Life at war: Meet the British Jews vowing to do all they can to aid Israel in its ‘second war of independence’ as they volunteer at blood banks and as cooks and counsellors
- EXCLUSIVE: Brits looking to travel to Israel to help as volunteers tell their stories
Hamas’ horrific attack on Israel on October 7 saw more than 1000 Israelis brutally murdered with hundreds more taken hostage.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu immediately vowed revenge on the terrorists – and has since described the conflict as his country’s ‘second war of independence’.
Jewish people living overseas were quick to voice their support, with many flying to Israel to help in the battle against Hamas.
Among them were more than 100 Brits, with five telling MailOnline why they decided to leave the relative safety of Britain to fight in a war set to continue for many months.
Tatum Stern-Meriaz, a former IDF soldier, was in London with family when Hamas attacked. She is now back in Tel Aviv and volunteering
Tatum Stern-Meriaz, 23, (pictured bottom right with Israeli soldiers) is also among the Britons volunteering to help
Pictured are some of the IDF troops at the food van where Tatum volunteers
British-born Cindy, 62, moved to Israel when she was 16. She is currently in London and will return to the country next week
British-born Cindy, 62, told MailOnline she has experienced three of the most horrific weeks of her life.
She said: ‘It’s hell. It is actually a living hell. Our local hospital was hit by rockets twice. But apparently we don’t matter. Gaza matters, but really everyone should matter.’
The mother-of-two was on holiday on a cruise to the Canary Islands when the attack began. She wanted to fly back to Israel straight away to help in whatever way she could but delayed at the request of her children.
However, she is now back in the country and says she is determined to help.
The counsellor, who moved to Israel at 16 and now lives in Ashkelon, said: ‘I’m not going to be scared away or frightened off by anyone. I’m Jewish. I’m Israeli and I’m proud of it.
‘I have to be there. Israel is crying out for volunteers, for counsellors. There will be psychological and economic damage that will take years to get over.’
Tatum Stern-Meriaz, 23, is a former IDF soldier and event planner born in the UK. She was not in Israel during the attack but she rushed back soon after hearing about what happened.
She told MailOnline about a friend who attended the now-notorious Nova music festival on the day of the attack, where over 260 bodies were found.
At one point, her friend was split from the group he was with when Hamas came ‘running after them’, she said. Another member of the group was killed after being shot in the stomach and head.
The event planner said: ‘I walk on the streets of Israel and I don’t feel safe. I feel that if a person is looking at me, maybe he’s going to stab me. But I can’t think for a second leaving right now. It’s the only Jewish country in the world and it’s really the only place we can live without being afraid to be Jewish.
Tatum is helping the IDF soldiers and making food for the war (pictured)
Mia Stone experienced eight days in Israel during the war, and has been left haunted by her experience. She is now determined to return (she is pictured during a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, on October 22)
‘Hamas have committed serious war crimes in the last three weeks. It’s felt like the Holocaust, running for your life, trying to hide in the bushes, trying to hide under the bodies and covering yourself with your friends’ blood. Killing us not because of the conflict between Palestine and Israel but because we are Jewish.’
Though war has stopped Tatum from working, it hasn’t derailed her volunteering efforts and she now makes food for IDF soldiers fighting on the frontline.
‘Everything in this situation right now is disturbing. And the fact that people all around the world see the video of what happened here and are still chanting free Palestine, they don’t understand that it’s not from us it’s from Hamas.’
‘We will win this war. I believe in our country and I believe in my soldiers to protect us and serve our country. We are human, they are not,’ she said.
Charlotte Allen, 56, is also among those supporting Israel. She’s volunteering with blood banks and then will support the left behind animals. Her husband, Ariel, has just come back from the north to cook for the army.
On October 7, she was visiting family in London when she heard about the attack.
‘Nothing registered until a few days after though. I can’t even describe the pain we’ve gone through.
‘The atrocities are so sickening and so many in number, I’m convinced they [Hamas] must have been on acid,’ she said.
