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Hamas - Israel War - October 2023 - Knowledge Preservation in Time of War

1 November 2023
Zvia Hen
A building on fire with smoke coming out of it

The Hamas - Israel War erupted on Saturday morning, October 7, 2023, as a result of a surprise attack on Israel led by Hamas.


The war's unfolding moments have been meticulously documented across various media and formats. The extensive volume of information portrays the intricate reality of a terrorist-led surprise attack on a sovereign state, resulting in significant losses and destruction. This event has also heightened tension along the northern border, side-by-side with a large-scale reserve mobilization, and required the handling and support of hundreds of families affected by abductions, casualties, survivors, as well as civilians, soldiers, and members of the security forces who experienced the shock of the attack. Additionally, the process of recovery and rehabilitation is ongoing.


In the initial hours of the war, numerous stories of heroism, courage, and ingenuity emerged, underscoring the war's intricacy and distinctiveness. Notable instances include Maj. Gen. (res.) By relying on WhatsApp messages, Yair Golan embarked on a mission to rescue numerous casualties at the Nova Music Festival. Inbal Lieberman, hailing from Kibbutz Nir Am, demonstrated quick thinking by intercepting the alert squad in the nick of time, safeguarding the kibbutz members. The tank crews of the "Savage" Company in the Caracal Battalion of the Border Defense Corps, an all-female unit, proved their mettle by eliminating dozens of terrorists, dispelling any doubt about women's combat capabilities. Rachel Edri, a civilian who reluctantly became a fighter, found herself held hostage by terrorists in her Ofakim home along with her husband. She demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness by engaging the terrorists in conversation for hours in their language, offering them food and drink, all while awaiting the arrival of rescue forces. Yusuf al-Ziadne, a Bedouin Arab from Rahat, emerged as a hero by saving survivors from the Nova Music Festival, among many others.


In just a matter of days, the significance of the war and its impact on Israeli existence have become increasingly apparent. New Wikipedia articles, such as "Iron Swords War," "Battle of Nir Am," "Nahal Oz Massacre," and "The Massacre in Be'eri" have been created. The war has also inspired numerous artistic works, and there's been a surge in the establishment of websites and initiatives. For instance, the "Fallen"- a website by Davar News, which serves as a memorial platform for soldiers and civilians who died/were murdered in the war. The Department of History at Tel Aviv University initiated a project to catalog testimonies of survivors, which is designed to become an extensive archive. These are just a few examples of the various endeavors that have emerged in response to the war.


The Importance of Preserving Knowledge

Documentation and preservation of knowledge during wartime are imperative for various reasons. The availability of pertinent and dependable information "from the field" significantly, and in some cases, critically contributes to the effectiveness of combat operations and the success of operational missions. It also plays a vital role in maintaining the functionality of state systems in a relevant and efficient manner, aids in long-term strategic planning, and facilitates relief and healing efforts for casualties.


In his article titled "New Media Functions During the Emergency of the Second Lebanon War (August 2006)”, Dr. Azzi Lev-On asserts that the media played a pivotal role in battlefield management and wielded substantial influence over civilians on the home front, as well as among the fighters and military and political decision-makers. Lev-On further contends that the Internet served as a tool to enhance processes related to aid, volunteering, and inter-sectoral cooperation during wartime.


His conclusions regarding the advantages of disseminating information through the media during the Second Lebanon War can be summarized as follows:


  1. The ability to access a wide array of information sources "from the field" significantly contributed to forming a comprehensive situational overview. This facilitated cross-referencing, ensured accuracy, and enabled real-time information updates. It also fostered the creation of contextually relevant information and the development of "collective intelligence."

  2. Fostering collaboration between different organizations, entrepreneurs, and aid/volunteer efforts while shedding light on new or unfamiliar initiatives.

  3. Enhancing the capability to establish non-institutional cooperation and seamlessly integrate it with contributions from various sectors.

  4. Strengthening the capacity to convey messages both " top-down" and " bottom-up."

  5. Cultivating the ability to assemble teams that can operate effectively during emergencies, including for public diplomacy.


Given these insights and following an initial examination of publicly available media information concerning the Hamas-Israel War, several issues underscore the importance of knowledge preservation during wartime.


Operational Efficiency

In the initial hours of the war, security forces and civilians received "real-time" information from the casualties on the ground. This information was instrumental in helping security forces comprehend the situation and offer initial assistance to the casualties. In the days following the attack, this data played a crucial role in shaping strategy, combat plans, and operational missions, enabling the defense and protection of the country. This dynamic extended to other systems, encompassing government ministries, public entities, banks, hospitals, local authorities, public relations agencies, and more.


