Hundreds of Israelis at a funeral outside Jerusalem listened to a eulogy when air raid sirens began to shrill. Rockets launched from Gaza exploded in the sky as Israel’s defenses intercepted them; others crashed into nearby communities. The mourners dropped to the ground and lay silently, placing their hands over their heads to protect themselves from falling debris.
According to the Israeli military, at least ten people were killed in the attacks, and some 260 were wounded. The number of Palestinian casualties was unknown. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, said the attack responded to what it described as escalated Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The conflict has escalated to a level unseen in decades, leaving many Israelis feeling helpless. The United States has urged all parties to show restraint. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to take “all necessary measures” to defend the country from terrorist attacks.
But he has not publicly ruled out a major military assault against Gaza. He has insisted that Hamas will not be allowed to use the territory as a base for attacks against Israel. A senior administration official has said that the US is working with other governments to prevent an escalation of the conflict.
President Biden has condemned the attacks as “pure cruelty.” He told a gathering of Jewish leaders at the White House that they were the worst attack against Jews since the Holocaust. He also warned that “those who seek to harm Israel will be met with unmatched resolve and force.”
On Wednesday, the US imposed sanctions on seven Palestinians. It also upgraded the status of a Lebanese militia to that of a “regional terrorist organization.” The UN Security Council is preparing to convene an emergency meeting on the crisis.
Israel has a sophisticated missile defense system, the “Dome.” It uses artificial intelligence to determine whether an incoming projectile is headed towards a populated area, in which case it will be intercepted or uninhabited, in which case it will be ignored. The system is designed to minimize civilian casualties and avoid an international outcry.
But despite the sophisticated defenses, many Israelis feel helpless in the face of the rising violence. “It’s a constant fear that keeps you awake,” said Michele Freund, a 54-year-old physician assistant who moved to Israel from New York 30 years ago. She has two army-mobilized soldiers and lives in a community close to the border with Gaza.
“When you’re a parent or have small children, it’s terrifying.” She said. “You don’t want to think about it.”
The rockets fly in from all directions, hitting densely populated areas and making it difficult for residents to find shelters or leave their homes. Several communities have been hit, including Kibbutz Beeri and Kibbutz Nir Oz. The residents of those communities have been pleading on television for assistance from the Israeli army.