But the interior designer didn’t hesitate to go back to Israel. ‘It’s my home. I’ve lived here for so long. It felt very uncomfortable to be away.’
Ms Allen is among those Brits now in Israel doing what they can to help
She volunteers at a food truck which has been going round the north of Israel feeding hamburgers to the soldier.
Charlotte, who left for Israel 20 years ago, feels much closer with her community since the attack. ‘Seeing good friends with kids in the army is very hard. They’re on the front lines, and haven’t been home for weeks.
British-born Dror Wayne works for Maged David Adom, Israel’s only National Blood and Medical Emergency Service
Mia is pictured putting up a poster of missing family friend Omer Wenkert, 23, who was kidnapped by Hamas
‘They came home to do laundry, and all they had were one pair of boxers, one pair of socks. That’s what they’ve lived in for weeks.’
It is witnessing the rife anti-Semitism in the UK that has really concerned Charlotte. ‘There are very places in the world now for Jews to go to. What I’m seeing in London is horrific and over the top,’ she said.
But Charlotte remained defiant, saying: ‘We’re not going anywhere. This will just lead to more violence. So just stop it. Leave us alone. We’re good people.’
Mia Stone experienced eight days of terror in Israel during the war before having to fly home to London following the death of her grandmother.
She returned to Israel this week despite still being haunted by what she heard and saw during the invasion.
‘I live in constant fear. I go for a walk and I keep thinking a terrorist could be hiding behind the tree,’ says the 23-year-old, who was in Tel Aviv working as a barista when Hamas attacked the country.
A few days into the war, Mia had a breakdown because Hamas kidnapped her family friend, Omer, who is 23.
‘My dad’s friend asked if my dad could get the word out about his nephew. My dad had always been quite quiet on the fact that he’s Israeli. So when I saw my dad share a post on his Facebook about Omer, trying to spread awareness, I broke down in tears,’ she says.
Omer has severe Colitis – a chronic inflammation of the digestive system. He needs medication and the Red Cross has been in touch with Hamas, but they’ve denied him it, meaning he will have severe effects. ‘I saw a video of Hamas hitting Omer, and they’ve stripped him of his clothes,’ Mia said.
‘He had his hands tied behind his back on the back of a truck. I just lost it because I could feel the emotion of his uncle. I broke down in tears. I just uncontrollably had a breakdown. People were hugging me and they were crying. That’s part of the reason why I want to go back.
Mia spent time packing up clothes for Israelis who had been left without any
The 23-year-old also packed up food for soldiers in Israel alongside other volunteers (pictured)
Mia Stone is due to return to Israel next week (she is pictured, left, at a rally in Trafalgar Square protesting against the kidnapping of Israelis by Hamas in October)
‘This understanding, of no questions asked why I was crying. Nobody was confused by it. People stopped in a car and just said do you need a tissue, is there anything we can do? They told me we have to stay strong.
‘I know people have been captured and taken away. I saw a post on Instagram about someone who had been kidnapped. I thought he looked familiar. And I realised we had matched on Hinge.’
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Her family were calling and begging her to come home but she felt she couldn’t help in England as much as she could in Israel. ‘I was packing stuff up for people who needed clothes, who didn’t have any place to stay. I’d volunteered myself to prepare food for the soldiers. Why should I run away when it gets bad?
‘Every person who makes the decision to live in Israel is aware that war is a possibility. You are aware there could be terrorist attacks carried out across the streets. The scale of it obviously, had never been seen before.
‘But I would tell everyone, if I made the decision that I wanted to come here for fun, to enjoy the lifestyle, the amazing food, the culture, the beach, then I also made a commitment to being there when times were hard. I wasn’t just going to run away to where I have another place, home and family, because people in Israel can’t run away.
‘I wanted to be there serving coffee, since the shop was still running and giving a sense of normality to people’s everyday lives. I wanted to be there when someone tells me their grandson had been kidnapped. I can’t do anything to help, but I can just give them a place to come to,’ she added.
Mia’s family is imploring her not to return to Israel, but she insists: ‘No-one here fully understands. I feel somewhat still there.
