On Saturday 7th October 2023, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, launched an unprecedented air, land and sea attack on Israel. With the conflict between Palestine and Israel spanning over the last century, it is not uncommon for military and political tensions to escalate between both sides, however, the scale of the recent strike, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, came as a huge shock to the world. This series of attacks, referred to as Operation Al-Aqsa Flood by Hamas, have sparked all-out war.
On the morning of October 7th, Hamas launched between 2,500 and 5,000 rockets (depending on reports) from their base in Gaza into southern Israel. Simultaneous to the air assault, hundreds of Palestinian militants stormed the fences separating Israel and Gaza, crossing the boundary with bulldozers, pickup trucks and paragliders. Hamas troops then opened fire on both soldiers and citizens and took dozens of hostages.
As part of the assault, Hamas massacred crowds of young people at the Supernova music festival taking place near the border with Gaza. According to rescue agency Zaka, more than 260 bodies were recovered from the festival site.
Taking a swift response, Israel retaliated to the morning attacks with the mobilisation of troops and began counteroffensive operations against Hamas. In a statement, via Twitter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that “Israel is at war. We didn’t want this war … But though Israel didn’t start this war, Israel will finish it.”
Israel is at war. We didn’t want this war … But though Israel didn’t start this war, Israel will finish it.Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister
Soon after the Hamas attacks, Netanyahu swiftly unleashed a wave of air strikes on Gaza, killing 232 and wounding 1600. Overnight, Israel struck more than 420 targets in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the town of Beit Hanoun becoming mostly levelled.
Now more than a week after the attacks, it has been reported by the Israeli authorities that “at least 1,300 people have died, and 3,227 others have been injured in Israel” so far. Comparatively, ABC has also reported that “at least 2,215 people have been killed in retaliatory strikes from Israel with an estimated 8,714 more injured”.
Since the beginning of the attacks, several splinter conflicts have broken out. Clashes have been reported along the Israel-Lebanon border between Israel and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist political party and militant group. Like Hamas, Hezbollah fired rockets on Israel, and in retaliation, the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) returned shell fire, and sent a military drone into southern Lebanon.
The Israel Electric Corporation, which supplies up to 80% of the Gaza Strip’s electricity, has cut power off for the region. On 11th October, ‘Gaza’s only power station stopped working after the fuel needed for generating electricity ran out’, as stated by CNN. The situation in Gaza is dire, and it’s clear that Israel’s leadership has little regard for those living in the area – Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claims, “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly”.
Back in 1948, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into two states – one Jewish, one Arab. The Jewish state was established as Israel. The country’s legitimacy was disputed from the start, and immediately it was invaded by five Arab armies and thus began the Arab-Israeli War. The conflict saw around 700,000 Palestinians flee or become expelled from their homeland. An armistice was reached in 1949 which redrew the borders of region and gave Israel far more territory than they were originally awarded under the original UN partition plan.
The end of the Six Day War in 1967 left Israel occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.
The struggle has continued to spark up in various flashpoints – the 1973 Yom Kippur War and more recently, the First and Second Intifadas. In the history of the struggle, the 2023 Israel-Hamas War is the most deadly outbreak of violence so far.
Presumably intentionally, Hamas’ first assault took place 50 years and 1 day after the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack on Israel.
According to CBS News Hamas was “motivated to launch the attack essentially as the culmination of long-building anger over Israeli policy, including recent outbreaks of violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but more generally over the treatment of Palestinians and the expansion of Israeli settlements.”
Hamas was “motivated to launch the attack essentially as the culmination of long-building anger over Israeli policy, including recent outbreaks of violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but more generally over the treatment of Palestinians and the expansion of Israeli settlements.”CBS News
On the international stage, there have been differing responses to the conflict, and who the major powers are expressing support for.
Many Western nations have come forward to condemn the actions of Hamas and explicitly declare themselves on the side of Israel. In a speech made by President Biden, he stating that it was the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”. The White House released a statement saying that the US “unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians”. Biden has ordered the US Navy’s carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean, in a bid to increase pressure on Hamas, as well as to offer support if issues escalate further.
France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany have all released statements condemning the attacks by Hamas and expressing solidarity with Israel.
However, some nations have condemned Israel for their role in the conflict, and expressed their support for the Palestinians. Middle Eastern powers such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have all released statements in support of Palestine. In Iran, it has been reported by Alaraybia News, that during a session of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, legislators rose from their seats and chanted “Down with Israel”, “Down with America”, and “Welcome Palestine”.
In Africa, a divide has arisen between countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Zambia that express solidarity with Israel, and others such as South Africa, Namibia and Algeria that have condemned Netanyahu’s actions towards the Gaza strip.
Another impact of the conflict has been an increase in worldwide threats towards members of the Jewish communities.
Many countries are now increasing security to protect Jewish communities. The Guardian have reported increased patrols from the London Met after “receiving reports of people celebrating the attack on Israel by Hamas”. Fears over security have escalated in London to the point that three Jewish schools in the capital have had to close due to the “risk of violence on the streets.”
The UK isn’t the only nation to have an increasing number of security concerns over these attacks. French authorities have recorded dozens of antisemitic incidents and have provided additional security to National Assembly President Yaël Braun-Pivet and MP Meyer Habib after death threats relating to the conflict were made against them.
The 2023 Hamas-Israel War, deeply rooted in historical tensions, is a stark reminder of the enduring complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has led to significant casualties, generated divergent international responses, and raised security concerns around the world. As the conflict continues, the hope for a peaceful resolution remains uncertain, making it imperative for the international community to exert efforts toward a lasting and just solution to this longstanding crisis. The world watches with bated breath as the conflict unfolds, mindful of the deep human costs and the need for a peaceful path forward.