Survivor of atrocities in open letter to Hamas supporter Gretta Thunberg

Opinion: Climate activist Shaked Shefy Cohen points out Thunberg’s ignorance of her and her community’s suffering after the massacre, invites her to visit and tell the world what she sees

Shaked Shefy Cohen, Zavit|
Hello, Greta. We do not know each other personally, but we share a similar ideology. At least we did until a moment ago. My name is Shaked Shefy Cohen and I am the mother of Ya’ar, who will celebrate his fourth birthday in two weeks. I am married to Rony, and a member of the kibbutz Nir-Am which is located near the border with Gaza. On one side I am a neighbor of Hamas and the people you support, and on the other, I neighbor the “occupied” city of Sderot.
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Clip from the video released by IDF, blurred due to the nature of the hard-to-watch scenes

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Under normal circumstances, I work tirelessly as the vice president of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, promoting agendas you know and have been spearheading for years in the just and vital environmental effort. But today I am nothing more than a fleeing mother, a refugee in my own land, without a home, without safety nor air, doing her best to protect my family and myself, physically and mentally, from the chaos we’ve been thwarted into.
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גרטה טונברג ובית ששרפו מחבלים בעוטף עזה
גרטה טונברג ובית ששרפו מחבלים בעוטף עזה
A burned home in a Gaza border community; Greta Thunberg posts support for Gaza
(Photo: Gadi Kabalo)
For two weeks now I’ve been a walking-dead. A zombie among zombies. Alone between hundreds of precious people, horror stories, missing persons, more murdered, more funerals. I see only hollow gazes and helplessness. There is nothing. No words, no sentiments, no tears. Nothing. Just numbers: Over 100 missing, 210 abducted—among them roughly 30 children and 20 elderly—301 wounded, and 1,400 murdered. Many of these are friends and acquaintances from the community in which I live. Overwhelmingly, civilians.
I read your words and the solidarity you’ve expressed with Gaza and Hamas, and I do not carry any anger. I really don’t. Only a deep and pitiful sorrow. Sorrow for the painful blindness in which you and many like you have sinned. Your blindness stems from ignorance and reliance on media outlets that are misinformed, misguided, inflammatory, and, mostly, violent and corrupt by political and financial interests.
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   Home burned in Nir Oz
   Home burned in Nir Oz
Home burned in Nir Oz
I, unfortunately, did not need to read the paper or listen to the news, nor did I need to verify the facts, because I was there and I could see for myself. And anything I experienced was also experienced by my dear brothers and sisters, a war and a trauma that will remain with us for life.

The siren did not stop

Allow me to tell you where I was on that Saturday, October 7th, 2023, at 6:20 AM, as well as the seventeen hours that followed that fateful moment, while you were in your safe haven where your life and your loved ones’ exist under no existential peril.
I woke up to the sound of the sirens. It is familiar to us, residents of thearea; we experience “drizzles” of rocket fire as a part of our routine. We are “used to it.” A mere eight seconds separate the moment it sounds until the rockets begin to land—these rockets do not differentiate between soldiers, women, babies, or the elderly. Rockets are simply fired randomly to murder and inflict horror and terror on my “side.”
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שקד ויער, יומיים לפני פרוץ המלחמה
שקד ויער, יומיים לפני פרוץ המלחמה
Shaked and her son, Yaar, just two days before the terror attack
When we hear the siren we must enter our shelter—our residential secure space. We must. I challenge you to wake up from a deep sleep, pick up the toddler lying next to you in bed, and run to another room in your house. Actually, I’ll spare you the challenge—it is impossible.
That’s how our morning began on October 7th. Highly stressful, but there was still hope that any second now the Iron Dome would intercept the rockets—not the best wake-up call, but soon we would be okay. Only this time the siren did not stop. In under an hour, we were under a barrage of hundreds of rockets and mortars. Hundreds. At the same time, there were gunshots. Plenty of gunshots. We received a chilling message from the kibbutz’s emergency team: “There is an infiltration of terrorists, lock yourself in your homes.” The power went out. No communication. No Internet. Hours upon hours alone. Defenseless. No army. Isolated. The residential secure space does not lock from the inside, so we held onto the door. For hours. Hopeless. In the meantime, a strong smell of fire crept from underneath the door. Rony and I looked at each other, terrified, and understood: we may end this Saturday dead.

How will I lie to my child?

