Nicky Blackburn
January 14

My son was finally sent home from Gaza on the 92nd day of the war. He arrived home exhausted, two days earlier than expected, with his rucksack, equipment, rifle, boots and a large pile of dirty laundry, turning our downstairs area into an impromptu army staging post. 

As a member of the reserves, he was called up – like so many other young men and women – on October 7th, the day of the surprise Hamas attack, and we’ve barely seen him since. More than half of that time he’s been in Gaza.

The relief at seeing him home was profound. I couldn’t stop hugging him. Hugging him, my husband, my other children, neighbors – anyone in sight. 

“He’s home!” I wrote on WhatsApp to friends and family, and everyone knew what I meant, and joined in my joy.

But, in a country still at war, joy comes in short bursts. 

Two days after he got home he was called back to his base. The plan was that he would hand in his equipment, go through psychological processing, and wrap up. Instead, as the day wore on rumors began to swirl about a large incident in Gaza.

The rumors were true

Rumors during this war are a scary thing. Information starts to drip out through Telegram and WhatsApp groups, and while sometimes they prove to be inaccurate, or an exaggeration, many times they prove to be true. 

The WhatsApp group for parents in my son’s unit began to fill with questions. “What’s going on?” “Does anyone know what’s happened?” “Is everyone ok?” 

Already by the evening we understood that several people in my son’s unit had been killed and many wounded in a big explosion. 

And we also realized with growing sorrow that many of the parents in our WhatsApp group were about to get that awful, life-debilitating knock on the door, the knock that has been haunting my sleepless and turbulent nights since the war began. 

The full story hit the newspapers around lunchtime the next day. Four soldiers in my son’s unit had been killed, all four people he had lived with and served beside over the last few months, one a team member through their army service too. Five other soldiers also died that day. Some in the same incident, others in different ones.

So this week, instead of wrapping up, allowing himself to decompress, think about what’s next, and how to return to normal life after all that he has experienced, he is going to funerals and shiva houses. 

It’s not over

When my son came home, I suppose somewhere in my subconscious I had imagined that the war would be over. That I could let go. But of course it isn’t, and I can’t. Last week was an immediate and crushing reminder. 

Today, it’s 100 days of war. There are still 136 hostages in Gaza – though around 23 have already been declared dead. 

Boys like my son are still fighting there, still being wounded and losing their lives. The tens of thousands of people evacuated from the north and south are still living in hotels and guest houses, and still can’t go home. 

Missiles are still raining down in the north, and less frequently now in the south too. The Houthis are still trying to destroy supply routes in the Red Sea. And the northern border and Iran – the country pulling all the strings – is still an explosion just waiting to happen.

Israeli soldiers take position near the border fence with the Gaza Strip, January 7, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90
Israeli soldiers take position near the border fence with the Gaza Strip, January 7, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

The last 100 days have been such a roller coaster of awful emotion in Israel. 

We have gone through so much – from the reeling shock of the first two weeks, to mourning for what has been taken from us, the sense of betrayal and loss of trust with the authorities, the incredulity and growing fury at the hostile world response, and the excitement and accompanying sorrow that some of the hostages came home, but not all of them.

For some, like myself, there has also been a strong sense of grief for the loss of hope in the peace process, and an understanding that Gaza, too, will never be the same. Something that was already very fragile has now been broken.

Fear and resilience

And running hand in hand with all these already complex and difficult emotions, there has also always been fear. For our loved ones in the army, for the endless missile attacks that target our homes, for the chance of similar vicious attacks elsewhere along Israel’s borders, and the threats against us coming from so many different places around the world.

It has been a hard learning curve for us all, a journey that none of us wanted and that none of us will ever forget. Reports suggest that 23% of the adult Jewish population suffers post-traumatic stress. It doesn’t surprise me. 

But, despite all this, we have also grown. The people in Israel amaze me with their strength and resilience, with their ability to pick themselves up again and again from the floor. Even in the face of implacable hatred from all quarters. 

And it’s not just a personal will to survive that you see here. People are making an effort to take everyone in society with them. To build, restore and renew.

I have been through many dark times over the last 100 days, I admit it, but what held me together were the messages and calls of support from family, friends, and even people I don’t know well, the hugs given in moments of exhaustion, the small but meaningful gestures of solidarity.

From the start of this conflict, people told me they were sending their love, sending their prayers, and I actually feel it, all around me, buoying me up, and carrying me through.

No strawberries

It’s popular around the world these days to make fun of the younger generation – the so-called strawberry generation, because they look nice, but are soft inside and easily bruised. 

There’s nothing strawberry about our kids here in Israel. 

First there was Covid – two years when the world broke down and everything normal that holds our lives together fell apart – and now this war. I apologize for sounding grandiose, but our children are, without a doubt, a generation forged in fire. And I am proud of them.

100 days of war…

I remember when the war in Ukraine hit this figure, and we were all astonished and horrified that it could go on so long. Today the war in Ukraine has hit 691 days. I pray that the war here is over well before that awful milestone. 

And I also give a quiet thank you from deep in my heart to all the powers of the universe that my son was released from the army two days earlier than expected.

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