Portsmouth man scared for the lives of loved ones gives harrowing account of life in Israel after Hamas attack

Escalating atrocities have left a Jewish Portsmouth man and his partner scared for the lives of their loved ones.
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Luke Hanns and his partner Tal have been told harrowing accounts of what is happening in Israel after Hamas insurgents crossed the border in Gaza on Saturday. Several widespread attacks were carried out where hundreds of people were killed and dozens of hostages were taken, leading to Israeli forces retaliating with air strikes killing hundreds of people in Gaza.

Mr Hanns, 32, is a British Jew born and raised in Portsmouth though he and his fiancée have previously lived in Tel Aviv for a number of years. The couple have been left sick with worry due to the ongoing events, with 80 per cent of their family and friends living in Israel.

Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, said he is worried for loved ones who are currently living in Israel. Picture: Habibur Rahman.Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, said he is worried for loved ones who are currently living in Israel. Picture: Habibur Rahman.
Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, said he is worried for loved ones who are currently living in Israel. Picture: Habibur Rahman.
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"We have been speaking to family and friends over the phone while they’re in their bomb shelters in their houses,” the Southsea resident told The News. “A lot of our friends have had partners and loved ones who have gone to the frontline in Gaza to fight on the border.

"We have sent money, and friends have been sending packages down to those who are in the south that have lost their homes. Some communities have been blown to pieces, with their houses being set on fire.

"Everyone knows someone who has been murdered.”

Tensions boiled over when Hamas militants stormed the Supernova music festival on Saturday morning in Kibbutz Re’im, three miles from the Gaza border. Visitors were celebrating the end of Sukkot – a week-long Jewish festival – the previous day. As reported in The Guardian, insurgents arrived in vans and opened fire indiscriminately. A video circulated widely on social media shows what appears to be young Israelis being marched away and taken as hostages by Hamas – with thousands of rockets being sent over Israel.

Mr Hanns said he has been shown footage of the conflict which he cannot forget. Picture: Habibur Rahman.Mr Hanns said he has been shown footage of the conflict which he cannot forget. Picture: Habibur Rahman.
Mr Hanns said he has been shown footage of the conflict which he cannot forget. Picture: Habibur Rahman.

Israeli authorities say 260 people had been killed, with many more missing. Mr Hanns said much of the fighting in Gaza is happening an hours drive from where he used to live.

ALSO READ: Palestinian man concerned for his friends and family in Gaza

The fighting in Israel

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He added: “I wouldn’t have expected this in a million years. It’s such a difficult conflict, but everyone understands that there are innocents on both sides.

Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.
Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.

"We thought we were getting to a place where there would be peace. We never thought 1,500 terrorists would break the border and infiltrate these communities, and completely blow up these families.

"Hamas are murdering children in front of their parents and beheading babies in a community in southern Israel, and this is so close to home. You’d just never thought they would get across.”

In retaliation to Hamas, Israel has sealed the Gaza Strip off from food, fuel, and other supplies – with airstrikes being carried out at specific targets and forces crossing the border. Mr Hanns said he has been shown “absolutely atrocious” footage which he cannot forget.

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He added: "There is guilt on both sides, but some are legitimising terrorist groups that are carrying out massacres. I’ve seen women’s bodies that have been raped and dragged across the fields at the Supernova festival.

Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.
Luke Hanns, 32, of Southsea, alongside his partner Tal. Picture: Luke Hanns.

"I’ve seen videos of children being murdered in front of their families, with other children screaming. They’re helpless and they have terrorists in front of them in their own homes.”

The Portsmouth native said he’s seen viral footage of a woman called Rachel, who kept Hamas fighters away from her children by distracting them with cookies until Israeli defence forces arrived. He added that he cannot stop worrying about the safety of his loved.

Trying to contain his emotions, he said: “I just can’t put it into words. It’s just horrible. I’m glued to the news, just waiting for that message which could give me some bad news.”

Can there be an end?

