Australian olah Mai Gutman described the events in Israel over the past three days to The AJN in one word: “Armageddon”.
Gutman, who has served in the Israeli military and until recently was public affairs officer at the Zionist Federation of Australia, moved to Israel one month ago.
She was in Jerusalem with relatives for yom tov as Saturday’s Hamas attacks began to unfold. “We woke up to the sounds of Red Alert sirens. You could actually hear the Iron Dome intercepting the rockets overhead,” she said. “At first I thought, that’s a bit strange. Why would we be hearing it in Jerusalem? And then I figured if these are already getting to Jerusalem, something worse must be going on in the south.”
She said she quickly grabbed her phone to read the headlines. “Then I went on to my Twitter that was absolutely pinging with atrocious, horrific videos and photos of things that had been already happening since about six o’clock that morning. There were images of literal massacres in the streets, bodies laying on the streets of Sderot and in the moshavim and kibbutzim in the envelope of Gaza,” she continued.
“I saw videos of bomb shelters, of people huddled into bomb shelters where it was just a blood pool. Everybody was laying dead on the floor, bodies everywhere. They had just gone into houses. They’d unlocked bomb shelters, drilled through locks of private homes to get into the homes, held hostages.
“The images and the footage that was coming out – and I’m sorry to be so graphic but I’ve got to tell you, I feel like there is a lot of censorship going on just so that people aren’t so afraid of what’s happening – but I’m telling you this is armageddon at this point,” she said. “The footage that I saw yesterday was apocalyptic. I’ve never in my life, nobody in the history of the state of Israel has seen such a colossal failure on the part of the military, on the part of the intelligence, on the part of the government.”
Gutman revealed she had initially intended to go the Supernova Music Festival near near Kibbutz Re’im, where 260 revellers were brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists.
“I was about to buy tickets. A few weeks ago when I just landed, my friend texted me, ‘Oh, there’s this party. We should go’. And then literally the next day my auntie said, ‘Our cousins are coming from America. We’re all going to do chag sheni in Jerusalem’. And then I said, ‘You know what, it’s chag, I might as well be with family. I can go to a party anytime’,” she recalled.
“But because I was about to go, I had already joined a WhatsApp group of all these people that were going to the party because I was trying to find a lift and trying to find someone to go with.
“That day the Whatsapp group started going off saying people are missing friends … already nine o’clock in the morning people are sending photos saying all these people are missing. Nobody knew what was happening, except for some people that were texting the group saying ‘I’m here right now, they’re shooting, they’re shooting help us, we don’t know what to do’.
“And you’re sitting there reading these messages, what are you supposed to do? There’s no one at the at the nearest police stations because of all the police stations in the area were taken over by the terrorists. There was nobody in the nearest army bases because the army bases were infiltrated and everybody pretty much completely massacred, murdered in their beds.”
When The AJN spoke to Gutman, she was at home in Ra’anana.
“Everybody’s just staying in their homes. No one’s encouraged to leave their house for any kind of reason because at this point, there are still terrorists roaming the streets,” she said. “There are terrorists that have stolen cars, stolen IDF uniforms, they could be knocking on anyone’s door at this point. And it’s a terrifying reality.
“People are dying,” she continued. “There are people being kidnapped and are in Gaza. At this point we have no idea what their condition is. They’re somewhere, they’re saying some of them are in tunnels underground, some of them are out in the open. We’re talking women, children, old people, the most vulnerable people in our community.
“They’ve got bodies of soldiers, they’ve got bodies of police officers. They’ve got bodies of those killed in the rave. It’s unfathomable. The scale is unfathomable.”
A trained combat soldier, Gutman is yet to be called up. “I’ve been told by my commanders that I’m on standby but if anything develops on the Northern Front, which is where my reserve base is based, then I’ll be sent up,” she said. “I will feel better than what I am now which is just a sitting duck to be honest. At least if I’m there, and if I’m given a job, something to do, I can help.”
Asked how Hamas could have managed the logistics of the attack, Gutman said, “I think this is the most frustrating bit of this entire operation. I can tell you as someone that’s been in the army, … if a leaf was blown onto the fence, it’s so sensitive, that we would be called there.
“It’s a colossal failure on the part of the intelligence. It’s a colossal failure on the part of the army how this could ever happen. It’s just unfathomable. It’s unheard of.”
She said the lack of information wasn’t just restricted to how the attack was allowed to occur. “We’re left in the dark and this is part of the reason why the citizens of Israel are currently in such a state of distrust with the government and distrust with the army because we have no information,” she lamented.
“Parents and families of the kidnapped people have no information. They weren’t even told that their kids, families, grandmothers, brothers and sisters were kidnapped. They saw this from videos on Twitter and Telegram and in WhatsApp groups and they had to identify it based on their kids tattoo or or or what they were wearing that day. And this is something that I do in my in my work in search and rescue, is matching descriptions with people’s names. And I’ve been going through lists of people that have been missing and and going through these videos and footage and then trying to match two and two together.”
She said the “biggest issue” is that the civilians are on their own.
“They not only feel alone, but they’re physically on their own. There is no one answering. There’s no one coming. Yesterday, hostages were in their homes for upwards of 10 hours,” she said.
“And at the moment there’s a total distrust, there’s a total feeling of betrayal and and it’s just difficult for me to see a future in the coming days where where anything good will come of this, especially with this current government. Okay, so Bibi and [defence minister Yoav] Gallant have made some videos and have appealed to the public but honestly, they haven’t visited, they haven’t they haven’t come out of their war rooms. There’s been no attempt to bridge between the civilians and the politicians.”
A silver lining, however, is Israeli citizens are setting aside their differences.
“At the end of the day, when there is a time of real existential threat, we will all mobilise to protect our country regardless of political or religious affiliations. Airforce reservists who said they would strike because of the reforms have all enlisted and are ready to jump into action. When it comes to real threat, we are one nation, one people,” she said.
“The organisers of the protests even cancelled the protests and urged people to stand with the government and the army and to be attentive to any instructions they give. This is the true face of Israel.”
Asked if she wished to give any specific message to the Jewish community in Australia, Gutman said, “It might not feel like it because I know and I’ve been there [in Australia], but genuinely the support and the prayers and the thoughts, they help. They make us feel that we’re not alone.
“So, just continue doing what you can on social media as well combating any of the anti-Zionist, antisemitic rhetoric that’s going around online If you can, and just keep praying.
“It helps and keep us in your thoughts. And don’t give up hope. Don’t give up hope. That’s the most important thing.”