Phone in hand, Oded Haklai waited anxiously for news his sister escaped Hamas’ attack at his family’s kibbutz.
Haklai, a professor in the department of political studies at Queen’s, arrived in Israel on Oct. 6, excited to reunite with his parents in Jerusalem and attend an academic conference in Be’er Sheva over reading break. His trip didn’t go as planned.
On Oct. 7, Haklai received a text from his sister saying her kibbutz—collective communities based historically on agriculture—was under attack.
“Saturday morning around 6:30 a.m. [my sister] told my family they’re being bombarded by rockets at a level of intensity they have never felt before,” Haklai said in an interview with The Journal.
Haklai knew this message from his sister was different. Residing near the Gaza Strip for over 35 years, a place of perennial conflict, his sister had plenty of experience with violent bombardments.
Barricading themselves in their bomb shelter room, Haklai’s sister described hearing the deafening rattle of machine gunfire right outside her door.
His sister and her family hid in the shelter room for over two days until they could escape to Jerusalem to stay with their family. Minutes after they left, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) retracted the order to evacuate.
“Five minutes after they left, the IDF reversed the order to evacuate as there were still Hamas terrorists shooting at cars and civilians,” Haklai said.
Back in Jerusalem, Haklai anxiously awaited his sister’s arrival. He was glued to his television, witnessing the violence inflicted by Hamas as 22 communities were attacked and invaded.
“It was reassuring, but once my sister was in Jerusalem and we knew they were safe, my family started to actually process what everyone had been through,” Haklai said.
For Haklai and his family, their initial panic transitioned into a heartbreaking realization.
“My sister and her family are survivors of the largest massacre of Jews in a single day since World War II,” he said.
Over the following days, Haklai and his family were surrounded by the boom of rockets and the wail of warning sirens. They barricaded themselves in his parents’ bomb shelter, interpreting the sounds of missiles being launched and intercepted.
Haklai recognized the names of individuals killed in the Hamas attack. Some were family friends, others were part of Haklai’s academic community.
Though Haklai had witnessed the realities of war before, the intensity of his experience in Israel was unparalleled.
“I experienced the first Gulf War in 1991 with gas masks when there were sirens and shooting from Iraq, but this current war is nothing like I have ever experienced in my lifetime,” Haklai said.
An expert on ethnic and national conflicts throughout his 19-year tenure at Queen’s, Haklai firmly believes this is the worst conflict the world has seen between Israel and Palestine.
Amidst the violence, Haklai shared a glimmer of humanity from Kingston.
After his flight to Canada was cancelled on Oct. 8, Sandra den Otter, vice-provost (global engagement), reached out to Haklai, offering him help leaving Israel. Haklai was in contact with both Sandra Jeffers, Queen’s health and safety specialist, and Dan Langham, director (environmental health and safety).
“They were in regular communication with me, helping me through the process,” Haklai said. “I’m eternally grateful to them. I cannot overstate how grateful I am for their help.”
Haklai landed safely in Canada two weeks ago and has since returned to the Queen’s campus, resuming his teaching duties. Despite landing in Canada, Haklai knows the war continues to affect members of the Queen’s community, including himself.
Haklai encourages students and faculty to approach individuals affected by the war with empathy and understanding.
“Don’t assume that your politics trump people’s sensibilities,” Haklai said. “Just be compassionate.”
—With files from Meghrig Milkon
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