The documentation acquired from the field revealed, for instance, that the terrorists had ISIS propaganda and training materials. This finding sharpened the understanding that "Hamas is ISIS,” leading to the IDF's development of a new enemy concept. Furthermore, it enabled the Foreign Ministry and Israel's media agencies to garner Western support for Israel.


Preserving the operational knowledge gathered during the war may facilitate updates to combat doctrines within terrorist organizations and alter the perception of these organizations on a global scale, among other potential impacts. Notably, the Israeli President's interviews with CNN and Sky News revealed the existence of documents related to a "prisoner abduction plan" held by the terrorists and instructions for preparing a cyanide dispersal device and the use of chemicals for mass murder.


Crisis Management

Both the IDF and the political leadership were forced to cope with severe events and crises. It is reasonable to assume that similar situations will occur in future campaigns. Preserving knowledge in this regard can contribute to a better understanding of crisis management, event investigation, and drawing lessons. It can also aid in empowerment and learning from successfully managed crises.


For instance, on October 17, the Islamic Jihad terror organization fired a rocket at Israel, which unfortunately landed on a hospital in Gaza. Initially, Israel was accused of carrying out the rocket launch, causing global support to waver. For the first time, sensitive intelligence documentation was released to the media, conclusively proving that it was the Islamic Jihad that launched the rocket that accidentally hit the hospital. This action damaged Hamas' image and credibility, even in the eyes of Arab countries, allowing Israel to maintain its focus on the ongoing battles.


In this case, preserving knowledge about decision-making processes and crisis management can facilitate learning and provide insights into handling enemy propaganda and taking appropriate actions.


Preserving Knowledge Regarding Logistics and Supply Management

Preserving knowledge regarding logistics and supply management is vital. This includes information about the wartime supply chain, such as supplier lists, equipment, and distribution methods. It plays a critical role in maintaining the continuity of military operations, functioning government systems, assisting the wounded and their families, and ensuring efficient utilization of resources.


Preserving the knowledge derived from this aspect can be instrumental in identifying failures and weaknesses and extracting valuable lessons from successes, no matter where they occur.


Preservation of Medical Knowledge

Maintaining reliable and accurate medical records and documentation of injured individuals is essential for ensuring their proper long-term treatment and recovery. For instance, the medical information collected in the field allowed for the swift mobilization of hospitals and the public to donate blood and the intelligent routing of patients to various hospitals across the country.


Preserving the medical knowledge that arises from this data can significantly contribute to the learning process and the generation of new insights about various aspects, including the nature of injuries, methods for handling the identification of a large number of bodies, the rapid processing of hundreds of DNA samples, the readiness of Israeli hospitals to manage different types of injuries and the scale of casualties during emergencies. This knowledge can be invaluable for future resource allocation and response strategies planning.


Retention of Legal Knowledge

Documenting legal information related to war is crucial to ensure that the conduct of war aligns with the laws of war and international agreements. Preserving the knowledge derived from this aspect can be valuable for future use, such as asserting victims' rights and conducting trials for war crimes.


In his speech during his visit to Israel on October 18, American President Biden emphasized the importance of upholding democratic values and the rule of law, highlighting that they distinguish nations from terrorists. He stressed the belief in human dignity, regardless of nationality or religion, as a foundational principle. (Read more about the speech - here)


Yuval Mann's article from October 20, 2023, reported that Republican senators called on significant technology companies, such as Google, Meta, etc., not to delete videos of the Hamas terrorist attack. They also requested information about content monitoring related to the Hamas-Israel war and urged these companies to commit to preserving "historical records of the atrocities committed by Hamas." The senators argued that while restricting the distribution of disturbing content may be appropriate in some cases, videos and images uploaded by various sources during acts of terrorism should be maintained to assist in prosecuting war crimes, gathering intelligence, reporting news, and creating historical records.


Retention of Economic Knowledge

Economic information related to the war is crucial in efficiently managing state resources during and in long-term planning. It also enhances the capacity of the affected population and all government systems to respond to and cope with the aftermath of the war.


For example, during the war, the Bank of Israel issued comprehensive guidelines to banks in Israel to aid customers impacted by the war. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Insurance Institute, and the Tax Authority initiated special programs. Local authorities suspended various payments, and numerous civilian initiatives mobilized to raise donations for both the military and civilians across multiple aspects of life.


Preserving economic knowledge from the wartime period can serve as a valuable resource for understanding national resilience, facilitating research, and deriving insights from the financial models and policies applied during the war. This information can be instrumental in implementing similar policies and programs during future crises and more.


Preservation of Public Knowledge

Public engagement in war events, right from the outset, across various media platforms, underscores the significance of transparency and information sharing. For instance, the bi-daily television briefings by the IDF Spokesperson, Brigadier General Daniel Hagari, played a pivotal role in re-establishing trust in the IDF and rallying public and international support for the war effort. This approach fostered a sense of unity and collective responsibility.


