It is over one hundred days since the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, the most violent act committed against Jews on a single day since the holocaust, which has left 1,200 dead and over 250 taken hostage.
Since then, Israel has invaded the Gaza Strip in order to root out Hamas’s presence, to where the IDF now occupies most of the North of the territory.
At least 23,000 Palestinians (including 10,000 children) have been killed, and thousands more injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry; while over 1 million Palestinians have been displaced, according to UNWRA, as of January 15. While the reliability of these figures ought to be treated sceptically, nevertheless, the death toll is still tragically high.
In addition to the impact on Palestinians, over 100 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the IDF’s incursion into Gaza began, and over 4,000 injured; while an additional quarter of a million Israeli’s have been internally displaced since October 7. 12 soldiers have further been killed on the Israeli border with Lebanon in clashes against Hezbollah, clashes which started as a direct consequence of the current Israel-Gaza war.
While tensions between Israel and Gaza have been ongoing for decades, this latest escalation, and Israel’s incursion into Gaza, has come about as a direct response to Hamas’s attack on October 7; so it is Hamas that bears the bulk of the responsibility for the loss of life and suffering of Palestinians, in addition to the suffering it inflicted on Israelis.
Likewise, since Hamas has embedded itself in civilian areas and infrastructure across Gaza (which is already one of the most densely populated places on earth) including in schools and hospitals, in order to effectively use civilians as human shields or as canon fodder for its propaganda, it bears even more of that responsibility.
With that being said, Hamas did not emerge out of a vacuum: they are a violent manifestation of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments which were prevalent amongst most Palestinians long before October 7.
Despite having an ideology which is irreconcilable with peace, and which calls for the destruction of Israel, the murder of Jews, and does not support a two-state solution, Hamas were nevertheless still elected by Gazans in 2006.
But how did this come to pass?
The history of animosity from Palestinians and Arabs towards Jews and Israeli’s extends throughout the 20th, and into the 21st Century. As far back as 1929 there were anti-Jewish riots in British Mandate Palestine (including the Hebron and Safed massacres) where over 100 Jews, including women and children, were killed by Arab mobs. And massacres against Jews happened again from 1936 to 1939 during an Arab revolt.
Such violence occurred before the state of Israel was even established, and, in 1936, at a time when Jews owned less than 5% of lands in Palestine which they had legally purchased, and when the Jewish to Arab population in Palestine at that time was less than 30%.
Further anti-Jewish attacks took place across the following decades: most notably in recent times during the First and Second Intifada’s (1987–1993; and 2000–2005), where suicide bombings killed hundreds of Israeli civilians.
Rather than discourage such violence, the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, effectively encourages and incentivises it. To this day the PA allocates funds, including monthly salaries, for those who commit these violent acts, who they call “martyrs”: some to the families of Palestinian terrorists who are imprisoned for killing or attacking Israeli’s; some to the families of Palestinians who died committing such attacks.
Known as the “pay for slay” fund, in 2016 $315 million (8% of the PA budget of their $4.4 billion) was allocated towards recipients of these schemes. The US briefly halted funding it paid towards the PA used for the “pay for slay” schemes during the Trump administration, but the funding was effectively continued under President Biden.
Arguably most of this violence directed towards Jews and Israelis throughout the decades could have been prevented had Arabs and Palestinians accepted the existence and legitimacy of a Jewish state early on, but the Arab leadership in Palestine and Arab states consistently rejected every proposed creation of a Jewish state, even when the share of land would have been heavily in favour of Arabs to Jews.
The Peel Commission of 1937 would have given only 20% of the entire land of Palestine / Israel to Jews, and the remainder to Arabs. The Jewish leadership in Palestine accepted the plan; the Arab leadership rejected it. The Arab leadership then rejected the 1947 UN partition proposal, which Israel again accepted. The Arab League subsequently rejected negotiations with Israel over what to do with the Gaza Strip after the Six-Day War (when Arab states tried and failed to wipe Israel off the map). And again in 2000 after the Camp David talks, and in 2008, Arab leadership rejected all divisional land proposals.
But anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment is not just endemic at the top levels of Palestinian politics, it is prevalent amongst the Palestinian population, which is consequently how organisations like Hamas have managed to thrive for so long.
In their last survey the ADL recorded that 93% of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank hold antisemitic views. A survey by The Washington Institute from July 2023 found that support for Hamas amongst Gazans was at 57%, and even higher for other extremist groups like Islamic Jihad at 71%; and a November 2023 survey by AWRAD found 76% support amongst Palestinians for Hamas (88% in the West Bank and 60% in the Gaza Strip); and 75% support amongst Palestinians for Hamas’s attack on October 7 (83% in the West Bank and 64% in the Gaza Strip).
Of course, sentiments from Israeli’s, along with hostilities from the state of Israel, towards Palestinians have not themselves been blemish free. Polls from 2021 revealed feelings of unease towards Palestinians amongst Israeli Jews, and a poll from late October 2023 showed only 29% of Israeli Jews support a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
And it is also true that many of Israel’s policies, vis-à-vis their dealings with Palestinians, have been controversial at best, like their detention of prisoners without charges for arbitrary periods of time; Israel (and Egypt’s) blockade against Gaza since 2007, which has undoubtedly contributed to Palestinians hardships and feelings of nihilism; and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, along with 350 deaths of Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7.
But the current conflict in Gaza that started since the October 7 attack, while still very much an outcome and continuation of the decade’s long tensions between Israel and Palestine, ought to be considered in its own right and its immediate context: it is a campaign by Israel to destroy Hamas in response to their October 7 attack; as well as an attempt to put pressure on Hamas to release the remaining 136 hostages it has as of January 16.
One must also be careful to avoid false equivalences between Hamas and the IDF, as too many Pro-Palestine supporters have attempted to make. Instead of admitting that Hamas are terrorists or a violent Islamist militia, they would rather portray them, along with other Palestinian Islamist groups, as “freedom fighters,” or would defend their actions on October 7 as in some way justifiable, or as simply an inevitable outcome of Israeli occupation.
To do this however is to fail to fully acknowledge how uniquely depraved the ideology of Hamas is, where it justifies mass-rape, suicide bombings, and the deliberate killing of civilians – doing so without provocation; and where it is based on an intractable hatred for every Jew alive, along with a desire to impose a strict form of Sharia law on its population which would contravene most human rights.
For all its flaws, the IDF, unlike Hamas, does not use rape as a weapon of war, it does not intentionally kill scores of Palestinians in unprovoked encounters, and its operations are not based on an ideology which calls for the extermination of every Palestinian, every Arab, or every Muslim.
And despite accusations, Israel has not engaged in a genocidal campaign against Palestinians. The population of Gaza City alone in 2023 was estimated to be at 778,000, which is an increase of 715,000, (or 1135%) from an estimated 63,000 in 1950; while the population of the Gaza Strip is at nearly 2,400,000 (none of whom are Jews), while the West Bank is almost 3,000,000, both having also increased.
And while the death toll in Gaza from this recent conflict has been tragically high, if Israel (with its superior military power and capabilities) were truly determined to commit genocide against Palestinians as its critics claim (such as South Africa, as per the recent ICJ proceedings), then the death toll would be far, far higher.
Gaza City Population from 1950 to 2030
But let us imagine the shoe were on the other foot. If Palestinians, whether in the form of Hamas, or even the supposedly more moderate Fatah, were in charge of the state of Israel, militarily and politically, in the way Israeli Jews currently are now, what would be the fate of Jews living in Israel today?
The answer is clear: at best, Jews would have less rights, be openly discriminated against, and treated as second-class citizens; while at worst (and in the most likely scenario) they would be forced out of the land (or killed), in the same way that most of the 800,000 Jews who lived in the Middle East and North Africa in 1945 were forced out of those countries due to anti-Jewish violence and pogroms, to where those numbers are less than 5,000 in those same regions today.
