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Israeli troops struggle to reconcile politics and battle

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"Their explanations are very valid. As you see bombed and burning cities... I am thinking about the folks whose whole families perished in the attack, and I had a close buddy slain in Gaza," he stated.


Just hours after Hamas carried out its savage terror assault on Israel, killing almost 1,200 and kidnapping 253, Atzmon, a 26-year-old reserve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), was summoned to active duty.


A vast aircraft bombing campaign and a military action were Israel's first responses to the attack on October 7. The Health Ministry in the enclave of Gaza, which Hamas administers, reports that over 27,000 people have been murdered in the area since. There is a real danger that 400 thousand people in Gaza would go hungry, say UN organisations.


About 70% of the victims are women and children, according to the ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas combatants. Since October 7, Israel claims to have killed almost 10,000 terrorists affiliated with Hamas. CNN cannot verify such figures on its own.


As the number of casualties among Gaza's residents rises, outrage grows within the world community, including among Israel's closest friends.


Israel was ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to "take all measures" to limit the death and destruction caused by its military campaign, prevent and punish incitement to genocide, and ensure access to humanitarian aid after the ICJ found that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza. The International Court of Justice's verdict does not decide whether or not Israel's acts constitute genocide.


On the ground, nothing has changed. If you ask Atzmon, he is the "left-wing guy" on his team. He had spent the better part of last spring and summer joining the legions of protesters opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to reform Israel's court.


This is the most right-wing Israeli administration in recent memory, with Netanyahu's backing for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and rejection of the concept of a Palestinian state.

 

Meanwhile, Atzmon is pushing for Israel to seek a two-state solution. The Palestinian people will continue to battle against us until they get independence. He emphasised that this should be the ultimate objective.


As a soldier serving a government he disagrees with, he must sometimes reconcile his political beliefs with the reality of his job. He claims he began to think about this when he was fifteen years old, in preparation for his mandatory military duty (which almost all Israelis are required to do).

 

The deaths of innocent people in Gaza, including children and the elderly, have crushed me. We are just regular guys (26 years old) who, like me, don't want to die. While denying that the Hamas terror incident was a form of "resistance" against the Israeli embargo, he did state that he had the right to protect himself and his loved ones. I am not trying to downplay how complicated this is. However, I am confident that I am fighting for people's rights and part of the righteous side of history.

 

I have never seen something more dehumanising than what transpired on the kibbutzim. Therefore, I have always believed, and continue to believe, that joining the fight is my only option when confronted with this kind of wickedness. "Because I cannot communicate with or understand these individuals," he said.


In Be'eri, Nir Oz, Kfar Azza, and other kibbutzim close to the Gaza Strip, hundreds of civilians were killed.


Netanyahu is now facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust; Atzmon has said that he wants him removed from office as quickly as possible. He ought to have handed in his resignation on October 7. I hoped to wake up on the 8th to see him apologise on TV for failing people. "I was going to step down, but it never happened," he said before saying that he would have been happy to have almost anybody else fill the position.


Despite his dedication to his political ideals, Atzmon is studying to become a social worker. However, as a soldier, he battled alongside individuals whose views were his own.

A man's Jewish, Druze, or Circassian citizenship in Israel does not exclude him from serving in the military. Though they are free to opt out, ultra-orthodox Jews and Arab residents are not required to serve.


Political diversity mirrors Israeli society inside the military, thanks to the country's stringent conscription requirements. When unexpected circumstances compel two people to overcome their differences, they cross paths when they otherwise would not.


Although Atzmon leans more to the left politically, 35-year-old Emmanuel is just as ardently right-wing as he is serving in a military unit in the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, Emmanuel is still serving his country and, unlike Atzmon, needs to be authorised to communicate with the media. As a result, he requested that CNN withhold his last name.


Like Netanyahu, he thinks Israel should have "overall security responsibility" in the Gaza Strip for an "indefinite period" once the war ends, and he thinks this will be necessary for a long time.


Emmanuel said the West Bank might be a model for Gaza's future. His use of the biblical names of the land and the ancient Israelite kingdoms—"Judea and Samaria"—is a gentle reminder that, in this complicated and divided territory, there is much power in the words one chooses to express themselves.


As a tactic to justify the illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are denounced as unlawful under international law, the Israeli government has been using the biblical name of the ancient Jewish homeland.


Atzmon refers to the West Bank and claims to be “very sure” that it is occupied.


Going even further, some coalition members with Netanyahu have proposed Jewish colonies in Gaza.


Disputes over Jewish colonies in the West Bank have long been a stumbling block in Israeli politics and public opinion. A senior U.S. ambassador has condemned plans to construct colonies in Gaza, which has frightened Israel's friends.


Even Netanyahu has called the prospect of further colonies in Gaza "unrealistic," stating in an English-language statement that "Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population." Emmanuel, however, is in favour of that principle.


We have to build up new communities. Certainly not because of any desire to exterminate Palestinians. No. There has to be an unequivocal victory against our adversaries that everyone can grasp. According to him, this is the consequence of interfering with us.


United Nations estimates put the number of internally displaced Gazans at about 1.9 million, or almost 85% of the population. The South African government has argued before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel's attempts to forcibly remove these people from their homes constitute a violation of international law.


"And safety is the second consideration. The presence of settlements makes it simpler to manage the security in the region, as we know from Judea and Samaria," he said.

After the strikes on October 7, existing divides and disputes within Israeli society about the fate of the West Bank and Gaza have become even more pronounced and intense.

 

On the other hand, only some people participate. Disagreements over politics do not appear to matter much to Mendel, a 19-year-old soldier in the military.


Politics, in the end, is moot. As soldiers, you must defend both the people and one another. "And it does not matter what you think, what you look like, or where you are from," he told CNN during an interview at a Jerusalem retreat centre operated by Never Alone. This organisation supports "lone soldiers" without family in Israel.


Living in Israel for a few years, Mendel—an American from Long Island—decided to join the IDF.


Compared to Emmanuel and Atzmon, Mendel lacks any military background. He enlisted in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) within months of the war's outbreak. He is now serving in Gaza with the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, an elite unit for religious troops. Since he is still actively serving, he begged CNN not to publish his entire identity.


He said his first thought upon getting recruited was that he would not be engaged in a war. He did, however, say that things had changed on October 7. 


Several captives are still being held inside. Please tell me what you want us to do. Will they release our prisoners if we withdraw? Imagine you were in that situation; what would you do? If it were you, how would you want your loved ones to be spending their time?"

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