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An Israeli diplomat speaks candidly about the horrors of October 7 and Gaza

16 Apr 2024 14 minute read
Israeli diplomat Hodaya Avzada with Israel’s honorary consul in Wales Philip Kaye

Martin Shipton

A senior Israeli diplomat has given a revealing interview to NationCymru in which she both represented her government’s position on the invasion of Gaza, but also conceded there were extremists on both sides of the conflict and expressed some sympathy for Palestinians.

Hodaya Avzada is Head of Domestic Politics and Civil Society at the Israeli Embassy in London. She visited the Senedd with diplomatic and security colleagues and Philip Kaye, Israel’s Honorary Consul in Wales.

Asked how the October 7 attack could be used as a justification for the brutal onslaught in Gaza that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, mostly of women and children, Ms Avzada initially wanted to concentrate on the events of October 7.

She said: “You are right to begin with the October 7 attack, and it’s not just the scale of this attack that left a huge mark on the Israeli public, it’s also the nature of it – the fact that Hamas invaded people’s homes.

“We’ve seen the images of the children in their pyjamas – really horrible images that it’s even hard for me to speak about. A lot of the Israeli people, I think, before October 7 felt ‘we’re resilient, we’re strong, maybe even a regional superpower, we have a very strong army, air force, intelligence, technology’. But then October 7 happened. They feel this could have happened to them.

“It happened on the southern border, but very shortly after the Israeli government evacuated the civilian population from the north [near the border with Lebanon]. People there, including my own family, have been evacuated from their homes for the past six months now.

“My sister told me ‘when they told us to evacuate, I was relieved, because every night I imagined that Hezbollah would come from the north, committing exactly the same atrocities as were committed in the south’.

“This is not just an idea. We know now, for a fact, that the plans, not just the training, for what happened in the south came from Hezbollah. The initial idea was to attack in the north.”

Asked what had gone wrong with Israel’s security that had made it possible for the October 7 attack to take place, Ms Avzada said: “I think there will be time to investigate that. There is already learning about what happened. But at this time I unfortunately don’t have anything I can share with you on what went wrong on the day itself.”

Turning to the Israeli response, she said: “It is not driven by revenge. I know a lot of people say that it is, and it looks like it. But it took a while for the IDF to go into Gaza. This was done after a process of thinking. And yet the images coming from Gaza are disturbing – they are, even for me, speaking as an Israeli diplomat but also as an Israeli citizen, as a mother of two. Looking at it, I don’t enjoy seeing that. I really wish this whole thing could be avoided.

“But this war was forced upon us. We were dragged into this in the most brutal, horrible way. What the IDF has been doing for the past few months and is still doing now in the Gaza Strip is to make sure that October 7 will not happen again.

“As we speak, Hamas has much reduced capability to do that, but they’re still there.”

When it was pointed out that there was evidence that innocent victims had been targeted by the IDF, and that the level of bombardment in Gaza would inevitably lead to a great loss of life, Ms Avzada said: “I’m not going to sit here and say no civilians have been harmed in this war.”

But she denied, for example, that the aid workers killed by the IDF had been targeted, saying that their organisation was valued by the Israeli government.

It was put to Ms Avzada that it was appalling that Israeli demonstrators had been filmed trying to stop aid convoys going into Gaza. She said: “You call it appalling. In their view, this is using their democratic right to protest. Everyone has a right to their opinion. The trucks they have tried to prevent entering have entered. Maybe they have disrupted a bit, but they haven’t caused any major disruption.”

Ms Avzada was then challenged about the behaviour of settlers in the West Bank, who have been threatening and killing Palestinians and grabbing their land. Some of the settlers have spoken of Palestinians as if they were sub-human.

Asked why this was allowed by the Israeli government, she said: “Extremists you have everywhere. You have extremists on the Israeli side; you have extremists on the Palestinian side. Everywhere – even on European soil. So this is not an unusual phenomenon. But I think in terms of the number and proportion of the population, these are on the margins.”

When it was put to Ms Avzada that the influx of around 700,000 settlers to the West Bank was making a two-state solution to the conflict much more difficult, she disagreed, saying: “Israel has pulled out of territory before when we’ve had a real opportunity for peace.”

It was then pointed out that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said he was opposed to a two-state solution. She said: “At some point he did. But you’re taking this one step forward in a very complicated solution where you’re talking about the Israeli settlers.

