The cruelty of the war between Israel and Palestine was documented in photos and videos of the violence over the weekend, with images showing the devastation in the Gaza region.
But for ZAKA volunteer Josh Wander and his colleagues working to recover the bodies of civilians, it is the murdered children that have affected them the most.
“[Even] This is particularly difficult for the most hardened and experienced volunteers who have been doing this for decades,” Wander told The Daily Beast by phone from his home in Jerusalem. “So these scenes are something we will never forget.”
The violence that has gripped the region has left more than 1,000 people dead in both Israel and Palestine. Wander said he has worked as a volunteer with ZAKA, a nonprofit organization that specializes in emergency response, for about a decade. He also occasionally served as its international spokesman, trying to explain to people what he saw in the Gaza region after the war.
“Just driving from my home in Jerusalem to this area is like walking into a horror movie,” Wander said. “If you look on both sides of the street, you see burned-out cars overturned on the side of the road, many of them riddled with bullets, bodies strewn all over the street. You’re literally driving around dead bodies as you drive down the main roads there.”
Wander said the organization has about 100 volunteers working shifts in the Gaza region, with more ready to deploy to other areas of Israel should violence spread elsewhere. Even with large numbers of workers and approximately 1,000 volunteers across the country, the impact of experiencing massive tragedies is strikingly personal.
“We do this 24 hours a day. We have people working on site,” Wander said. “But it takes its toll. It takes a psychological toll, so not everyone is physically able to do it. Not everyone is mentally capable of doing this and sometimes we need to take breaks.”
The crisis was unlike anything Wander and his colleagues had ever seen, he said, calling it “Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in Israel rolled into one.”
“It is a moment of awakening for our country,” he said. “It’s a country that’s very politically divided, and things like this… have unified the country.” not repeated again in the future.”