U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was greeted with cheers and gratitude during his 12-hour visit to Tel Aviv, as he heard firsthand from Israeli survivors of the massive Hamas assault. “The United States has Israel’s back,” Blinken declared, echoing the sentiment reciprocated by ordinary Israelis, who expressed their appreciation for their country’s main ally.
Blinken’s motorcade made an impromptu stop at an underground parking lot that had been transformed into a makeshift donation hub in the aftermath of Israel’s deadliest day in decades. As Blinken contributed baby supplies to the growing collection of donated goods, hundreds of onlookers, many with smartphones in hand, chanted “USA! USA!” and sang the Israeli national anthem.
Amid this emotionally charged atmosphere, one man passionately exclaimed, “God bless America!” Blinken, a seasoned foreign policy figure not typically seeking the limelight, engaged with the crowd, shaking hands and connecting with Israelis in a way reminiscent of his boss, President Joe Biden, on a campaign trail.
Another woman with a distinct Hebrew accent expressed her gratitude by shouting, “Thank you very much for your support!”
The Hamas assault had resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, during a surprise onslaught on October 7. Their attacks targeted homes, kibbutzim, an electronic music festival, and resulted in the kidnapping of around 150 hostages into Gaza.
In response, Israel launched a series of air and artillery strikes on the blockaded strip, resulting in over 1,400 casualties and cutting off essential supplies such as food, water, and electricity to Gaza.
One survivor, Lior Gelbaum, shared her harrowing experience with Blinken, recounting how she and her boyfriend managed to survive the raid on a desert rave just a few miles from the Gaza Strip. Gelbaum, a U.S.-Israeli dual citizen, emotionally recalled the sudden transition from celebrating love and dancing to the terror of rocket attacks and gunshots. She embraced Blinken and implored for help in rescuing friends taken hostage by Hamas.
“We escaped by a miracle, but there are friends we love,” she said, her voice trailing off.
The rave alone witnessed approximately 270 casualties as Hamas militants stormed in on motorcycles, vans, and paramotors, leaving Israelis living near the impoverished Gaza Strip in shock.
For Israel, which often finds itself isolated on the international stage, the United States has been a longstanding pillar of support. President Biden, who had criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies in the past, has unequivocally supported Israel’s right to respond to what he termed “sheer evil,” a stance appreciated by the Israelis who spoke to Blinken.
Miri Polachek, a volunteer sending medical supplies to soldiers, expressed her gratitude to Blinken: “Your moral support means everything.”
During his visit, Blinken, a secular Jew, spoke in unusually personal terms, recounting the experiences of his own family, including his grandfather’s escape from Russian pogroms and his stepfather’s survival of Nazi concentration camps.
Blinken revealed that Netanyahu had shown him graphic photographs from the Hamas attacks, including images of a bullet-riddled baby, beheaded soldiers, and young people burned alive in their cars. Blinken emphasized the need to make it clear that there is “revulsion, disgust, and a determination not to allow this to go forward.”
While Blinken continues his tour of Arab countries, where he is unlikely to encounter such public pro-U.S. sentiment, he also discussed with Israeli officials the importance of addressing humanitarian concerns in Gaza and acknowledging the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people.