By: Noa Borstein Hadad and Liron Levi
Israel's security forces, as well as its citizens, were startled this morning (Saturday) by extensive rocket attacks from Gaza throughout the southern and central regions of the country. It quickly became apparent that these rocket attacks were just diversionary tactics when reports started coming in from residents in the south about hundreds of armed Palestinians roaming the streets of cities, towns, and kibbutzim, executing civilians.
It was eight in the morning, and we were still making our way to secure spaces when we realized that the information reaching us through WhatsApp, TikTok, and Telegram was more updated and comprehensive than what official channels could provide. These words are being written three hours later, as news channels have already managed to sync with social networks, bridge the gap, and, most importantly, understand that no good will come of this government or the security apparatus that has yet to respond appropriately in the media to this event.
Physically, it took a considerable amount of time for the IDF and the police to arrive at Sderot. In Kibbutz Bari and other towns, people are still pleading for assistance as armed Palestinians continue to roam the streets, breaking into homes and abducting and killing civilians. Meanwhile, the armed Palestinians are filming videos, reporting on their takeover of towns and police stations without any hindrance. No military forces seem to be arriving – and it's unclear why. Telegram reports paint a horrifying, chilling, and sad picture. It's possible that IDF soldiers aren't coming to the area because they were the first victims of this surprising event, which did not skip military outposts at the border. This may also explain the free movement of armed Palestinians (including non-armed Gazans) in and out of Israel. Shocking videos have also emerged from other areas surrounding the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of armed Palestinians surprised young people at a nature party. Those young people fled into the woods and have hidden among the trees for quite some time. In a brief interview on News 12, one of the young men said, "I hope you can interview me after this is over. I hope I will survive." At this moment, dozens of young people are still missing, and their families are anxiously waiting for information.
If so, God forbid. Armed individuals continue to roam freely in the streets of towns, and according to Hamas reports, around forty Israelis have already been abducted to the Gaza Strip. Among them are civilians – toddlers, elderly, men, and women, and soldiers. Now, the Air Force has begun targeting centers in the Gaza Strip, and analysts in the studio are mainly focused on what they see as the core issue: "Will Gaza burn?"
In the news, this is called a "horror scenario” and Ohad Hamu, an expert on Arab affairs, who lived and breathed Palestinian reports, claims that there is no reason for this event, and it's a genuine strategic surprise. Eli'ezer Cheini, former Navy commander, speaks of a colossal failure of the security systems – which were in no way prepared for this event. On every television panel, the inevitable comparison is made to the Yom Kippur War that happened fifty years ago. Israel is perceived as unprepared, and its citizens, today as then, are under a bloody attack.
Those who have been following the events in the West Bank over the past year (most of which do not reach mainstream news channels) might not be so surprised this morning. The Palestinian attack this morning was meticulously planned, and it is a cruel and threatening response to the helplessness which Palestinians have felt in the past year.
For a year now, Jenin, Tul Karem, and Nablus have been under the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) attacks. Under the pretext of "eliminating terrorists," the IDF has repeatedly entered refugee camps, leaving behind destruction and ruin. This doesn't justify the brutal massacre we witnessed today, but it may shed some light on the motivations behind it. Furthermore, it appears that the IDF's attempts to reduce terrorism in the West Bank have only led to a harsher and more aggressive response from Gaza.
In addition to IDF attacks, settlers in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank have escalated their attacks with the backing of the IDF and the government. For weeks, TikTok and Telegram have been flooded with disturbing videos showing settlers assaulting, burning, detaining, and shooting Palestinians with the support of soldiers present. The “full-on” right-wing government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has permitted the bloodshed of Palestinians, and allowed the settlers to act with impunity, promoting violence and pogroms in Palestinian villages under what the Minister of National Security calls “sovereignty”.