I’ll make a long story short, or just bring you to the middle of the nightmare, the here and now that has long lost its grip on time: My family and I escaped the horror. We are no longer locked in the safe space amidst endless sirens, gunfire, explosions, smoke, and a child who is holding on to my hand, too tightly, trembling. “Mom and Dad are here with you. Everything is okay. Everything is okay.”
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חייל צה"ל מופיע לרגע אחד מעבר לתריס הבית של שקד שפי כהן ב-7 באוקטובר
חייל צה"ל מופיע לרגע אחד מעבר לתריס הבית של שקד שפי כהן ב-7 באוקטובר
An IDF soldier appears for one moment behind the shutters of Shaked Shefi Cohen's house on October 7
I am no longer peeking through my window blinds to see whether the army has finally arrived or whether our kibbutz has been fully taken over by terrorists. We are no longer fleeing rockets, passing burned cars, the dead bodies of innocent people in the middle of the road, weapons pointed at us, terrified of being abducted. Fear. in bone-chilling fear. we drive fast. Flying. Terrified. Skies ablaze.
We were rescued. What a “miracle.” But the guilt we carry, because we survived while others did not, is relentless. And we are not alive. Everything has lost meaning. Our sense of security is lost. There is nothing, only terror, in all of its ugliness.
I long to wake from this nightmare, sweating, a face drowned by teas, I wait to be told that this was just a bad dream. I want to exhale and rid myself of this torrid scenario. I hallucinate that I am told, “Oh, come on, Shakshuk, you and your imagination. Some things simply can’t ever happen, relax.”
I want to wake up and see Rony and Ya’ar resting peacefully by me on our bed. To drink water. To relax. And to go back to sleep. In the house that was ours, in Nir-Am. In a place that I promised to everyone, including myself, was 99% paradise and 1% hell. And when it’s hell, it gets a little challenging, but you decompress elsewhere for a few days or weeks, and that, too, passes.
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הלוייתה של מירה שטהל
הלוייתה של מירה שטהל
Israelis mourn a victim of Hamas terror
(Photo: Leon Neal / Getty Images)
But instead of that, my kingdom, our haven, turned, overnight, into 100% hell. The ground has been pulled from under our feet. Its absence is still felt.
How can I, how can we, look back into my child’s eyes and repeat the mantra: “When mom and dad are by your side, you are always protected. You need not fear anything, we will protect you. Always.”
How do we communicate to our children, the crumbling reality? Our crumbling selves? How do we protect them from finding out that we lied, and have been lied to? Where do we find the strength, the wherewithal, to continue to lie?

Dancing on the wrong side of the fence

While we were confined at home, outside ground and aerial battles were unfolding. We did not know whether we would be murdered, abducted, or would come out of this on the other side alive. Our friends were being massacred, raped, and murdered in front of their partners’ eyes; along with their children, babies burned with bound hands. Bodies that are still unidentifiable because their remains do not suffice.
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קיבוץ ניר עוז
קיבוץ ניר עוז
remains of a home in Nir Oz
( Photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
Livnat Kutz, may she rest in peace, a beloved coworker, was an artist and an entrepreneur, and also “one of us” – she separated and recycled bottles. On that day, she lay with her husband and three children, in the same bed, when terrorists tried to break into their shelter in kibbutz Kfar Aza. The terrorists could not break through the door, so they set the house on fire and burned the family alive.
At the same time, Yuval Solomon, may he rest in peace, a young man full of life who celebrated his birthday just hours earlier, was murdered too. Hundreds of other innocent people were massacred throughout the neighboring communities. And not only there, but in the towns and cities as well. Even at a nature party. Ziv Pepe Shapira, may he rest in peace, Tammy’s son, my smiley neighbor, was murdered. His only sin was dancing on the wrong side of the fence.

Come to Israel, Greta, and tell the world what you saw

You, Greta, of all people, who believe in human rights, who dedicated her life to environment advocacy, whose name was suggested multiple times for a Nobel Peace Prize —you of all people must condemn Hamas, a terrorist organization that supports the massacre of innocent people, including marginalized populations, an organization that performed countless acts of rape within hours, an organization that kidnaps babies.
Many of the people who were massacred in the most horrifying ways hell has to offer, were simple, innocent, eco-friendly people. You’d be surprised, Greta, but many of them even oppose the “occupation” and advocate for peace. But this time, there is no room for politics, there is no right or left, no right or wrong. There is only good or evil. Light or darkness.
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כפר עזה
כפר עזה
Removing the dead from a burned home in Kfar Aza
(Photo: Jack Guez / AFP)
I implore you, especially, Greta, to differentiate between the battle for the rights of Gazan civilians or the controversial policy of Israel’s government in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the murderous and despicable actions of a terrorist organization that is no better than ISIS and the Nazis.
Our country is bleeding. We are fighting on several fronts: south, north, west, and east. But there is one more front, one that will dramatically impact my life and the lives of all Israeli civilians (and yes, the lives of Gazan civilians too, living under the oppression of Hamas): the information front. Your words, Greta, are inflicting immense damage on the state of Israel in general, and the environmental effort specifically.
The area surrounding my house is still classified as a military zone, but in Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Nir-Oz, where my neighbors lived, they are still removing body parts. I am not allowed in there. You, as one who has a social platform, would be allowed.
I invite you to come to Israel and visit the charred and desecrated homes. See for yourself the amputated limbs resting on the sides of roads. a decapitated body, the foot of a little girl. Blood-stained pacifiers. Come see for yourself. Cure your blindness and tell the world what you saw. Because all I saw is darkness. A darkness upon the face of the deep.
This article was made by ZAVIT – The News Agency of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
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