Palestinians and Israelis have grown accustomed to wars in the south in recent years. But the war that began in the early hours of Saturday, 7 October is nothing like the others. In a startling assault, scores or hundreds of Hamas operatives, under a hail of rockets, crossed the Israel-Gaza separation barrier into Israeli towns near the blockaded strip: some seem to have broken through weak points in the metal fences, others went by boat along the Mediterranean coast, some flew paramotors over the walls. A Hamas unit targeted the Erez Crossing, the only civilian checkpoint between Gaza and Israel, seizing it from army control for several hours. By sunrise, Palestinian gunmen were roaming the streets of Sderot, Nir Oz and other kibbutzim, breaking into civilian homes, fighting with security forces and firing in all directions. An overnight desert rave, inexplicably organised in the border region, was also attacked.
By the time the Israeli authorities realised what was happening, ‘Operation al-Aqsa Flood’, as Hamas has called it, had already inflicted a bloody toll. Horrifying stories are emerging of the shootings and kidnappings, with children among the victims. Abu Obaida, the Hamas spokesman, threatened to execute hostages if Israel carried out air strikes with no warnings to civilians. As of yesterday evening, nine hundred Israelis have been reported killed, more than two thousand wounded, and about a hundred abducted to Gaza. Among everything else, this was a disastrous Israeli intelligence and operational failure, regarded as the worst since the Yom Kippur War: it’s surely no coincidence that Hamas launched its incursion on the fiftieth anniversary of that conflict. News is still coming in, but it’s evident that, in terms of non-combatants, this is one of the deadliest massacres in Israeli-Palestinian history.
Disoriented and humiliated, the Israeli military has been rushing to match the death count, killing hundreds of Palestinians with relentless bombing. And it is just getting started. ‘I’ve ordered a full siege of the Gaza Strip,’ the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, declared. ‘No power, no food, no water, no gas, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.’ Other far-right ministers, some of whom have previously advocated for the direct reoccupation of Gaza and a ‘second Nakba’ to expel Palestinians entirely, are screaming for retribution. ‘Get out of there now,’ Benjamin Netanyahu told Gazans in a video statement – a cruel joke to two million people who have been trapped in an overcrowded enclave for sixteen years.