ISRAEL AT WARThe day WhatsApp changed from a messaging app to a lifesaver in war
ISRAEL AT WAR
The day WhatsApp changed from a messaging app to a lifesaver in war
The October 7th war will be etched in the minds of Israelis as a war in which WhatsApp emerged as the most crucial means of communication, serving not just individuals to share their status and location but as a life-saving tool for soldiers and fighters in the field
Back in 2009, when Jan Koum founded WhatsApp, or in 2014 when Mark Zuckerberg acquired it, they couldn't have foreseen that, a decade later, this instant messaging app would transform into a vital tool in times of war, not to mention as a means of communication between commanders on the battlefield and combat helicopter pilots during a battle. However, it is now clear that the reality faced by the citizens of Israel on October 7, 2023, is beyond any imagination.
In the immediate aftermath of the heinous attack by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, Israeli security forces found themselves in complete shock. The terrorists rapidly disabled many surveillance and communication systems deployed by the Israel Defense Forces along the Gaza border. As the first combat helicopters arrived at the scene, the pilots discovered they had no means of communicating with ground forces. In the absence of military communication systems, smartphones and messaging apps became their lifelines.
Helicopter pilots, in an interview with Israel's Channel 12, described the communication challenges they faced and the need to rely on WhatsApp and other available tools to coordinate efforts to protect citizens and soldiers from the hundreds of terrorists infiltrating Israeli cities and bases.
One pilot recounted a poignant exchange with a civilian: "We started talking and created a common language and a picture of the situation through the phone, while in the cockpit, and after that it also moved to WhatsApp and included locations of our forces in order to time the attacks,” one of the pilots recounted. “When I landed after hours in the air, I received a WhatsApp message from my brother. He told me his best friend's daughter was at a party under attack. I contacted her, and she urgently replied, 'They're going to kill us.' I identified myself as an Apache pilot and assured her that her father had informed me. She responded, 'We've been in a shelter for five hours. Terrorists are outside, and all my friends are dead.' I urged her to stay hidden, assuring her that help was on the way. She responded, 'Please save us; we're hiding and terrified, surrounded by terrorists and gunfire.' I think my partner was killed. Save us! Come fast, there is no time. Her plea was cut short as I took off to assist."
Israelis are addicted to WhatsApp. At least 95% of Israelis - from all sectors and socioeconomic strata - are regularly connected to the application for interpersonal communication, for consuming content and information, for managing social life in WhatsApp groups, and of course also for business. The family groups connect the oldest to the youngest, between family members who are scattered in different cities and overseas. On desktop, Android or iOS, the October 7 war demonstrated how much this messaging platform has become an integral part of Israelis' lives.
The October 7 war will be remembered for the way WhatsApp transformed from a personal messaging app into the most critical mode of communication. Not only for communication between individuals and survivors to report on their physical condition and information they have, but as a life-saving tool and means of communication for the fighters in the field.
Documenting the horrors
Countless videos that the hundreds of murdered people and the thousands of survivors managed to take on their smartphones and forwarded to their friends in real time on WhatsApp have become a kind of digital tombstone of the most cursed day in the history of the State of Israel. Hundreds of hours and thousands of clips of innocent citizens fleeing for their lives from the terror of the Hamas murders document almost every second of this day, at hundreds of massacre sites and from almost every possible angle. This information was sent in the citizens' private WhatsApps to their friends and families and from there in family, community and social groups. Using it, it was possible to identify murdered people who were burned alive in their cars, to locate bodies of victims who fled the massacre sights, but also to locate survivors who managed to hide. All this authentic information will be stored forever on smartphones, personal computers, social platforms and will testify better than any story about these atrocities.
Texts of desperate calls for help from citizens, youngsters, adults, women, children and families shook an entire nation between grief and shock and a kind of comfort. There were those who managed to text and send pictures to their loved ones about their condition, just before they were murdered with barbaric violence by Hamas terrorists. There were those who even managed to say goodbye to their families in writing and on video. Young people from the nature party near Kibbutz Reim, who hid in shelters before terrorists shot them and threw grenades at them, managed to send their love to their parents before being murdered. Parents who realized that their protected home space in a kibbutz in the south was going to be broken into and burned down sent their children in the center of the country detailed instructions, messages on WhatsApp where to find the will and Excel sheets detailing information about their inheritance.
