ELNET France organized a third solidarity mission to Israel since the beginning of the war with Hamas on October 7th .
The delegation gathered 21 participants, senators, MPs members of the parliamentary friendship groups with Israel and for the first time, joined by famous writers and novelists.
In November 2023, more than 7 000 artists and art workers signed an op-ed in the press calling to “putting a stop to the colonial policy of the Israeli state”. ELNET France decided to address the artistic community and to invite influential writers and journalists to visit Israel and apprehend the situation by themselves to then report to their pairs.
3 months after the beginning of the war Hamas imposed on Israel, ELNET France organized this 3-day Solidarity Mission to Israel that included meetings with senior policy makers and briefings by IDF and Police representatives. The delegation visited the south, met with the families of hostages, citizens struck by terror and wounded civilians.
On the week-end of October 7th,2023, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel in a deadly and barbaric attack, launched with no legitimate pretext.
The terrorist organizations involved are branches of the Ayatollah regime in Iran, which proactively promotes terrorist activity in Israel and against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world. As a result, Israel is at war!
This attack revealed once again the true face of these terror organizations and uncontrollable groups, devoid of any moral inhibitions, who are motivated by hatred, the desire to hurt Israeli citizens in every way, and to bring about the destruction of the State of Israel.
The opening dinner was dedicated to a geopolitical overview. Recalling history and the previous wars fought by Israel, Dr. Emmanuel Navon, CEO of ELNET Israel explained the new face of the war with Hamas: a djihadist war with ideologically motivated enemies, backed by Iran and driven by Shiite religious messianism. Iran is leading a strategy to encircle Israel with its proxies: Hamas, Hezbollah, Houtis.
October 7 is “not a territorial conflict” according to Emmanuel, and Israel who was divided for 9 months over a judicial reform is now united to win the war. It will be a long process, the reconstruction will commend the involvement of the Arab countries, the EU and the West.
The double game of the Qatar won’t last after the war, Emmanuel reckons.
After the war, Israel will face a political turmoil. But the #1 question remains: how to succeed to win peace with a population that stands in solidarity with Hamas?
The delegation took a walk to the “Hostages Square” to see the memorial, the tents, the long table set with the 136 empty chairs and met with the son of one of the hostages.
Understanding October 7th
The next day, after an overview briefing by Col.(Res) Olivier Rafowicz about the security situation at Israel northern border, the delegation visited an IDF base exposing the weapons used by the terrorists on October 7th.
Some of the weapons were of Iranian fabrics or designed in Iran and produced in local Palestinian manufacturing clandestine workshops. Some of the military arsenal seized were designed against the Israeli tanks Merkava based on intelligence from foreign countries.
The delegation went to Sderot. The city near the border with Gaza is home to more than 30 000 habitants but since October 7th approximately 90% left and are refugees in Center Israel. The group visited the war room of the municipality. Initiated as the control center of the city municipal activities, it was turned into a war room on October 7th when the city was attacked and the police station devasted by Hamas terrorists. 47 inhabitants of Sderot were murdered on October 7th. The delegates saw the images of the CCTV of the city on the morning of the attacks. The municipality coordinated the first emergency response for the population. Sderot remains a ghost town more than 3 months after the deadly attacks.
Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson of the National Police delivered a briefing and shared first hand analysis of the events that occurred on October 7th. The National Police was the first respondent to the terrorists and 58 police officers were killed on active duty, 160 injured and 7 are still missing. On the morning of October 7th, 7500 rockets were fired from Gaza to Israel and terrorists stormed through the fence. Terrorists managed to overrun, seize communities, military bases and outposts. Israel’s forces were trained to cop with an infiltration of 20 to 30 terrorists not 3000, he said. Terrorists attacked 21 different localities around the Gaza Strip and terror teams had tasks to fulfill, the majority were not under drugs. Hundreds of people have hidden explosives by the fence in recent months during demonstrations near the border, the surveillance by the army was foiled by heavy smokes of burnt tires.
Not only did Hamas went through the fence but a hundred terrorists attacked Israel by sea on Ashkelon beach that morning.
1200 were murdered and the Police is leading ongoing investigations about rapes and body mutilations.
Rosenfeld stressed that every good introduced into Gaza since Israel’s withdrawal has been used for underground infrastructures.
