Shaked Shefy Cohen

Come to Israel, Greta, and Tell The World What You Saw

October 21, 2023

I read about the solidarity you’ve expressed with Gaza and with Hamas, and I carry a deep and pitiful sorrow for your painful blindness. While you were in a safe haven, my life, as well as my loved ones, was in existential peril. A resident of kibbutz Nir-Am and environmentalist writes to climate activist, Greta Thunberg

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 in the Gaza Envelope. On one side I am a neighbor of Hamas and the people you support, and on the other I neighbor the “occupying” city of Sderot.

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, physically and mentally, my family and myself from the chaos we’ve been thwarted into.

For two weeks now I’ve been dead-alive. A zombie among zombies. Alone between hundreds of precious people. More horror stories. More missing persons, more murdered, more funerals. More hollow gazes. More helplessness. There is nothing. No words, no sentiments, no tears. Nothing. Just numbers: Over 100 missing, 203 abducted—among them roughly 30 children and 20 elderly—301 wounded, and 1,400 murdered. Many of these friends and acquaintances from the community in which I live. Overwhelmingly, civilians.

מיצג מחאה מול משרד הביטחון בדרישה לשחרור החטופים. צילום יוסי זמיר, שתיל סטוק
For two weeks now I’ve been dead-alive. A zombie among zombies. Photo by Yossi Zamir, Shatil Stock

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 alike you are sinning in. Blindness which stems from ignorance and reliance on media that is misinformed, misguided, inflammatory, and, mostly, violent and corrupt by political and financial motives.

I, unfortunately, did not need to read the paper or listen to the news, nor do I need to verify the facts, because I was there and I could see for myself. And anything I experienced was experiences, too, by my dear brothers and sisters, a war and a trauma that will remain with us for life.

This Time, 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 which followed that fateful moment, while you were in your safe haven where your life, and your loved ones’ lives, was not in existential peril.

I woke up to the sound of the “Red Color” sirens. This pair of words is familiar to us, residents of the Envelope; we experience “drizzles” of rockets as a part of our routine. We are “used to it.” The siren heard in our area is similar to that at the center of the country, only shorter. A mere eight seconds separate the moment it sounds until the rockets begin to land—these rockets do not differentiate between the lives of soldiers, women, babies, or the elderly. Rockets that are simply fired randomly to murder and inflict horror and terror on my “side.”

During this time of the “Red Color” we must enter our shelter—our residential secure space. We must. I challenge you to wake up from a deep slumber, 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.

קברי החיילים ההרוגים במלחמת חרבות ברזל בהר הרצל. צילום יוסי זמיר, שתיל סטוק
Graves of soldiers that fell in Swords of Iron in Mount Herzl. Photo by Yossi Zamir, Shatil Stock

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 will 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 scent 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, bullet barrages, booms, smoke, and a child who is gripping my trembling hand too tightly. “Mom and dad are here with you. Everything is okay. Everything is okay.”

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 between chains of rockets, burned cars, dead bodies of innocent people in the middle of the road, guns drawn on us, terrified of waking up abducted. Fear. Bone-chilling fear. Driving with our foot fully on the gas. Flying. Terrified. Skies ablaze.

We were rescued. What a “miracle.” But the guilt we carry from staying alive is relentless. And we are not alive. Everything has lost meaning. Our sense of security is lost. There is nothing. And around us, the terror, in all of its ugliness.

I long to wake from this nightmare, sweating, a face drowned by tears, waiting to be told that it’s just been another bad dream. To exhale this torrid scenario I hallucinated and hear, “Oh, come on, Shakshuk, you and your imagination. Some things simply can’t ever happen, relax.”

שקד ויער, יומיים לפני המלחמה. אין צורך בקרדיט
I long to wake from this nightmare. Shaked and Ya’ar, two days before the war

To wake up, look sideways, 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, is 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. Routine is restored. Reality is stronger than anything. Reality is stronger than anything.

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 digest to our younglings this reality that is no longer stronger than anything. Our crumbling reality. Our crumbling selves. How do we protect them from finding out that we lied, that we’ve been lied to. Where do we find the strength, the wherewithal, to continue to lie?

Dancing on The Wrong Side of The Fence

And at the same time we were confined at home, while on the outside ground and aerial battles were unfolding, when we did not know whether we will be murdered, abducted, or will come out of this on the other side alive and scarred, 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.

Livnat Kutz, may she rest in peace, a beloved coworker from my previous job, who led the craft house in the regional council of Sha’ar HaNegev, was “one of us”, and separated and recycled bottles. She lay with her husband and three children, in the same bed, when terrorists tried to break through their shelter’s door in kibbutz Kfar Aza. The terrorists could not break through the door, so they set the house on fire and burned the family alive.

חייל צה''ל מופיע לרגע אחד מעבר לתריס של שקד שפי כהן, שבת ה-7.10.23. צילום – שקד שפי כהן
IDF soldier appearing for a moments through Shaked Shefy Cohen’s shutters on October 7th

At the same time, Yuval Solomon, may he rest in peace, a young man full of life who celebrated just hours earlier his birthday in the Green Pub in Nir-Am—which belongs to my best friend—was murdered too. Hundreds of other innocent people were massacred throughout the different kibbutzim. 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 kibbutz neighbor, was murdered. His only sin being dancing on the wrong side of the fence.

Come See for Yourself

You, Greta, of all people, who believes in human rights, who dedicates her life for the environment and advocacy, whose name was mentioned multiple times as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate—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 are 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 bad. Light or darkness.

Many of the people who were massacred are simple, innocent, eco-friendly people. Photo by Arnd Wiegmann, CC BY-NC

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 regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the murderous and despicable actions of a terrorist organization that is in line with ISIS and the Nazis—actions which are still tallying victims.

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, who are now under the regime of a terrorist organization that threatens them and binds their hands): the informative 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 live, they are still evacuating body parts. I am not allowed in there. You, you who are reporting to the world, are allowed.

I invite you to board a flight to Israel, visit the charred and desecrated homes. See for yourself amputated limbs resting on sides of roads. Flowers that will never blossom. A bodiless head. A shoulder. The foot of a little girl. Blood-stained pacifiers. Come see for yourself. Cure your disease of blindness. And tell the world what you saw.

Because all I saw is darkness. A darkness upon the face of the deep.


This ZAVIT Article was also published in Ynetnews on 21 October 2023 – in English,

And in Expressen on 25 October 2023 – in Swedish