Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel has initiated an unpredictable chain of events, and it is too early to determine how the attack might shape the future course of the struggle for Palestinian liberation. The vast destruction of the Gaza Strip and the horrifying loss of civilian life are a painful blow to Palestinians, reminiscent of the Nakba of 1948. Yet, simultaneously, the illusion that the Palestinian question can be swept aside while Israeli apartheid persists has been shattered, and Palestine is back at the top of the global agenda—with growing recognition that it must be addressed, even if the brutal massacres of Oct. 7 have polarized the debate around it.
Since 2007, Hamas’s presence in the occupied territories has been restricted to the Gaza Strip, where the movement has been effectively contained through the use of a hermetic blockade that collectively imprisoned Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians. In its containment, Hamas was stuck in what I have termed a “violent equilibrium,” whereby military force emerged as a means for negotiating concessions between Hamas and Israel. The former uses missiles and other tactics to compel Israel to ease restrictions on the blockade, while the latter responds with overwhelming force to build deterrence and secure “calm” in the areas around the Gaza Strip. Through this violence, both entities operated within a framework whereby Hamas could maintain its role as a governing authority in Gaza even under a blockade that enacts daily structural violence against Palestinians.