Article by Eve Shannon
On October 7th, civilians living in cities along the Gaza border in southern Israel woke to the sound of sirens and rocket fire as Hamas launched its deadly surprise attack in the early hours of the morning, almost fifty years to the day after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
( Palestinian civilians walking through rubble in Gaza, 11th Oct (Source: Al Jazeera)
Within a matter of hours, PM Benjamin Netanyahu had declared Israel “at war” with Hamas and launched retaliatory attacks on the Gaza Strip, stating “the enemy will pay an unprecedented price” and warning civilians to “leave those places now.”
As of Friday afternoon , at least 1,200 Israelis and 1,800 Palestinians have been reported dead, primarily civilians, with thousands more injured. These figures are expected to rise in the coming days amidst Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel’s siege of Gaza is “just getting started.”
The shock provoked by Hamas’ attack was as much in response to its scale and brutality as to the failure of the Israeli government to prevent it. This intelligence failure has already placed pressure on Netanyahu's government to retaliate with full force and destroy Hamas completely, in order to secure the region and ensure that the events of the past few days never happen again. Over 300,000 IDF troops have been deployed to the border and Israel has launched hundreds of rockets into Gaza, stating that Hamas has “nowhere to hide.”
Some 2.3 million Palestinian civilians - half of whom are children - are caught in the crossfire of these attacks. Though Israel has urged civilians to evacuate the region, its “total blockade” on the supply of food, fuel and water across the border has left the population trapped and unable to flee.
Israel has been criticised in the past for using its ‘anti-terrorist operations’ as a cover for raids on Palestinian settlements in Gaza, with many raising concerns that it may use Hamas’ latest attack to justify an outright decimation of the Palestinian population in Gaza. Israel has consistently rejected these accusations and accused Hamas of using civilians as “human shields” in the conflict by stationing military bases in hospitals and refugee camps.
The Knesset feels that it has no choice but to respond with lethal force; any concessions it makes to Hamas’ demands risk legitimising their acts of brutality and potentially inviting future attacks on its civilians. However, its rapid escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip will undoubtedly result in huge civilian fatalities and, in reality, is unlikely to stabilise the region in the long run.
(Israeli soldiers retrieve bodies following Hamas’ massacre in Kfar Azar, Oct 11 (Source: Le Monde)
Hamas militants have also threatened to kill Israeli civilians currently being held hostage in different locations across Gaza in retaliation for any unwarned attacks on Palestinian civilian buildings. Their vow to broadcast such executions over the internet will force the Israeli government to incorporate potential political reactions and public morale into its strategic arithmetic.
As fighting rages on between Hamas and the Israeli military, it is still too early to predict exactly what the ramifications of Hamas’ attack will mean for the future of Israel-Palestine, though we can be certain that the implications for civilians living in the Gaza Strip are nothing short of catastrophic.