He recalled that 125 000 Israelis were evacuated from southern Israel. As of beginning of January, 2/3 of the Gaza Strip has been cleared, Rosenfeld considered, but there are still thousands of terrorists alive, firing at the troops on the ground and sending rockets towards Israel.
The delegation escorted by Colonel (Res.) Goal Wach, Chief of the Israeli National Rescue
Unit visited the kibboutz Kfar Aza attacked by 3 waves of terrorists. The level of devastation
leaves no one indifferent. Seeing the reality on the ground helps to ensure continued
European support for Israel for as long as it takes to eliminate Hamas.
After a trying day in the south, the delegates met with the families of hostages.
136 Israelis are still held hostages by the Hamas in Gaza. The heartbreaking stories of the families of the abducted set the frame for a discussion with the policy makers. The Israeli civilians, on the verge of despair call on the international community to pressure Israel for the resumption of negotiations for the hostages’ release. They shared their views about the situation in Gaza, recalling that the goods and medical equipment entering Gaza are stolen from the population by the Hamas. The families called on the French MPs to cut the funds of Hamas leadership, freezing their bank accounts in Europe and in the Gulf. Israelis considered France and the West should stop financial support to the Red Cross that is failing its mission.
The delegation met with a survivor of the Nova festival who shared his heartbreaking story and expressed gratitude for the support of the Israeli population when he was in the hospital. The trauma and yet the strength Tomer was showing forced the admiration of all.
The delegation visited the exhibit that recreated the festival space produced by the Tribe of Nova, giving a sense of the horror. This exhibit, installed in the Expo Tel Aviv conference center, is one of the first memorials to the events of October; it is named “Nova 6.29” for the exact hour on October 7 when the rockets began falling on the Tribe of Nova desert rave. More than 3,000 people were at a music festival that began on Friday night October 6 and was meant to last into the afternoon of October 7.
As rockets began falling early that morning, the partygoers were still dancing, and at first didn’t realize that hundreds of Hamas terrorists were launching an assault, arriving on gliders and mopeds. The attackers shot and killed some 360 people and assaulted and abducted dozens more.
Political and diplomatic situation
ELNET gathered supporters and donors for a special evening with Minister Gideon Sa’aar. Minister without portfolio, he sits in the security cabinet and shared with the attendance, his vision of the situation. Israel’s world changed on October 7th, Israeli is fighting a war on multiple fronts. If the war objectives are not met yet, Israel is united to face the international pressure. Minister Sa’aar called on the support of France, especially within the UNSC and he reminded the audience that if Israel is weak it won’t survive. Therefore, it will continue the campaign to dismantle Hamas and bring the hostages back alive. Sa’ar considers that Israel took a lot of risks for peace, and made concessions that weaken its security. He reckons Israel is on the front line of a war of civilization, stressing the country is bereaved with hundreds of soldiers killed or severely wounded and yet it is united and ready to wage this civilization war. Gaza must turn from the Iranian axis to the axis of moderate Arab countries and Israel will have to maintain freedom of security action within the Gaza strip after the war.
The delegation went to Jerusalem and met with MPs members of the parliamentary friendship group between France and Israel, MK Dan Illouz, MK Matti Sarfati, including the chair, MK Yossi Taieb. Over the friendly and open discussion Israeli MK expressed gratitude for the delegation to visit Israel and ask for the support of its ally, France within the international agencies. France and Israel are sister democracies and they share the same values, with 41 binational victims, France is one of the most affected foreign countries by Hamas’ attacks recalled Taieb.
MKs encouraged France to play a strong diplomatic role about the situation at the northern front with Lebanon. “France’s role is to prevent military action” said Yossi Taieb.
In the course of the exchange of views, the issue of education was raised since young children in Gaza, under UNWRA’s schools are educated to Jewish and Israel hatred.
MKs hope that France will support Israel in the trial at the International Court of Justice and they stressed that the “day after the war” should not only be a preoccupation for Israel but for the international community. Hamas can no longer rule administratively and military the Gaza Strip, Israel won’t administrate Gaza, yet the Palestinian Authority is not option for Israel.
The issue of “pay for slay” was discussed, MKs stressed that the PA did not condemn the attacks on October 7th and confirmed the terrorists and their families will receive a salary for murdering Jews.