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Mr Hanns added that when he lived in Tel Aviv, he would often have to run to bomb shelters to avoid shelling. He has previously had to hide in buildings and shelters when he saw rockets covering the sky – once on the beach and another in a bar.

Despite those experiences, he has never known it as bad as this – with Mr Hanns stating that previous dreams of peace have melted away. He added: “We are just praying for that day to come but every few years there just seems to be a war that comes around.

“I try to be as neutral as possible, but I truly believe the one and only reason for war is the terrorists in power on the Palestinian side are not able to accept Israel’s existence, and won’t stop until the country is eradicated.

“The protestors are saying they want the current Israeli government out for peace talks, but the terrorists in power in Palestine have been blowing up Israelis and sending rockets over the border for years. It can’t be just because of a right-wing Israeli government.

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“We’ve had left-wing governments in the past who have participated in peace talks, but we’ve still had an onslaught of terror.” Mr Hanns said there “is guilt on both sides” and the environment Palestinian civilians are living in is “absolutely awful”, but peace will not happen with Hamas in charge.

He said: “The Gaza leadership are beheading babies, raping women, and tearing families apart. They are not a legitimate peace partner.

“This is the worst massacre we have ever seen since the holocaust. Who knows how long this will continue for.

"Israel needs to retaliate to eradicate Hamas. It’s absolutely horrific and beyond words what is happening to the Palestinians, but the responsibility lies in the hands of their leadership. They are slaughtering men, women and children.”

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As reported in the Daily Express, Major General Itai Veruv, an Israeli Defence Forces Commander, alleged that Hamas fighters beheaded babies and slaughtered 40 children in Kfar Aza. The national publication added that Hamas warned Israelis to leave areas such as Ashkelon before rocket barrages began.

Operations in Israel

Mr Hanns said himself and Tal were planning on going to visit Israel in two weeks, but that trip has been shelved. The UK government has organised flights for British citizens to help them flee the nation – with the Israeli airline El Al the only operator still running flights to and from the country.

The Southsea resident said he has seen footage of the Israeli Defence Force giving out advanced warning of airstrikes in specific areas, and soldiers going through training modules about discrimination, racism and profiling to separate civilians from Hamas members.

"These units are humane and aren’t just killing Palestinian people”, Mr Hanns said, “to hear everything on social media and see anti-Israel protests across the UK, claiming Israelis are murdering Palestinians, it’s just not the case.

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"There is of course an traumatic amount of people who are caught up in airstrikes, but it is simply because terrorists are hiding behind human shields.”

Divisiveness in the UK

Since the conflict broke out, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protests have sparked across the UK and the world. Footage shared by our sister publication the Sheffield Star shows an Israeli flag being pulled down from the Town Hall after demonstrators scaled the 200ft building.

As reported in The Guardian, thousands attended vigils in London on Monday, with police separating groups on both sides. Fireworks and flares were set off in the crowds.

Mr Hanns said he is scared of the rise in anti-Semitism due to the conflict. The Community Security Trust (CST), which represents British Jews on issues of racism and policing, said it had recorded 89 incidents between October 7-10 that it classed as “anti-Jewish hate” – a 324 per cent rise from the 21 incidents recorded over the same period last year.

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Mr Hanns said he is frightened after seeing some protestors brandishing swastikas and saying they are proud of Hamas’ actions. “We are scared to walk around as Jews, and we’re scared to reveal it,” he added.

"Portsmouth has a small Jewish community, it’s not Manchester or London. You just don’t know what you are going to receive if a question comes up ‘where are you from’. We don’t say Israel.

"I would be scared in some parts of the UK, including parts of Portsmouth, to reveal such things, because you just don’t know.” Mr Hanns said there is a neutral line which can be taken.

“People are scared to speak out about what’s right, because it is such a complex situation,” he said. "But I think it goes without saying that you can condemn one and the other, or you can condemn one without condoning something on the other side.

“You can support Israel but criticise its government, or you can still support innocent Palestinians but condemn the terrorist tactics its leadership are using.”