'We must go inside': Israelis resolute that Gaza ground invasion is only option

The military has been preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza for nearly two weeks

Family members, friends and religious leaders gather at the Western Wall on Thursday to pray for the safe return of those taken hostage by Hamas militants. Getty Images
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The warm October sun shines brightly on the hip cafes that line a bustling stretch of Jaffa Street near the centre of Jerusalem.

Israelis young and old sip morning coffees and gather under the protective canopies of cafe umbrellas, trying to enjoy a semblance of normality during a period that is anything but normal.

The country is at war and hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been called up from the reserves and sent south ahead of an expected ground invasion into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli leaders have vowed to wipe Hamas “off the map” and promised retribution for the militant group’s assault on southern Israel that left 1,300 Israelis dead and during which about 200 were kidnapped.

The country’s retaliation has been swift and unrelenting. The military has dropped thousands of bombs on the densely populated Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll has passed 4,000, a number that already exceeds the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza, which lasted six weeks.

There is a sense among many Israelis that it is just the beginning – as if the country goes to bed each night expecting to wake up to news of troops marching into Gaza.

The military has so far refrained from launching a ground invasion, although the pieces are in place.

Nearly two weeks since from the events of October 7, Israelis, for the most part, are resolute in their belief that a ground invasion is a necessary next step.

“We must go inside,” said Isaac Israel, 72, a money transfer clerk in Jerusalem. “Because otherwise we will not succeed to live here any more.”

Mr Israel tapped into a sentiment shared by many.

“We don't have another country,” said Talia Mazor, a mother of two. “We must completely destroy Hamas.”

When Hamas militants flooded into cities and kibbutzim along the border with Gaza, not only did they succeed in killing more Israelis than in any other day of this long-simmering conflict, they struck fear into the heart of the country, piercing Israel’s sense of invincibility.

Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza received three warnings to evacuate before air strike

Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza received three warnings to evacuate before air strike

Dan Avnon, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: "When something like this happens, and we know first hand, or by stories, the people who were murdered – many of them peace-loving activists – then the sense is [that] if we don't [put on] a show of force, that will be unbearable to experience on the other side.

"Now it's in Gaza, then it's in Lebanon, and then it's Iran and we're doomed to die.”

Prof Avnon said the attack hit at the very core of the country’s identity, leading to a generational trauma shared by many Israelis and Jews worldwide.

“Jewish Israelis are committed to the existence of the state. Right, left, peace, radical, messianic or whatnot, at our core we believe that if we do not have a state, then we will be wiped out,” Prof Avnon told The National.

Updated: October 20, 2023, 12:23 PM