that this is the time to support Israel. As time goes by, you know how it is: After a couple of days, there will be calls for peace, quiet, a ceasefire. But this time needs to be different. Let us finish what they started and not withdraw until we have done what we need to do to change the actual situation. No. 3, there are many organizations and initiatives that support people in Israel. But, really, get the real news. Watch one video and you will know what happened here: a massacre. There aren’t two sides to this story. 

What’s next?

From a strategic perspective, the concern is that what we have seen in the south is only the beginning of the story, that we’ll see attacks from the north, from Hezbollah, or that the Palestinians here will decide to join the party as well. The army cannot protect all communities at all times, so we are doubling down on the efforts to see to the civilian security of the community. I was a combat fighter in the army, and so I asked the guy in charge of security in our community—give me a rifle. We need to have people here able to protect themselves. If there had been more weapons and ammunition in the south, perhaps the results would have been different. I am with an organization that deals with humanitarian needs in the area, but I hear the voices of people who are trying to find ways to be more secure and more protected. There are enemies from the north and inside Israel, and we need to be ready and prepared to protect our communities. And we are doing so.

Click here for more coverage of the war in Israel.

Kevin D. Williamson's Headshot

Kevin D. Williamson

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.