The 4th issue that was debated was the reaction of the military and the emergency services on October 7th, MK Taieb declared that investigations are ongoing and that there will be a commission of inquiry in the Knesset.
The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Amir Ohana hosted the delegation for one hour to discuss the events of October 7th, the war situation and the preparation for the day after. Speaker Ohana recalled that Iran launched the attacks in the eve of the expansion of the Abraham Accords with Saudi Arabia. According to him, Israel represents “the free and democratic world in the region and that is what Iran targeted through its proxies”. He stressed that the Iranian threat goes beyond what one can see, it is targeted at the Western world. Ohana added: « This is not just a war against the Jews. It may start with the Jews, but it doesn’t end with them. In effect, this is a clash of civilizations. All of us, the entire free world, are adamantly opposed to the Islamist radicalism that suppresses the values we share. If, heaven forbid, Israel loses, you can guess who will be next ». He also commented on the issue of Red Cross visits, saying: “It’s true that Hamas did not allow visits to the hostages, but we also haven’t seen insistence and eagerness on the part of the Red Cross to hold these visits. We are making efforts in different directions to enable this. »He thanked France for its support in speaking out against Hamas and in favor of Israel’s right to self-defense.
The delegation attended a special hearing with the families of the hostages and released hostages and expressed France’s support and commitment to do it outmost for the liberation of 136 hostages still in Gaza.
Ambassador Daniel Meron, Deputy Director General for Europe at the Israeli MFA delivered a detailed briefing to the French delegation.
As of today, 200k people are displaced in Israel. He considered Israel was wrong not to enter Gaza earlier to put an end to the Hamas military capacities building. It was a huge failure for the government on October 7th now, Israel has to restore deterrence towards other players in the region and commented on the recent elimination of Hamas operatives: “Hamas leaders wherever they are in the world, have no future”. He warned that Iran is continuing its nuclear program without disturbance since the world is focused on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Ambassador Meron considers France should advise the Saudis to continue in the path of the Abraham Accords. He also praised France for being extremely supportive to Israel – strong strategic defense cooperation even if there might have political disagreements sometimes.
At the domestic level, internal military team working on the investigation of the events of October 7th; inquiry committee outside of the government, will be established as well. At the highest military level, the heads of the agencies declared themselves responsible for the failure that led to October 7th.
He continued by saying that Qatar is playing a negative role in the region but it is put aside while the Israeli hostages are still in Gaza; adding that Al Jazeera is spreading Qatar’s messages around the world with one-sided stories.
Meron believe that moderate Arab countries will be instrumental in the reconstruction in Gaza but also to deal with education, #1 issue for the “day after”.
About the EU-Israel relations, Amb. Meron stressed EU leaders issued strong supportive messages, the EU Parliament adopted a strong resolution; a lot of solidarity was expressed from EU leaders. The issue is with J.Borrell not with the Europeans. He considers the EU has more political views than practical views on Israel and reminded that the Israel-EU Association Council was scheduled to meet on November but it was postponed but dialogue remains ongoing.
Amb. Emmanuel Nahshon, Director of the Public Diplomacy department of the MFA exposed the work undertaken by o the Ministry.
The mission of the Public Diplomacy department is “to support the diplomatic effort of Israel in support of the military effort”. The aim is to guarantee the diplomatic legitimacy of Israel and to enlarge the scopes of Israel’s actions legitimacy, he said. According to Amb. Nahshon, one can see the willingness of Israel’s enemies to arm Israel’s image. If the scale and the genuine nature is not completely unknown, what is happening since October 7th is a chapter of a conflict on a global scale, according to him. éAutocratic countries, led by China and Russia are on the offensive side, while the democratic world is on the defensive” he declared. Nahshon exposed the challenges and the pernicious risks of TikTok and recalled that Russia is making military progress because the world is focusing on the Middle East.
“The attacks of October 7th dealt a severe blow to Israel’s image, perception and security” he said. “Israel is terribly weakened and aware of it”. It has been dramatically damaged, and the only way to restore it is to totally destroy Hamas. According to him, the war will cost billions.
He stressed that if the USA and France are in favor of dismantling Hamas but they both call for a resumption of the talks for a Palestinian State after the war.