One of the most important features of the use of WhatsApp among the communities in the kibbutzim, and in the communal towns at the time of the murderous attack was the textual communication. The innocent citizens who hid in the security room avoided talking to each other for fear that the Hamas murderers who broke into their homes would kill them. Through the community and family WhatsApp groups, they reported in text messages to each other about the progress of dozens of murderers. They informed the groups which houses were burned with their occupants, which families were murdered and who was kidnapped to the Gaza Strip. Children whose parents were slaughtered in front of their eyes sent messages to their neighbors to come and save them. Wounded people who were bleeding in hiding in their homes sent text messages about their condition.
Guiding rescue efforts
Those WhatsApp groups to which information flowed from the field in real time - helped the rescue forces carry out their mission effectively. The accurate information directed the rescuers (civilian and military) to the houses where the brutal murderers were barricaded, warned them where the terrorists were concentrated and allowed them to eliminate the terrorists.
In one of the cases, a resident of Kibbutz Bari realized that she could watch what was happening outside her besieged home using the security cameras in her car parked in front of the house. She sent the photos of this urban battlefield on WhatsApp to the commander of the rescue force. This way the forces could understand how many terrorists were close to which house in the neighborhood, what they were armed with and what their location was. The screenshots from the vehicle camera that were immediately forwarded on WhatsApp to the rescue group saved the lives of dozens of women, children and adults in the kibbutz.
On October 7, the WhatsApp application was one of the most important tactical tools in the heroic rescue operations of independent vigilantes. In one case, the son of an Israeli journalist reported to his father on WhatsApp that he had managed to escape the inferno at the nature party. However, the communication between father and son was interrupted due to reception problems in the cellular network. The son who was quietly hiding in the field under branches and dirt managed to send his father his location on WhatsApp - while the terrorists shot his friends who tried to escape. The father, frantic with worry, managed to locate a retired fighter who had entered the combat zone and asked him to rescue his son. The retired fighter (a former Knesset member) received the information from the father - again via WhatsApp - went to the coordinates he received and managed to safely rescue the son.
In another case, a retired military commander received a WhatsApp message from his son that he and his family were trapped in their home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The veteran fighter took his personal gun and immediately drove to the rescue operation. Here, too, the rescue was successful in large part thanks to the coordination of the heroic grandfather with the military rescue units that were conducted on WhatsApp.
Israel is a small country and the cities, kibbutzim, towns that are around the Gaza Strip - are concentrated over a relatively small area. The populations in these residential centers are also small and have a community character. Due to this fact, and because the tensions on the border with Gaza have been going on for years, many of the residents are personally familiar with the reporters of the various media. Many of them had the reporters' phone numbers in their contact list.
This situation led to the fact that in the first hours of the barbaric attack - the reporters received the victims' messages on their WhatsApp and used it to report on the atrocities and attacks live. Voice messages from residents who were besieged in their homes sent on WhatsApp were broadcast almost in real time. Videos of the abduction of citizens to the Gaza Strip that were sent through the application were broadcast immediately (of course after self-censorship imposed by the Israeli mass media) and of course text messages that were sent to reporters and broadcast on television channels helped the security forces learn where to deploy forces.”
H E L P!
The following tweet was published by Shai Levy, a military correspondent for an Israeli news website.
"Read these messages carefully from the WhatsApp group of my kibbutz Nirim, during the terrorist attack by Hamas two weeks ago. I want you to imagine that you are reading these messages when you hear the gunfire and the grenades of the terrorists going from house to house. And when they reach another house, there are more messages and more and more shooting and explosions."
Messages transcript (translation):
They are outside the window
They are shooting now
Do you see them?
I dare not look
I hear Arabic
They are here
A terrorist is outside
They are trying to break down our door
Please help us
Immediately notify the emergency unit
Terrorists are here
They saved us. Barel saw terrorists outside
Do not leave the safe room
They are outside
There is smoke
Our son is suffocating
Can you put out the fire yourselves?
Maybe turn on the taps?
Who lives near you and is at home? Move there
There is no army! They can’t make it here
A wet rag on the face
They are here
They are here
They are here
Where is the army!!
They are in our house
Who can we talk to?
There is no one to talk to
They are here in the living room
Close the safe room, lock it and don't leave