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Ithaque : Raphaël Gotheil : Israël Post October 7


Until May 11, the Ithaque gallery in Paris is showing an exhibition by Raphaël Gotheil entitled Israel Post October 7. It is accompanied by this text.

Hamas’ large-scale attack on southern Israel on October 7th, 2023, set many precedents. Leaving more than 1,200 Israelis dead, mostly civilians, it was the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. Unlike any time in Israel’s history, including the 1948 War of Independence, Jewish communities were raided, and in some cases taken over, by Arab militants. Fearing a similar attack from Hezbollah, the Islamic militia in Lebanon, entire communities along Israel’s northern borders have been evacuated, condemning their residents – here too, for the first time in the country’s history – to long months of displacement with no end in sight. The Israeli military operation, well into its seventh month, has been the longest and costliest war ever fought by Israel. The audacity of the Hamas attack notwithstanding, the shocking failure of the Israel Defense Forces to provide security was a direct attack on the organizing principle of Israel and Zionism. The quest for Jewish sovereignty, achieved with the establishment of the Jewish state, relied on the premise that Jewish grannies would no longer be able to be snatched from their beds and face death and abuse. But that’s exactly what happened on October 7th.

Israel’s history is beaming with military triumphs, and features few defeats, if any at all. On October 7th, Israel was defeated. Everything that has happened since, marks Israel’s struggles to come to terms with that defeat. For Israelis, so accustomed to victory, defeat is tantamount to annihilation. Plunged into despair in the immediate aftermath of the October attack, Israelis were overridden by existential angst; it soon took shape as a vengeful military campaign that left much of the Gaza Strip in ruin. Despite Israelis’ expectations, the formidable military effort has not resulted in the tides turning. Defeat was not subsumed by victory. Notwithstanding the huge losses it incurred, Hamas has remained adamant in its refusal to surrender. The release of a great majority of the Israeli hostages – all except three – was carried out thanks to a deal with Hamas, not as a result of a military operation. More than 100 of them are still in captivity, with great doubts cast on their fate and wellbeing.

Throughout 2023, up until October, Israel was swept by mass protests against the government’s attempts to curtail the independence of the judiciary. This broad mobilization – also unprecedented in Israeli terms – in the form of hundreds of thousands of protesters fighting to save the country’s (rather deficient) liberal democracy, was replicated after the 7th Hundreds of thousands to Israelis left their homes – either to join the army, or to take part in numerous civilian initiatives in support of the affected individuals and communities. Israelis came together, in uniform or not, to bestow upon each other comfort and solidarity, both of which were woefully absent on October 7th.

The crisis of October7th piles on an Israeli society already bursting at the seams by internal tensions and divisions. But despite these divisions, Israeli society has exhibited an admirable level of cohesiveness, and continues to do so. The sizable Arab-Palestinian community, making up 20 per cent of the citizens, achieved over the last couple of decades a tremendous degree of integration into the Jewish majority. Coexistence had taken on a normative dimension: Jews and Arabs were not only living side by side (albeit with great economic and legal inequality), their participation in public life has become pervasive and noticeable. Arab judges, doctors, students and civil servants aside, the ultimate manifestation of that is when I see a veiled Muslim woman driving a bus in Tel Aviv. They are all members of the Palestinian people, with a direct affinity – sometimes close family relations – to residents of Gaza. Despite the great volatility of the situation these past few months, the delicate equilibrium of daily life has been maintained

This is Israel in the beginning of 2024. Beaten, anxious, humiliated, but also clinging on to life and looking ahead to the future. Raphael Gotheil’s camera is a loyal witness to this moment, to its uncertainties as well as to its hopeful message.

Text by Gilad Halpern (April 2024)

Gilad Halpern is a journalist, broadcaster and media historian. He is co-host of the Tel-Aviv Review podcast and founding co-editor of the Tel-Aviv Review of Books magazine.


Raphaël Gotheil : Israël Post October 7
Until May 11, 2024
5, Rue des Haudriettes
75003 Paris

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