Israelis Shaken Over Deaths Of Soldiers

In one Jerusalem suburb, some Israelis wonder whether the ground invasion will achieve the results they are looking for.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Israelis are absorbing the news of their losses in Gaza.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Hebrew spoken).

MONTAGNE: In televised remarks last night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to families of the slain Israeli soldiers, and vowed to continue the operation in Gaza as he puts it, as long as it is necessary to end attacks on Israel. But as NPR's Soraya Sorhaddi Nelson discovered in one Jerusalem suburb yesterday evening, some Israelis wonder whether the ground invasion will achieve the results they're looking for.

SORAYA SORHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: People are glued to the TV set here at the community center in Mevaseret Zion. Israeli censorship rules prevent journalists from saying anything about soldiers who were killed, until the government gives its okay. But residents of this hillside community seem to know anyway because the grapevine is strong when so many here have children in Israel's conscripted army. Their anxiety is palpable as they wait for the inevitable confirmation. So is their desire to reach out to their children. Etti Noy is among the steady trickle of people who arrive at the community center after learning that volunteers here are collecting goods for Israeli soldiers inside Gaza. She's brought bags filled with her son's favorite candy, cakes, and chips.

ETTI NOY: First of all, my son is also a soldier. I mean, he's not inside, but he is also a soldier. And it's a very difficult day. And this is a small thing, you know, to release the pain.

NELSON: The need for distraction also draws Linor Yitzhaki here to help sort the donations. Her 20-year-old boyfriend is involved in the ground offensive, and she hasn't heard from him since the day before.

LINOR YITZHAKI: Yes, I am very worried, but I - I do what I can to help him, to help his friends. All the soldiers need things to keep trying to fight.

NELSON: She trails off as she blinks back tears. Her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Gili Pisichnyak, protectively chimes in.

GILI PISICHNYAK: A lot of times people forget that there are people that, they are just normal, and they're 20, they're 19; they are kids.

NELSON: Such empathy is widespread in Israel, where most young men are required to serve three years, and young women two years, on active duty, says Eyal Ben Ari, an Israeli sociologist who heads the Center for Society, Security and Peace at Kinneret College.

EYAL BEN ARI: Because it's a conscript army, then it's very easy for wide swaths of the population to identify with the families of soldiers who have died. That is, you may not know somebody personally, but because you have had a son, or maybe a daughter in a similar position, you very, very, easily identify with those families. With the kind of price they're paying.

NELSON: The sociologist adds, a mounting death toll among troops could quickly end Israeli support for the ongoing Gaza operation. Some at the center in Mevaseret Zion were already questioning whether soldiers in Gaza can make a difference. Here is Etti Noy again.

NOY: One side says, we have to protect ourselves. But from the other side, we did it before, and nothing really was changed. So probably, maybe - I don't know - I really don't know - maybe it's not the way.

NELSON: Some of the younger volunteers disagree, saying without the ground offensive, Hamas will become more of a threat. But the debate is cut short, as news of the deaths finally breaks.

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UNIDENTIFIED TV ANNOUNCER: (Hebrew spoken).

NELSON: She goes pale when she hears some of the dead served with her boyfriend.

NOY: It's his friends. And, the people that he sleeps - with him - and eat - with them, all day, even more than he would with me.

NELSON: But given no one has contacted her, she believes her boyfriend is alive. Soraya Sorhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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