The human cost of Israel’s ground incursion in the Gaza Strip hit close to home in the United States this week, with a Beth Tfiloh graduate hospitalized and Jewish communities in Los Angeles and South Texas losing members in the fighting.
Among the wounded was Baltimore native Jordan Low, a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his company escape from a burning building.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, 25 soldiers have been killed since July 17 as of publication. On Monday morning, five IDF soldiers were in serious or critical condition, 15 were in stable condition, and 40 were seeking treatment for injuries, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Palestinian death toll had reached 565 by press time Monday since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, according to Gaza health officials.
In Baltimore, the Beth Tfiloh community has rallied behind Low with phone calls, prayers and volunteers to visit him, according to Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s director of education.
“He was quite the hero according to his dad,” Schorr said. “Until everyone escaped from this burning building that was hit by Hamas, he held the ladder until every single guy got out safely, which is why he was so affected by the fumes.”
Jeffrey Low, Jordan’s father, was flying out to see Jordan with his younger son, Josh, 15, on Monday evening. Low spoke to his son’s doctor Monday morning, who said his blood pressure and other health indicators were good.
Jordan Low’s company, Golani Brigade’s Unit 51, was searching for arms on the second story of a Hamas building in Northern Gaza when Hamas fired two rockets at the building and it burst into flames, Low said. All 15 soldiers, four of whom received serious injuries, were airlifted to a Tel Aviv hospital, he said.
“Jordan going into the IDF … I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Low said. “He’s in Israel and doesn’t have to be there. Being a chayal boded [lone soldier] is highly coveted, and I think those things show the kind of young man Jordan is.”
Two American soldiers and members of the Golani Brigade, Max Steinberg, 24, of Beersheba and Los Angeles, and Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana and South Padre Island, Texas, were killed Sunday. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood.
Israel’s stated objectives in the ground invasion are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.
“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a July 17 statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that announced the invasion, “restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”
The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza — its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to transport arms and personnel. The invasion started after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire.
President Obama told Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.
“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.
“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”
Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.
On Monday, Israeli troops killed 10 terrorists who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza.
The terrorists emerged from the tunnel Monday morning into Southern Israel between two kibbutzes near the border with Gaza, the IDF reported. The IDF said its radar captured the infiltration.
One cell of infiltrators was struck by Israeli airstrikes, the IDF said, and a second cell was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops.
Residents of the two kibbutzes, Erez and Nir Am, and some surrounding southern Israeli towns were ordered to remain in their homes with the doors locked for several hours on Monday morning as the IDF searched for more possible infiltrators.
JTA contributed to this report.