In an exclusive interview with Piers Morgan, Israeli president Isaac Herzog is recounting what he witnessed personally after the horror of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, threats to Jewish people around the world and Israel’s relentless counterattack after their “worst atrocity as a nation.”
Piers Morgan: When did you learn about the Oct. 7 terror attacks?
Isaac Herzog: It was 6:30 a.m. The silence in the entire neighborhood was torn to pieces by immense sirens and then booms. We immediately realized we were under a huge missile attack… and the shock was huge. We ran to the shelters. Then we started getting the endless news about atrocities throughout our southern border, about people being locked in shelters and burned and under attack. And all hell broke loose. We’ve gone through the worst atrocity as a nation since the establishment of the state of Israel. The highest amount of Jews killed since the Holocaust, about eight or nine times, in terms of 9/11, of our national proportion of casualties.
PM: You went to one kibbutz which was attacked, and had to wash blood off your shoes…
IH: I went into Be’eri Kibbutz to see the havoc, the atrocities, the burning homes.. in one of the homes, when I walked in, there was a pool of blood still drying. There was a woman’s scalp with a rake holding it. That shows how atrocious these people were, how crazy, animalistic, barbaric, and sadistic they are. Families were tied up in barbed wire and burned together. I could only think what they said to the Almighty before they parted Earth. I keep on meeting families of the hostages, endless stories. Why would Kfir, a 9-month-old baby, be hijacked? Why would Lia, 3 years old, be hijacked when all her family has been killed? They just took her. Clear genocide took place in that area, 10% of their members have been totally annihilated, killed, butchered, chopped, burned.
PM: Your father Chaim, who later also became President of Israel, served in the British Army in World War II. He fought the Nazis. He took part in the Normandy invasion, helped capture Heinrich Himmler, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, and took part in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Did you ever imagine you yourself would walk into a scene so reminiscent of the horrors of the Holocaust?
IH: Thank you for reminding this to me. It’s quite moving for me because my dad always spoke about these moments. His experience in Bergen-Belsen, which was the one of the greatest horrors of humanity, piles of dead skeletons there as he depicted the awful smell of the atrocities. So, that’s why it was imprinted in his being. And that’s how he passed it on to me: Never take the Jewish state for granted. There’s an empire of evil from Tehran emanating with a whole culture of hate to eradicate all of us, and I say to my friends all over the world – ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Houthis in Yemen, all they want is to chop our heads and get to you guys next. This is the real challenge of the world today.
PM: Within hours, there were mass pro-Palestinian gatherings all around the world from New York to Sydney, where there were people chanting ‘Gas the Jews!’ to London, with people celebrating what had happened. A US professor said he felt ‘exhilarated’ by the attacks, students beamed pro-Hamas rhetoric onto campus walls, Jewish students barricaded themselves in libraries for fear of their safety from chanting mobs. And in the marches, many people chant ‘Jihad!’ and ‘From the river to the sea.” How does this all make you feel?
IH: Jews are threatened.. extremely frightened. antisemitism is the greatest disease of humanity. What these people are chanting is not only immoral and unjust, but it’s a reflection of their own knowledge of things or their own moral compass. How could you truly justify chopping children’s heads? How could you justify burning entire families? How could you justify raping women of all ages and taking them hostage? How could you justify tearing off people’s scalps? Taking a mother’s iPhone and broadcasting to the entire WhatsApp group, how you are torturing her husband, killing her daughter, and her young children? This is a test for humanity and a moral call for moral clarity. And human beings and leaders must be outraged and understand that when you give a nation the right for self-defense, it has a right for self-defense. Meaning you have to get to this barbaric, sadistic regime. You have to catch them. You have to remove them… and most importantly, be very firm as to what’s evil and what’s good. We are fighting for good. We saw evil in our eyes. We are bereaving because of evil. We are in agony because of evil. We must stand up against evil with no mercy and make sure that we overcome as a family of nations because the entire world order is at risk.
PM: The American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted “From the River to the Sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.” What is your response to that?
IH: Above everything else, with all these atrocious comments, all this terrible view of things, she simply doesn’t know history. This is of course a call to annihilate the state of Israel.
PM: There is mounting concern over the scale of Israel’s response to what happened. Will you do whatever it takes to eradicate Hamas?
IH: So, first, let’s understand the rules of international law. Because most nations tell us, you have the right to defend yourself.