He also said that according to the military, the operations will last until the summer; what is unknow is whether the international community will grant this time to Israel without political compensation, he said. The difficulty for his department lies in the fact that how to explain the situation in Israel while on the ground it’s getting worse.
As of today, he questioned “how to create a framework for discussion between Israelis and Palestinians?”.
According to him, it is imperative to complete a process of denazification of the Gaza Strip. He insisted that a lot a help from the international community will be needed both to limit the conflict (French and US efforts with Lebanon were underlined) and to rebuild not only in Gaza but also the minds on both sides, he said.
The mission of Fformer FA Minister Le Drian has been briefly discussed and Amb. Nahshon concluded that Hezbollah is being extra cautious to remain below the level that would trigger a war. What happens next will depend on the balance between Lebanon’s interests and Iran’s interests, he said. He warned that if there was a war between Israel and Hezbollah, all the infrastructures would be destroyed and both Lebanon and its people would pay the price.
The delegation met over lunch with Vincent Chebat, Senior Researcher in charge of Europe of NGO Monitor, a research institute promoting democratic values and good governance. They
discussed the European-funded NGOS that after October 7th justified the massacre of Israelis. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are funded by European governments to promote “human rights” and “international law” – including Al-Haq, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Bisan, 7amleh, Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) – have refused to condemn these blatant violations of human rights and international law. In fact, they did the exact opposite, justifying and celebrating the attacks in an immoral attempt to grant legitimacy to terrorism and Hamas. Mostly, the NGOs use the language of “resistance” – code for targeting any and all Israelis, including civilians, though some NGOs have been explicit in defending and supporting terrorism.
Chebat recalled the UE financially supported the Palestinian Authority with 300 million euros, the exact amount used for the « Pay for Slay » program that gives salaries to the Palestinian terrorists and their families.
He stressed, an evaluation of the AFD funding process should be carried out. If AFD is supposed to be the armed wing of the French diplomacy, it shouldn’t grant funds to Palestinian NGOs that refused the condemn the terrorist attacks of October 7th that killed 41 binational French citizens and are keeping 3 of its citizens captives.
Chebat also recommended to publish the evaluation of the programs funded by AFD and published the detail account books of the NGOs that are being fund by France and European entities.
The delegates had a dinner with Dr. Yael Vias to discuss the philosophy of law and how it should resonate in the international arena.
She has specialized in International Criminal Law and has experience as a litigator in Prosecution, Defense and the representation of victims of international terrorism.
Vias heads the International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic at the Harry Radzyner Law School of IDC Herzliya.
Dr. Vias exposed the double standard that Israel is experiencing in the international justice system and explained the functional differences between the ICC and ICJ. She also explained the proceedings instituted by South Africa against Israel end of December before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that will lead to two days of public hearings on 11 and 12 January 2024 in The Hague.
The next day, the delegation met with H.E Frederic Journes, French Ambassador to Israel who shared his views on the situation on the ground and the bilateral relations at a time of war for Israel. The Ambassador recalled that France paid a heavy price on October 7th with 41 binational citizens murdered by Hamas. He explained that the services of the Embassy invested a lot of time and energy and took the best care possible of the families of the hostages, recalling 3 men remain in the hands of Hamas in Gaza, according to Journes. There is still hope for the hostages to be released but France has no proof of life of one of them who is not Israeli nor Jewish and for other two, evidences of life go back more than a month ago when their children were with them in captivity. The scenario for the liberation of the hostages is getting darker, even if there are discussions both at the secret services and political levels, he said.
According to the Ambassador, all the actors should be active now yet there is not much leverage, it’s time to be “creative” he stated.
The Ambassador disagrees with the Israeli narrative about the Red Cross that consider that the organization should go to Gaza to see the hostages. Israel is hostile to the Red Cross who asks to meet with Palestinian prisoners, he explained.
H.E Journes considers that maybe, an excess of confidence from Israel can explain how terrorists stormed into Israel, and now Israel reacts without having the choice of its actions, since the population wants to return to its pre-October 7th life. Journes said 6 000 passports are in the making at the French Consulate because binational citizens want to have the means to flee if needed. Israel’s infallibility, Israel as the genuine life insurance for Jews has been torn on the 7th of October, he declared. The population is in a state of shock, the country is sad, and the Israelis suffer from the lack of empathy of the world. Western criticism arose as early as October 12th.