With all that being said, neither the polls which show high levels of antisemitism amongst Palestinians, nor the history of violence in Palestine towards Jews and Israelis, should be taken to mean that all Palestinians ought to be held as culpable for Hamas’s actions on October 7, nor that Israel has carte blanche in how it deals with all Palestinians in Gaza.
But they do highlight just how pervasive anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment is among Palestinians generally; and therefore, how necessary a change of sentiment amongst Palestinians is, if there is to be any hope for Israeli-Palestinian relations improving.
So long as the mentality continues where Palestinians perceive themselves as perpetually oppressed victims, forever under the tyrannical boot of an occupying force; and which continuously questions the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel, then the reality for Palestinians will never change. For this mentality forfeits all autonomy and blames every outcome (all of which are bad) as originating solely from Israel (or the West). It tolerates only deep-rooted prejudices, bitter hatreds and resentments, which results in attitudes where brutal violence against Israeli’s (and Jews more generally) are felt to be, not only justifiable, but necessary.
The outcomes this mentality produces: the violence, the anti-Western conspiracy theories, the intolerance; in combination with the legitimate, real struggles facing Palestinians (suffering which death-cults like Hamas are largely responsible for) then only acts as a recruiting tool for Islamist terror groups and militias, and only perpetuates the cycle of violence which has been going on for generations.
Had Japan or Germany in the aftermath of their defeat by the Allies in 1945 continued along an embittered, never-ending campaign of resentments and violence towards the West, who defeated them in WWII, they would not have managed to be as successful as they are today. While the situation in the West Bank and Gaza are clearly different from those countries, the possibility that there could have been a different, more positive outcome, had not the intractable mentalities and ideologies remained as stagnant as they have been since 1947, remains true.
Therefore, it is imperative that in its campaign into the Gaza Strip, Israel is successful in its aim to destroy Hamas, along with destroying other terrorist groups, in order to achieve a positive outcome in the long term, not only for Israel, but for the Palestinians themselves.
This is also why continuous calls for a ceasefire, like the vote for one which took place in December at the UN, ought to be seriously examined in terms of what they would realistically achieve. So far 110 hostages have been released (including 1 who was rescued by the IDF) while 136 remain in Gaza (27 have died so far in captivity).
Since Israel stood firm against earlier calls for a ceasefire from the international community, it managed to inflict such damage onto Hamas, that it led to a temporary truce at the end of November, where those hostages were released – until that ceasefire was broken by Hamas. Had Israel bowed to international calls for a ceasefire earlier, Hamas would have had no incentive to release any hostages at all.
Beyond this, a ceasefire cannot be one-sided: both parties must agree to it. And since, as a senior Hamas official made clear, Hamas are determined to repeat October 7 again and again until Israel is destroyed, it illustrates that they have no desire to cooperate, and will only ever respond to force. Therefore, destroying the infrastructure of Hamas within Gaza is crucial.
And destroying Hamas would not only be in the interest of Israel and Palestinians, but also other Middle Eastern Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrian and Egypt, who had been gradually normalising their relations with Israel in recent years, and who oppose Hamas’s Islamist ideology, along with the support it receives from Iran.
When it comes to destroying the ideas that have created and sustained groups like Hamas however, that will be far harder to achieve. Which is why Israel, while it is engaged on its military campaign, must still ensure it minimizes civilian casualties as far as possible, and ensure that aid reaches the people of Gaza. Otherwise, Palestinians will continue to suffer, and the resentment in their hearts towards Israel will only harden.
In the long-run, Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately seek a political resolution that will not just result in the same old fighting, no matter how challenging achieving this might actually be.
Cover: 102044 march and demonstration – gaza war 7.10 PikiWiki Israel by ליזי שאנן is licensed under CC BY 2.5