‘I don’t understand why people don’t care about the Jews. I don’t feel like this is my home as much as I did. I feel alone.’
Mia went to multiple protests for Black Lives Matter, was very supportive of Pride, but now feels ‘the silence’ when it comes to the Jews.
‘For me it’s not a political issue. People are too scared to put up a picture of a kidnapped boy as they don’t want to seem like they support a side. When it’s the Jews, people don’t speak up. Would they speak up if it were me, if they knew I had been raped?’
‘It’s so hard to see activists who are here for other people, not here for me.’
Dror Wayne also believes it is incredibly hard to be living as a Jew in the UK. ‘The level of antisemitism is unbelievable’, the 25-year-old said. ‘If anything, I am actually safer in Israel than you are in the UK. And the fact that Jewish schools are telling students to come without their uniforms, without their means of being identified, is just shocking.’
About 100 Britons have reportedly made the trip to Israel to help after the country was invaded by Hamas. Pictured is a tribute
British-born Dror works for Maged David Adom, Israel’s only National Blood and Medical Emergency Service.
He said: ‘In Israel everyone is struck with trauma. Teslas and electric cars are my trigger now. As is a truck or motorcycle from the distance or bangs and pops.
‘I’ve spoken to a lot of friends who feel the same way because they sound exactly like the sirens. They’re very quiet, but as they move, they have the exact same whine and pitch, and it makes us jump.
‘As soon as I hear an electric car, my heart-rate doubles, my breathing stops for a second, and I get this surge of adrenaline. If it’s a siren, I have to move straight away. You’re instantly trying to identify, if that’s the gunshots.’
Yet Dror considers himself lucky as he has been busy from the morning the first siren went off, while others have been not going to work or school, stuck at home.
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‘It’s sickening to think that friends were being pulled out of their beds and slaughtered or tortured and raped. It’s horrifying. So everyone’s going crazy mentally’, he said.
Nevertheless, Dror is resolute there is absolutely no way he could leave Israel now.
‘If I weren’t here, I would want to get on a plane to be here. A lot of my Israeli friends who were overseas, got on a plane and came back. My good friend in London has kids, but he got on the first flight he could. From the airport, he went to the base in the north, got his reservist uniform and is now helping to defend the country.’
The medic adds: ‘The sentiment here is we are under attack in a way we never have been. Not since the Holocaust. Or not since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. This is an attack on our existence. They want all of us dead. This is an attack on our basic humanity.
‘I have a job to do as a medic. And I don’t see any reason whatsoever for me to leave because this is the safest place for Jews overall.
‘We have the army and the security establishment looking after us and although we were taken by surprise that Saturday, the army is now taking back control. We’re looked after here better than anywhere else.’
The rise of anti-Semitism in light of the attacks infuriated Dror.
‘It’s absolutely disgusting and it just shows how deep their anti-Semitism is rooted, even if they’re unaware of it. Those who try to justify it but not deny it need to do some real soul searching.
‘Ask yourself, how exactly does Hamas’ actions free Palestine? How do you justify that? Then you get those who try to create an equivalence between what Hamas did and Israel’s response and say things like we condemn all forms of violence and Israel shouldn’t be responding so aggressively but should be negotiating.
‘I would ask, what negotiating is there to do with this group of people who invaded in the middle of the night and raped and killed and mutilated? They clearly want one thing, which is the destruction of the Jewish people and the destruction of Israel. They do not want a two state solution.
‘They are not interested in a free Palestine and they are not interested in the interests of the Palestinian people. They are interested in another Holocaust.
‘We have to go in and demilitarise Hamas and Gaza. We need to make sure that they can never do this thing ever again. And it’s unfortunate because we’re going to lose a lot of soldiers and it’s going to be a difficult war. And we don’t want it.
‘The proof of that is on that Saturday we barely had anyone guarding the border. It was very light security and that’s what they took advantage of. Because we just weren’t interested in conflict. And we thought they weren’t either. But they’ve proven that wrong.’
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