Preserving the insights gained from this context may serve as a benchmark for future situations, setting a standard for transparency, public involvement, and the accountability of the military and decision-makers to the public during subsequent crises or emergencies.


Preservation of Historical and Research Knowledge

The documentation of the "Hamas - Israel" war across all aspects of life holds historical and research significance. Preserving the extensive knowledge compiled during the war will aid in examining the events, drawing insights, learning valuable lessons, and commemorating and remembering.


For reference, one can observe the documentation of the Yom Kippur War in the State Archives as an example of the value such records can offer.


Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Revival During and After the War

Sharing information about the war constitutes a crucial element in the healing, recovery, and reconstruction phases. Many survivors report an inability to recollect what transpired, due to the traumatic shock and severity of the events, often accompanied by anxiety, distressing dreams, and difficulties in functioning. A review of documented materials can help these survivors and their support networks "validate" their experiences, rekindle their memories, could foster the desire to communicate and share, and thus potentially ease their journey, contributing to the coping and rehabilitation process.


Numerous civilians who survived the ordeal express a sense of helplessness and a strong desire to assist. Thanks to the abundance of information available on the internet, they find avenues to volunteer and provide aid to the victims. While detailed documentation may reveal the horrors of war, it also shows courage, heroism, resilience, and a sense of shared responsibility.


Preserving knowledge, such as the gradual processes of returning to normalcy, including reopening educational institutions, libraries, sports facilities, and more, can shed light on the decision-making processes, circumstances, and conditions that facilitated routine maintenance during wartime.


Principles for Preserving Knowledge in Wartime

The harrowing scenes from the Hamas-Israel War led to an increasing number of comparisons with the Holocaust. Consequently, to develop initial guidelines for preserving knowledge during wartime, I have chosen to utilize the working document of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This document aims to provide a practical framework for the documentation and preservation of knowledge from the Holocaust era. It includes:


  • A list of topics considered pertinent to the Holocaust.

  • Practical tools for identifying information that may not fall within the official definition are still relevant for Holocaust research.

  • Examples of various types of information related to the Holocaust.


Based on the above document, the following are the initial principles for preserving knowledge about the "Hamas-Israel war.


The approach to preserving knowledge entails the following elements:

  1. Establishing a timeline for information, categorizing them into pre-war, during-war, and post-war periods.

  2. Defining information items that pertain to legal, political, social, economic, and cultural dimensions affecting the people and communities impacted by the war.

  3. Defining information about war crimes, testimonials, denial, memory, and commemoration.


Following are a few examples of the types of information items to consider:

  • Personal records: Correspondence, photographs, albums, firsthand and secondhand accounts.

  • Public records: Statements, articles, informational and propaganda materials, posters, maps, videos, pamphlets, and works of art.

  • Formal documents: Legal papers, identity cards, bank records, and documents verifying assets.

  • Organizational materials: Wartime plans, policy documents, guidelines, human resource and welfare management, wartime project management, and customer contact management.

  • Military and political documents: Debriefings, combat plans, protocols, and other pertinent information.


What Can We Learn from the Content?

Preserving wartime knowledge will significantly contribute to learning, research, and insights. For instance:

  • Understanding the history and daily life of communities near the Gaza Strip before the war, including cooperation and neighborly relations with Gaza's residents.

  • Gaining insights into the historical context and the prevailing mood in Israel before the war.

  • Exploring the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the roles of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Iran.

  • Studying ideology, propaganda, policies related to Jews and Israelis, military tactics, warfare strategies, and acts of violence during the war.

  • Analyzing the responses of military and security forces, the government, the private sector, and civil society during the war.

  • Examining the international community's responses or lack thereof.

  • Assessing the war's impact on civilians, the Israel Defense Forces and security forces, government systems, corporations, businesses, organizations, associations, communities, and their resilience during emergencies.

  • Documenting the fates of survivors, as well as testimonies, heroic stories, commemoration projects, and remembrance initiatives.

  • Investigating life in Israel during the post-war period.


In the ongoing days of this war, the primary focus is gathering information across various platforms. However, it is crucial to consider the reliability of this information, the methods for selecting relevant data, preserving the inherent knowledge, organizing, cataloging, and digitally archiving it. Additionally, discussions should address access to these materials, exercising discretion, balancing democratic values, public access, the right to know, privacy concerns, national security, and more.


References:

IHRA guidelines for identifying relevant documentation for Holocaust research, education, and remembrance


Iron Sword War, Wikipedia


Inbal Lieberman, Security Coordinator of Kibbutz Nir Am


Fought like lionesses, Ynet, 17.10.23


National insurance


"Fallen" website - Davar News


Government Press Office website


Tax Authority website


Israel Internet Archive


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