A few months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed on Channel 14. In the interview, he cynically and half-seriously remarked that his "full-on right-wing government" hinders him from implementing the “right” fully. In simple terms, the Israeli government, as well as its citizens, are held hostage by the representatives of the settlers, Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Son Har Melech, and Avi Maoz, who claim to represent all of the settlers and the traditional Jewish public in Israel. However, in reality, they only act to change the budget, increases security forces, and transfer funds exclusively to the settlements. Whether they achieve this through pressure on the prime minister, as hinted by Netanyahu in the interview, or by igniting the field: killing and harming Palestinians, building a prayer tent in the middle of a Palestinian village, burning houses and cars, a daily violence which became routine, the result is the same: security and budgetary priorities focused on Judea and Samaria to maintain a certain status quo.
When the Israeli government is held captive by representatives who lack any military, security, or diplomatic, who enjoy testing the tense Israeli Palestinian string, checking when it will rip, the army becomes a tool in the hands of elephants in a glass shop. This, combined with the annual lockdowns imposed on Palestinians during the Jewish holidays of Tishrei, creates a situation where Israel's relations with the Palestinians are stretched to the breaking point.
Civil violence always leads to more civil violence. The settlers are becoming more aggressive, and the Palestinians are responding in kind. However, what may appear as the Palestinians' submission and powerlessness in the face of the Israeli authorities explodes into violent, aggressive, and cruel outbursts against the residents of the south, who are paying a heavy price for Israel's lack of control over its citizens and subjects.
Israeli citizens in the Gaza envelope have been begging for military assistance for hours while they fight against heavily armed Palestinians and are being abducted to Gaza – all of this happening under a right-wing government that promised sovereignty, and with baseless smugness, ignored all signals leading to today’s events.
These are the days of Simchat Torah, during which we conclude the reading of the Torah and begin it anew. In these days, the Jewish Torah is manipulated by political hands to ignite, create divisions, justify violence, and further strain the already tense thread of life here. For years, the Israeli media has been obscuring daily events happening in the West Bank. One of the recent events is the entry of several groups of Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount during the holiday of Sukkot, which, according to Hamas, served as the pretext for this morning's attack.
Israel tends to view Palestinians in three separate and disconnected groups: Hamas in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, and "Israeli Arabs" living within the country's borders. However, as we have repeatedly witnessed over the past 75 years (most recently during the May 2021 clashes), the Israeli "divide and conquer" approach does not accurately reflect the reality of Palestinians' lives. When violence is suppressed among West Bank Palestinians, Gazan Palestinians rise up, and it wouldn't be surprising if Palestinian citizens of Israel also join the uprising. Authorities are already advising the police to be prepared in the mixed cities because, as mentioned, civilian violence leads to more civilian violence.
The Palestinian people are here to stay and have been struggling against the State of Israel since 1948. The lack of recognition of the Palestinian people, their needs, and the belief that force can suppress a civil struggle forever – is the result of Israeli smugness, that leads to a lack of understanding of who and what we are facing, and ultimately, causing the current surprise regarding Palestinian attack and resistance capabilities. Israeli expectations that Palestinians will break and agree to live under a permanent military regime are unrealistic and the Israeli smugness that has developed around it is destructive.
This morning we woke up to a well-planned attack that included rocket fire across the country, an infiltration by land, sea and air, of armed Palestinians into Israeli cities, all happening on Shabbat and a holiday, taking most of us by complete surprise, much like what happens weekly in Palestinian cities.
Today, October 7, 2023, the eve of the second holiday of Sukkot, is a date that will burn into the collective memory of the State of Israel as a day when dozens of Jews were killed in their homes, with no discrimination, and dozens more were taken captive and imprisoned. Hamas is painting a picture of victory in which they have captured and occupied large parts of Israel while the IDF is conducting airstrikes in Gaza. This is the day when it has become clear that we need to decide on the Israeli-Palestinian narrative. No longer is it a situation of one side occupying and oppressing the other while dealing with the victims, but rather an understanding that if we continue to ignore their existence and suppress them by force, we risk repeating Jewish history again and again.
The year 2023 has become the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem since 2005. Now it is becoming the deadliest year for us, the Jews, as well. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, the wounded, the imprisoned, the kidnapped, and the missing.