PM: 10,000 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, including nearly 4,000 children. On Saturday night, the Al-Maghazi refugee camp was bombed with reportedly 50 people killed. How do you justify bombing somewhere that is known to be a refugee camp?
IH: When you have the right for self-defense, you have the right for self-defense. We have been attacked from schools, mosques, shops, and people’s living rooms. Our forces walked into a playground for children where they found launchers in the ground, ready to launch missiles on our children. And I say, if they’re ready to launch missiles on our children, we must go and eradicate that site. Same goes for the houses. Now, how do we behave according to International Humanitarian Law? We alert the citizens. Of course, we try to make it as safe as possible not to hurt civilians. And believe me, and I say it outright from the bottom of my heart, we care for every civilian in Gaza. But with all the respect, there comes a moment where you have no other choice. Because if we will recur again, we’ll go through the same atrocities again.
PM: Queen Rania of Jordan has called for an immediate ceasefire. She says those opposing it are ‘inherently dismissing the death and in fact endorsing and justifying the death of thousands of civilians’ and ‘that’s just morally reprehensible, short-sighted, and not entirely rational.’ What is your response?
IH: I don’t intend to start arguing with Queen Rania because I know exactly the considerations and the limitations of the Jordanian regime under the circumstances. But I would expect a much better understanding of the situation on the ground. There must be no justification under any circumstances to the atrocities that we have seen. By the way, this hate regime that attacked us, they’ll try to attack Jordan as well. We are all in this together. They want all of us out of here, they want a major Islamic fundamentalist regime throughout the Middle East. That’s the real story and that’s the real challenge. There are many ideas to have peace between us and the Palestinians, and how to move towards the solutions such as the two-state solution. But it cannot happen if you support terror. We have to fight terror and then we can sit down and talk.
PM: Angelina Jolie, the actress who is also a special envoy to the UN High Commission for Refugees, has accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberate bombing a trapped population who have nowhere to flee, and says Gaza has been an open-air prison and is fast becoming a mass grave. What do you say to that?
IH: I totally reject her claims. I think she’s never been in Gaza…. to visit and see the facts on the ground. In Gaza now there is war, but there is no humanitarian crisis that does not enable them to survive. Angelina Jolie does not offer the Israeli people any ability to defend themselves by saying what she’s saying. And Gaza is a jail not because of Israel. Israel pulled out of Gaza. Gaza is an Iranian base filled with terror. Perhaps the outcome of this war will enable the Gazan people who deserve a decent good life to enjoy it under a different regime that will enable movement towards peace. You’ll tell me, of course, the civilians are not to blame. Fine, if the civilians are not to blame, then please enable Israel to uproot these terrorists.
PM: Will there be any ceasefire or humanitarian pause if the hostages are not released?
IH: I’m a head of state. I don’t enjoy any executive powers. But we are not dealing with rational enemies. It’s not an enemy that adheres to the Geneva Convention. You are dealing with psychopaths. I care about Gazan children. I truly do. But with all due respect, first and foremost, I have to defend our people. We did not want to go to war. And we get missiles on our heads, and hypocritical comments by all sorts of figures from around the world who’ve never been here one day, never looked in the eyes of families who’ve gone through the worst of atrocities.
PM: Amihai Eliyahu, an Israeli government minister, has just been suspended for suggesting Israel may use nuclear weapons against Gaza. He also said there are no non-combatants in Gaza and Palestinians should move to Ireland or the desert. Those are incredibly insensitive and inflammatory remarks and display a callous disregard for human life, don’t they?
IH: So, that’s words of rubbish by someone who has no authority, no knowledge, and no involvement in the real decision-making process. It is very regrettable and Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately denied it and took action to suspend this minister.
PM: Over a million Gazans have been displaced from their homes. How can they return if their homes are all being obliterated?
IH: Hopefully when this ends, we will be able to offer hope to the Palestinians in Gaza to go back, rebuild their homes, and finally have decent lives with a different regime that will enable progress and peace in the region like we all need to have.
PM: Should Prime Minister Netanyahu resign for this catastrophic failure of security and defense?
IH: The day after the war will come the moment where all these issues will be discussed. But right now, we’re all united in one goal. We must return the hostages back. We must overcome and prevail against our enemies, and we must bring peace and security to our borders and our peoples. This is my only aim at this point.