“And there is violence on the Israeli side – it’s not in massive numbers. It is being condemned. It is being dealt with. Perhaps we can always improve ourselves. But it’s not something that goes on unattended. We are taking it seriously. The Israeli government does not in any way encourage settler violence.”

When it was pointed out that there was footage of IDF personnel standing by as Palestinians were attacked, Ms Avzada said: “I don’t know what footage you’re referring to, so obviously I cannot comment. But they do make arrests.”

Ms Avzada said there was evidence of high levels of support for Hamas in Gaza, with a high proportion supporting the October 7 attacks on Israel.

We suggested that people had been pushed towards extremism because of the failure to reach a peace settlement over many decades and the harsh conditions in which Gazans have to live because of the economic blockade imposed by Israel.

Ms Avzada said: “There was a naval blockade put in in 2009, and the UN has at some point approved that. But other than that they had their own rule in the Gaza Strip.

Israel pulled out entirely, and they elected Hamas in democratic elections. They control the territory; they control the land. You can choose what you do with it. This could have been a flourishing piece of land.”

It was put to Ms Avzada that people in Gaza felt hopeless and then resorted to extremism. She said: “I think it’s not right to put the blame entirely on the Israeli side. They are their own people, they are their own government. If they were peace-loving, and to begin with stopped calling for the destruction of Israel, that might help the situation.”

Asked what the strategy was, from Israel’s point of view, in Gaza, Ms Avzada conceded that she wasn’t sure exactly what the outcome would be.

She said: “I think from our perspective, the main aim is that Gaza is no longer a threat on the southern border of Israel. We don’t want to see Hamas ruling in Gaza, but we don’t want to occupy the Gaza Strip. I don’t think the Israeli public would support that.

“The form of governance we’re aiming for is a moderate Palestinian rule. We still have to see how that will be done. But there have to be major reforms. There has been a change of Prime Minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is still not enough.

“We’re really worried by the incitement of the PA in the West Bank – their practice of ‘pay for slay’, as we call it, to reward terrorists and their families. There’s a prize for someone who kills an Israeli or a Jew.”

It was pointed out to Ms Avzada that people who were surviving relatives of those killed in Gaza were likely to be radicalised further and stoke up hatred for Israel and, in some cases, all Jews, making it even more difficult to reach a compromise settlement.

She said: “From our point of view, we didn’t have a choice but to go into Gaza and uproot that threat which is Hamas. We’ve tried to do it in the most precise, surgical sometimes, way.

“I’ve spoken to IDF reservists and soldiers who have told me they’ve had their life in danger in order to protect the Palestinian civilian population crossing humanitarian corridors. But the way that Hamas have embedded themselves in the civilian population … this was done deliberately.

“The bigger the tragedy, the bigger the destruction, the bigger the humanitarian crisis, the better it is for Hamas.They have no regard for human lives, even their own.

“We have to think for the long term here. Education must play a key role in this on both sides, to be very open and honest with you.

“Israelis looking at images from October 7 are frightened. About 20% of our population is Arab. I don’t like the word coexistence, because this is not us tolerating each other, it’s living a normal life together. I grew up in the north. I’ve had interactions on a daily basis with people I’ve worked with who are Arab Muslims – and this is not out of the ordinary.

“I think a lot of Israelis now are going to be a bit more hesitant in those interactions, which is a shame – in some parts of Israel more than others. And there has to be a long process that takes that into consideration. And education again must play a key role in that.

“The level of incitement and antisemitism in text books in Gaza is just unacceptable. There has to be a major reform on both sides. We have to prepare the Palestinian population for a place of peace.”

Asked whether Mr Netanyahu was the man to deliver that, the diplomat said: “We’re a democracy. It’s for the Israeli public to decide when the election comes.”

When Ms Avzada said that achieving security had to be the major aim from Israel’s point of view, it was suggested that lasting security could only come from a comprehensive peace settlement, and that could only come through diplomacy.

She said: “It takes two to tango, and Hamas, whichever way you look at it, are not interested in peace. It’s not within their interests. In their charter they’re calling for Israel’s destruction. You need to have a partner for peace.”

Despite the horrible situation, did Ms Azvada have any hope for the future? She said: “I must have. We must have – and I think a lot of Israelis will share that hope with me.

