On October 7, Hamas militants broke through Israel’s complex defense system, carrying out Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, effectively starting the next chapter of the Israel-Palestine conflict with a deadly war. Up to this point (November 20), the death toll of the nearly month-long conflict exceeds 11,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis, numbers sadly bound to increase. For Israel, a nation known for its security, the incursion came as a shock, raising numerous questions.
How did this happen?
Hamas, a terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, launched a planned invasion where ten gunmen were given detailed plans on precisely how and where to break into Israel, using explosives and tractors to open gaps along the border gate. From there, the gunmen went by motorcycle, shooting civilians passing by, until reaching an unmanned entrance to a military base. They then broke into the base and killed unarmed Israeli soldiers.
To put it lightly, Israel was caught off guard. In bases near the border, Israel has technology detecting all movement near the border of the Gaza Strip, which soldiers look at and mark anything that may be a potential danger; however, Hamas’ “meticulous planning and extraordinary awareness of Israel’s secrets and weaknesses” meant the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was completely blindsided in what Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, “described as the worst mass killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.”
In this first wave, “using drones, Hamas destroyed key surveillance and communications towers along the border with Gaza, imposing vast blind spots on the Israeli military,” allowing 200 more attackers into Israel and another 2,800 throughout the day. The soldiers unleashed terror on Israel, taking hostages in border villages and infiltrating a music festival. 1,200 people were killed October 7th, and another 241 were taken hostage.
What is Hamas?
Hamas, the governing body of the Gaza strip, was started in 1987 by Palestinian Sheik Ahmed Yassin following the First Intifada. While its original purpose was to counter the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, their 1988 charter called for “the destruction of Israel.”
Hamas has been in control of Gaza since Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005, and it is among the militant groups that Iran backs. The group's poor governance has led to many citizens living in extreme poverty in densely populated areas.The group’s economic struggle doesn’t help this matter, because being declared a terrorist organization by both the United States and European Union means it is unable to receive funding from either. Instead, “Iran is one of Hamas’s biggest benefactors, contributing funds, weapons, and training… Iran currently provides some $100 million annually to Hamas” and other Palestinian groups the U.S. believes are terrorist organizations.
Since Hamas took over, the last time Palestinians voted for a legislature was 2006 and for a president was 2008. While Hamas follows sharia-based laws, it enforces even stricter laws, with dress codes and gender segregation. Within the Gaza Strip, Hamas isn’t highly popular, with one-third considering “it the most damaging development for their people since the state of Israel’s 1948 creation,” but most prefer it to the Palestinian Authority.
Where does the war currently stand?
After the war started, Israel, behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced a “complete siege” of Gaza to retake lost territory and destroy Hamas. While at least 241 civilians and soldiers have been taken hostage, only 5 have been released.
Israel recently made huge gains into Gaza, expanding their attack. The country has issued numerous calls for Gazans in the northern part of the Strip to travel south in efforts to minimize civilian casualties, but doing so has contributed to a humanitarian crisis.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group likewise supported by Iran, has also become involved in the conflict along the northern border in attempts to weaken Israel. Though there has been much less violence, Dor Ben-Avi, an IDF soldier working in a northern intelligence unit, said that there is “a tense routine” and that soldiers work to “stay alert for any change in the power dynamics here.” Hezbollah’s leader recently said they wouldn’t declare war.
What has the war been like in Israel?
Dor Ben-Avi also told Campus that “the events on Saturday morning [October 7] were terrorizing and bloodcurdling… People from the kibbutzim phoned the livestream broadcast studio and asked for help because they had terrorists within their own houses…Throughout the entire day they fired rockets in the same amount of the first 2 weeks of the war altogether.”
He also said that Israel’s actions are “not motivated by revenge” but a desire “to eliminate Hamas.”
While Ben-Avi noticed people were “traumatized, [and] the entire public sensed the terror in the inhuman acts performed by Hamas,” he mentioned seeing the country come together has been “heartwarming” and it feels “like we are all one big family.”
How has the world reacted?
Both sides have been criticized for employing cruel tactics to damage the other. As mentioned earlier, while a now-expanded army effort has seen Gaza City surrounded, the earlier efforts from Israel to penetrate into the Gaza Strip were via air attacks. While Israel has been criticized for killing civilians in airstrikes, they claim that Hamas takes cover and holds weapons in civilian areas.
Another point of criticism for Israel is in their unrelenting ground attack that is currently closing in on more and more of the Gaza Strip. With concerns over Gazan citizens in densely populated areas, Israel was pressured (primarily by the U.S.) to allow “humanitarian pauses” to allow Gazans to take refuge south. These pauses have allowed for some of the necessary aid to be distributed, but many still suffer in Gaza. Palestinian-symapthetics worldwide are calling for a cease-fire, which neither side seems prepared to agree to at this time.