But for ZAKA volunteer Josh Wander and his colleagues working to recover the bodies of civilians, the murdered children are who have affected them the most.
“[Even] for the most hardened, seasoned volunteers that have been doing this for decades, it’s something that’s particularly difficult,” Wander told The Daily Beast by phone from his home in Jerusalem. “So those scenes are something that we’ll never be able to forget.”
The violence that’s taken hold over the region has left more than 1,000 people dead in both Israel and Palestine. Wander said he’s worked as a volunteer with ZAKA, a nonprofit dedicated to emergency responses, for about a decade. He’s also occasionally served as its international spokesperson, trying to illustrate to people what he’s seen in the aftermath of war along the region around Gaza.
“Just driving down from my home in Jerusalem to that area, it is like walking into a horror movie,” Wander said. “You’re looking out on both sides of the road and you’re seeing burnt-out cars flipped over on the side of the road, many of them riddled with bullets, bodies strewn all across the road. You’re literally driving around bodies as you’re driving down the main roads there.”
Wander said the organization has about 100 volunteers working in shifts in the Gaza region, with more prepared to deploy to other areas in Israel should the violence extend elsewhere. Even with a large number of workers, and about 1,000 volunteers nationwide, the effects of witnessing massive amounts of tragedy are strikingly personal.
“We’re doing it 24 hours a day. We have people that are working on the scenes,” Wander said. “But it takes a toll. It takes a psychological toll, so not everybody is able to do it physically. Not everybody’s able to do it psychologically, and sometimes we have to take breaks.”
The crisis is unlike anything Wander and his colleagues have seen, he said, calling it “the Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 of Israel all wrapped in one.”
“It is a wake-up moment for our country,” he said. “It’s a country that is very divided politically, and things like this … have united the country. And we’re very unified right now, and we have a very strong resolve to make sure that this is stopped, and that it doesn’t repeat itself again in the future.”