“Being an Israeli, you have to think that the future holds something different. We really don’t want to see war again. A lot of people in Israel are afraid, on one side, and they have a lot of anxieties, especially following what happened on Saturday [the Iranian missile attacks on Israel that were largely repelled].

“There’s always this hope that this will be the last war. I don’t want to have my children risking their lives in foreign soil sometimes.”

When it was put to Ms Avzada that the key to any solution had to be the ability of people on both sides to empathise with the other, she said: “It is the key. I think a lot of people do on the Israeli side now, although you don’t hear those voices a lot, because it’s easier for the media to pick up on the other voices.

“But there is a lot of sympathy on the Israeli side. I hope there will also be sympathy on the Palestinian side. There is hope, because Israelis, both Jewish and Arabs and others, are living together inside Israel peacefully.

“It’s to be noted that the Israeli Arab leadership came out straight after the October 7 attack and condemned it, saying it was nothing to do with them and they couldn’t support it, which does show you that there is hope for the region.”

Asked whether she thought a two-state solution was still a viable option, Ms Avzada said: “I think we should always aspire to have a long-term sustainable solution. Maybe some day it will be in the form of a two-state solution.

“But right now I think that we have to focus first of all on bringing our hostages back – we have 133 people, including women and children, held in Gaza. We have to bring them home to their families. We have to restore security to Israel on all of its borders and think of the long-term when those goals are achieved.”

Also in the Senedd was Peter Brisley and his wife Gillian, from Bridgend, whose daughter Lianne, 48, and granddaughters Noiya, 16, and Yahel, 13, were killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack. Their son-in-law Eli Sharabi is a hostage.

Peter Brisley from Bridgend, whose daughter Lianne, 48, and granddaughters Noiya, 16, and Yahel, 13, were killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack.

Mr Brisley said: “Their house was about 150 metres from where they [Hamas] came through. They were among the first to be killed. It seems they went from house to house. Some houses they burnt to the ground; the house our family were in had bullet holes all over the house.

“They just caused wanton damage. They shot the shower, there was a pile of glass on the floor. They shot the cooker. They shot the television. They shot the dog. They shot our daughter and the two grandchildren.

“Our daughter was found cuddling the two girls. Eli – we don’t know whether he saw or not, but he was taken hostage and taken to Gaza. His brother, who lived about 500 yards away, was taken separately, and eventually Hamas executed him in January.

“They had a bit of fun the day before, showing two men and a woman, saying we will tell you their fate tomorrow. And when tomorrow came, they said the two men were dead but the woman lives on.

“We’ve been going there since 1995; our daughter went just for a bit of fun for three months, fell in love, stayed and got married. She made her life in Israel and had the two girls.

“We’d only just been over – three months before the murders. It was the Bar Mitzvah for the younger one, the 13-year-old. She was 13 three days before the murders and her sister was 16 six days before the murders. We just hope our son-in-law comes home. We love him – we’ve known him for 29 years now. We’ve got no proof of life – we don’t know for certain he’s alive, we just know he was taken.”

This horrific and tremendously sad story sums up the desperate need for peace in Israel and Palestine. How much longer will people on both sides of the conflict have to suffer?

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Trefor Owen
Trefor Owen
1 month ago

Please now spend as much time and as many words explaining the Palestinian viewpoint of 75 yrs of Israeli aggression and 10s of 1000s Palestinian dead, for balance…….

1 month ago
Reply to  Trefor Owen

Exactly, can’t do no wrong. Their past trauma is being used as a shield for their government to do the same.

1 month ago

Makes my blood boil, Past trauma is no excuse to carry out the same trauma onto others. You beat people down enough and they lash out, it’s human nature! It’s not evil. Free Palestine!

Sioned Huws
Sioned Huws
1 month ago

Lets have some proper journalism about Gaza and the IDF.. Samah Sabawi Questions the media should ask the people of Gaza How do you bury your dead when you’re still running for cover? How do you shelter from the bombs when they follow you like your shadow? How do you dig through rubble in worn sandals and bare calloused hands? How do you put together all the pieces of your loved ones? Do you start with the head or the toe? And do you always know where all the pieces go? ……. ……. How do you drink contaminated water? How… Read more »

1 month ago

Let the press in to verify or expose the carefully curated press releases from the IDF.

1 month ago

You are NOT right to start with Oct 7th, that’s not when this all started.

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