The duplication of the domestic communication at the international level doesn’t work, according to the Ambassador and that explains Israel is losing the battle of the public opinion.
About the war against Hamas, the Ambassador shared factual information: according to him the death toll reported by Hamas is not far off the mark – more or less 22k victims.
He recalled that in the war against ISIS, 10k were killed in Mossoul and 4k in Raqah by the international coalition France partook.
It is known that, in Gaza there are three levels of tunnels; the leaders of Hamas are hidden 65m below the ground for more than 10 weeks and they don’t realize the fate of the population.
The French Ambassador explained that the transfer of supplies is a complicated task, France together with Jordan parachuted 7 tons of goods; he shared the example of President Biden intervening personally to get the trucks of medical equipment enter Gaza; he called it “the bunkerization of the Israeli system”.
According to Journes, “dark forces are at work”, including the religious nationalists in both the West Bank and the territories. The internal and northern front are moving, Tsahal issued a warning about the situation in the West Bank and is preparing bombing plan on the Lebanese border. The “military establishment is willing to have an escalation in the norther front since it’s the war they trained for and are ready for” according to the Ambassador.
On the diplomatic front, “France reaffirms principles even if it has no effect except the disintegration of its assets”. Nasrallah should be considered as one of the most powerful leaders of the Iranian regime, according to the Ambassador. For the moment, it seems that Iran is not willing to push Hezbollah into war, he added.
The diplomatic challenge is to avoid a war between the West and the rest of the world. France in coordination with the USA are trying to temper the situation. The USA has little means of pression on Israel (since October 7th, the Jewry gathered in support for Israel, including the Jewish democrats) while France has none, according to him. But since they both have contacts with the Lebanese authorities and players, they are suing their diplomatic weight to prevent escalation.
One should read the statements of the Iranians and interpret the military actions in the light of the rhetorics of the regime, he advised. Journes explained the complexity of the situation in the Red Sea and said China doesn’t want to get involved.
At the political level in Israel, Journes considers the coalition is very strong, stressing the budget was adopted for 2 years. The PM won’t sacrifice all the hostages, according to him. He added that one should be prepared for a long war, possibly Israel will strike Lebanon in a year from now.
The issue of UNWRA was discussed as well. For the Ambassador, there is no majority at the UNSC to obtain something different than what already exists; Israel has no option to do without UNWRA. No international force will rule Gaza or won’t replace the UN agencies. Social engineering is not working, probably the Palestinian Authority will administrate Gaza because there are no other options. Barghouti is no longer a possible alternative to the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority, he said.
The mission ended with a lunch with Eshkol Nevo, one of Israel’s most successful living writers. His novel Homesick was long-listed for the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; and Three Floors Up has been adapted for film by Italian director Nanni Moretti. Nevo owns and co-manages the largest private creative writing school in Israel and is a mentor to many up-and-coming young Israeli writers. It was the occasion to have an open discussion with a representative of the academia who shared his philosophical thoughts with the delegates. The mission closed on a positive note, when Nevo said “recovery takes time, Israel need to be patience, Jews and Israelis recovered in the past and will in the future”.
- Debrief of the mission at the Senate at the invitation of the VP of the Senate.
- Preparation of a future mission with other members of the parliamentary Friendship group France-Israel at the Senate.
- Actions in the frame of the “one hostage, one parliamentarian” program to raise awareness on the fate of the 136 and among them 3 French hostages.
- Preparation of a question to the government about UNWRA.
- Investigation of the AFD control mechanism since a few MPs and Senators sit in the board of the agency.
Op-ed written by David Freche, signed by 12 out of the 15 MPs and Senators and published in the Sunday newspaper « La Tribune »
Publication of an article written by Thibault de Montaigu, one of the writers of the delegation.
“A 100 days in hell for the 136 hostages still held in Gaza”
Publication of a piece by one of the participants, Senator Olivier Paccaud, a history and geography teacher by profession. “Journey to cursed Holy land”.
Publication of a piece by one of the participants, writer and member of the French Academy, Marc Lambron, entitled “Trip to Israel” https://www.lesechos.fr/weekend/chroniques/voyage-en-israel-2047303
Passage radio David Freche
Publication of David Frèche – online Figaro